Saturday, 11 June 2016

12. blog post ENG

Social innovation around us

Social innovation as a fashion style

An interview with Šárka Berková, a co-founder of a Brno based fashion brand which assists Roma youth to get their first work experience.

Šárka Berková, together with her colleague Zdeněk Raiser, founded the fashion brand Gypsy MaMa. It connects traditional features of Roma clothing with the styles which are not designed in fashion studios but are created in young people communities to mark their life style, such as street or hip hop. To get a Gypsy MaMa piece, you need to go to a shop called Restart located not far from the Brno station. Alternatively, you can shop Gypsy MaMa over the internet. Šárka would almost only be seen in the streets of Brno with her baby son Ondra; some ladies sitting at the next table in the café where this interview was taken, went quiet to watch the baby with admiration. The brand had not been known much until recently; people would rarely connect social innovation and fashion anyway. The situation has changed after Gypsy MaMa won the SozialMarie Audience Award 2016, becoming one of the 15 outstanding socially innovative projects of the year. Then, a well known Czech reporter duo, Drtinová-Veselovský invited Šárka to a popular DVTV interview programme to introduce the brand to the public. Moravian fashion designers who search for inspiration in the museum of Roman culture, young Roma who participate on selling the brand as well as its creation, and people who wear it, they all spread the vision of Šárka and Zdeněk that it is possible to interconnect those who have not communicated together much so far.

What had to happen so that Gypsy MaMa social enterprise could be established?

I like fashion, clothing and the idea of starting an original fashion brand with added value appealed to me. The idea was that it would survive regardless the prejudices against the Roma minority – that they do not work, reject education, are not able to cooperate with the non Roma and they parasite on the social system for most of their life. My two colleagues from the previous social projects sometimes have a discussion with me who actually came up with the idea of Gypsy MaMa first but I consider this talk over the conception of an idea useless. What makes the difference to me is who has brought the brand into life and is involved in building it up. Gypsy MaMa started with the success of a previous project of the identical name. It was actually a call to participate on creating a brand inspired by the tradition of the Roma, with the involvement of the Roma minority living in a part of Brno called Brno Bronx. The pilot project proved building such a brand possible – the call was answered by a vast cross-sectoral interest: five fashion designers created an original collection of 18 models, an association DROM (the Romany Centre in Brno) provided a facility for dressmakers, Roma ladies were involved into dressmaking and finally, a successful fashion show was held at the crossroads of three streets in the middle of Brno Bronx. That was 2013. My colleagues and I decided to transfer that Gypsy MaMa project into a brand and we formulated our social enterprise mission.

What was the most difficult part?

Personally, I have found it really hard to spare enough time for this work. I am a volunteer in that enterprise, I financed the first model collection from my personal budget and to ballance this charity with the role of a mother has been quite tough.  Then, doing marketing and PR right has also been quite a challenge. At this moment Gypsy MaMa has got substantial public attention, nevertheless it might just be a result of a current media bubble following the SozialMarie Audience Award 2016 and a recent interview on DVTV. The shop started to be visited by customers who want to wear our product and share our mission. We will see if it will last. It is a hard job to work with the young people who are used to get everything they want – this is a common mindset of our social clients.             I am always happy when they come to work but their working routine has to be monitored all the time. Quite often their self esteem is low. That may be the case of a lot of young people though, no matter which ethnic group you belong to. The illusion that all is here ready for me whenever I wish is in fact a trap.

What has been your most valuable achievement of this experience?

I can do it my way. It is a space for great creativity – it is a sort of experience which I would never come across in the majority of employments available around, such as cooperation with graphic and fashion designers based on enthusiasm to participate on the common mission.  I do what I like and I am able to combine this work with the role of a Mum.  At the same time, it is about searching for the ballance – there is only a fine line between the roles of my working and personal life. Anyway, it is great to be a part of Gypsy MaMa.

Can you describe the Gypsy MaMa team?

It´s myself, Zdeněk Raiser as a project manager and Pavla Bednáriková as a social work coordinator and a manager of the Restart shop. There are also three workers, young people, who are on a half-a-year programme to develop their work routines and skills related to assisting with the sale, dressmaking and organising events.

What is innovative about Gypsy MaMa?

It is connecting social work with textile, fashion, fashion shows. There are not many businesses inter connecting the Roma and the „white“ or, generally speaking, connecting an excluded ethnic minority with the majority. We want to show that such coonnections are possible.

How does Gypsy MaMa contributes to the community?

It brings a product which is interesting and it is not a social shelter.
It provides jobs, specifically a half-a-year first work experience programme, to those who are in a high risk of unemployment.
It demonstrates by example that it is possible to inter connect the worlds whose communication has so far been rather disfunctional.
It offers fulfillment of a girls´ dream to become a fashion model – young ladies can become one for Gypsy MaMa though they might not fit the beauty ideal of the current fashion industry; they still may become authentic Gypsy MaMa models which would bring satisfaction and taste of an achievement.

How do you plan to upscale this innovation?

We want to appear in other fashion shops, apart from running our own shop as well as an e-shop. We also think of expanding abroad – we have just started to cooperate with Člověk v tísni (People in Need) which is our first step to get on the wholesale market; this organisation placed an order for our clothes which they are going to sell at an NGO market in Slovakia.

What would be your message to people who would like to realise a social innovation?

Do not be afraid of going for it. Be ready to do your best. Try to get a support of a grant funding to get it started. Realise your social innovation in the area you have a good knowledge of.

This blog is a part of the project Empowering Youth To Become Social Innovators, realised under the Erasmus+ partnership programme. The project is coordinated by a Czech NGO DYNAMA, z.s., seated in Brno and an Estonian NGO Youth Club Active, seated in Tallinn. This project contributes to the development of non formal learning of the youth.

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