Newcomers are the starting point and the core of Makers Unite

Makers Unite offers professional opportunities within the sustainable textile industry to people who are new to the Netherlands. This social enterprise makes them part of the community and ensures that they find a place in the Dutch creative sector through a special talent development programme. Thami Schweichler, one of the initiators of Makers Unite, explains how they have become so successful and what their plans for the future are.

Everyone deserves a chance
“How can we create a business that offers opportunities to these talents?” This was the question that Thami asked himself in 2016 when many refugees in the Netherlands were not getting a chance to use their talents. Thami himself was born and raised in Brazil, studied Social Design in France, and had worked in Kenya. It was there that he learned to solve social problems with commercial solutions, as he is doing now with Makers Unite.

Thami: “Now we are an internationally recognized production company that has mentored almost 200 newcomers and – together with major international brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Filling Pieces – we are making fashion more sustainable and society more inclusive.”

A Commercial solution to a social problem
After an intensive six-week talent development programme, refugees with residence permits can start working in the Makers Unite studio. There they work with locals on special circular textile projects, such as a collection of bags made from old life jackets from Greece. Companies looking for responsible merchandise can turn to Makers Unite.

Thami: “For example, if Ben & Jerry’s is looking for a designer for a new collection, we pass this request on to people in our community. In this way, we win a nice assignment, and we also give our community an opportunity and provide our clients with valuable help.”

Circular dreams
“We started with upcycling life jackets from the Greek islands. Now that an increasing number of organisations want to become more sustainable or even circular, we can help them,” explains Thami.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Makers Unite made tens of thousands of protective suits and
facemasks. As unpleasant as the crisis is, it also brings good things, says Thami. For example, he
was invited to join Amsterdam City Council in discussing opportunities that the crisis might offer
for sustainability. “This would never have happened without the pandemic. There is much more
positive energy and willingness to work towards a sustainable, fair and socially inclusive
society.”

Solidarity and collaboration
As a social enterprise with a commercial model, it was difficult to get support at first, but Thami
believed in his decision. “If you don’t deliver in a commercial business, the company will
immediately get into difficulties. This gives everyone a feeling of solidarity and creates a positive
dynamic of collaboration instead of just providing assistance.”

The DOEN Foundation was the first party to believe in Makers Unite’s plans. “At that time,
DOEN’s grant was really crucial for us,” says Thami. But DOEN’s support is more than just
financial. “The partnership is extremely valuable. DOEN’s employees are engaged, interested and
flexible. They help us to stay close to our impact objective. That is very nice.”

Across the border
With a solid base in Amsterdam, Thami now wants to give newcomers in other countries a
chance as well. Thanks to an investment from DOEN Participaties, Makers Unite can increase its
production capacity and consider making an international impact. “We have a number of start-
up projects in Italy and also want to start manufacturing in the Middle East, to provide
opportunities for newcomers there.”
If like Thami, you intend to make the world a better place, his tip is: “Just start, just do it. So
many people have good ideas, but don’t dare to start.”

Thami Schweigler

 

Quotes/highlights

  • Thami Schweigler: “We started with upcycling life jackets from the Greek islands. Now
    that an increasing number of organisations want to become more sustainable or even
    circular, we can help them!”
  • As unpleasant as the crisis is, it also brings good things, says Thami. “There is much more
    positive energy and willingness to work towards a sustainable, fair and socially inclusive
    society.”
  • As a social enterprise with a commercial model, it was difficult to get support at first, but
    Thami believed in his decision. “If you don’t deliver in a commercial business, the
    company will immediately get into difficulties. This gives everyone a feeling of solidarity
    and creates a positive dynamic of collaboration instead of just providing assistance.”
  • Thami himself was born and raised in Brazil, studied Social Design in France and had
    worked in Kenya. It was there that he learned to solve social problems with commercial
    solutions, as he is doing now with Makers Unite.
  • If like Thami, you intend to make the world a better place, his tip is: “Just start, just do it.
    So many people have good ideas, but don’t dare to start.”