PARIS, France – This week, we speak to Cristina Orsini, co-founder of Thraedable, a young social entreprise focused on helping reshape the narrative of refugees through fashion. Thraedable’s approach to ethical fashion is a bit out of the ordinary. She didn’t start Thraedable with the intention of creating a fashion brand. Fashion just happened to be the most efficient medium to share an experience, a story.
Cristina’s background is not in fashion but in International Relations, Security and Human Rights. Fashion came later as an interest. “Together with my boyfriend we decided to set up this project from the frustration we had from watching the news and never hear the actual protagonists telling their own stories. My boyfriend was working in the private sector, I was working with major development organization, and we started to realize how difficult it was for small organizations to reach big donors. So with all of that in mind we founded Thraedable.”
Thradeable works with NGOs – mostly around the Mediterranean so far – that help people affected by issues that are either underrepresented or misrepresented in classic forms of media. As of now, the focus is on refugees, but that has evolved over time. In collaboration with the NGOs, they organize art workshops that allow people to freely express themselves. Then they use the artwork to design organic cotton t-shirts and bags. Half the proceeds are used to fund Thraedable, the other half to the partner organizations. “The objective of the art workshops is not to make people into artists but to let them express themselves through a means that is quite universal. The major idea is that behind every item there is someone’s specific story.”
The first challenge was finding organizations willing to work with them that fit the model Thraedable wanted to support: “We mostly targeted grassroot and local organizations who propose to cover long-term needs, not just short-term needs. The focus could be anything, but the organization should have a long term view, a sustainable solution to offer, and deal with an issue that’s either not well known or misrepresented in the traditional media narrative.”
Thraedable started in Tunisia with two local NGOs. The first, Children of the Moon, supported children suffering from Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare form of extreme photosensitivity. “It doesn’t seem like it, but it is a huge social problem because there are many misconceptions around this disease. As a result, children suffer from extreme social isolation.” The project helped send them back to school: “when they can go to school they can more or less have a normal life.” The second project, We Youth, took them to Sfax, where the worked with a youth organization encouraging civic engagement and active citizenship among disadvantaged youth.
After these two experiences, Thraedable decided to focus on the refugee crisis, back in Europe this time. Cristina had been living in Algeria for a while, and although the news talked a lot about refugees traveling through the Mediterranean to Europe, no outlets talked about their experience through North African countries. That’s what urged Cristina to focus on refugees: “we felt that it was a hugely misreported issue and we didn’t want to ignore it.”
Thraedable is now working with three organizations supporting refugees in Greece and Italy: Legal Center Lesbos (Greece), which provides legal aid, Accoglierete (Italy), which connects unaccompanied minors with legal guardians, and Borderline Sicilia (Italy), which advocates for people falling outside the normal reception system such as minors who turned 18 and lost their spot in a center for minors or people who were arbitrarily accused of trafficking.
Thraedable crowdfunded its first projects, but now the social enterprise is self-funded. “We just finished the Christmas campaign where we try to promote this idea of a social gift. In the new year, we are looking at building more awareness and possibly furnish the shop. We want to launch a pop-up shop and for the end of the year, we are planning to partner with new organizations.”
As a resolution for 2018, Thraedable wants to encourage consumers to realize that we are not powerless, and with every small choice we can have a small impact that has value for someone next to you or around the world.