Q&a / Social Sustainability
”Our existing model of ‘serving’ marginalized communities with, for example, charity is a very broken system”
On questioning — and sometimes unlearning — lifelong codes and habits in order to do good
8 Nov 2021

80 % of Swedish wool is lost, 50 % of the elderly say that they’re feeling lonely, and 4 of 5 newly arrived immigrant women are unemployed. Cara Boccieri and Audrey Baba started Koldbath Craft Kollektiv to do something about it.

— We’re disrupting the fashion industry through extreme self-reliance on local wool and traditional crafts. We do so by bringing together grandmas and their traditional skills with Swedish newcomers, to create handmade, on-trend, unisex fashion using Swedish wool, the duo tells, continuing,

— They may sound like lofty goals, and they are, which is why we are not doing this alone. We have created a ”cooperative” of women coming together with these goals guiding us. Working in this way means that as we address these societal challenges — unemployment amongst foreign-born women, loneliness amongst elderly in Sweden, unused Swedish wool. We are not doing so ”in a separate room” guided by our personal ideas and assumptions. Rather we are sitting at the table together with these women, we are all identifying our own obstacles and we are all creating our own solutions. And it’s these voices and these solutions that will continue to shape Koldbath Craft Kollektiv.   

— What makes us unique is our positioning. We are a social impact fashion brand, but we don’t want you to buy our products because you feel guilted into buying local wool, or because your emotions are triggered by the stories of our members. We want you to love our products because the wool that we use is not only locally sourced but has unique qualities that will keep you warm and protected. And the women who make those products are lifelong artisans with valuable and rewardable handicraft skills and living cultural wisdom, and they are hand-making products to the highest quality standards. And we want you to love our products because they are not only functional and last a lifetime, but are also pretty cool.

— We are in the early stages of and joining a diverse and interesting constellation of Swedish wool industry actors. Together, we plan to be making a lot of noise around the wool industry in Sweden. 

Cara Boccieri’s background is as a conflict and migration expert, working with organizations like the U.N. and Red Cross as a researcher and policymaker with a focus on holistic and human-centered approaches. She went on to start the Co-creation fashion movement in her work as a social entrepreneur connecting artisans in remote refugee situations with fashion designers around the world. Audrey Baba’s background is as a fabric and leather buyer for luxury houses in Paris such as Hermès, Chloé, and Mugler. She is a certified leathercraft artisan and started her entrepreneurial journey with Babatan, an accessory brand focusing on women crafters in Africa, and loves bringing together ancestral know-how and timeless designs complimented by savoir-faire while using local resources.

We see a huge rise in the social sustainability issue. Why is that, you think?

We’ve been in social sustainability for a combined 16 years, and yes we’ve seen a huge shift within the industry, traditional key players, and of course startups from very diverse horizons. 

— It seems there are some issues we cannot keep on pretending to hide and a global system that runs out of steam. A system that does not share benefits throughout the entire latter, but makes already struggling humans struggle more. It is absurd for many, and people are ready for change. And life is ringing the bell for us to do so, says Baba and Boccieri. They continue:

— Currently, our global systems — a reflection of our inner selves — are built on scarcity and often fear. We are taught to believe that there isn’t enough food on this Earth to feed everyone and that we must constantly consume and compete to create a worthy identity. Our existing model of ”serving” marginalized communities, such as charity, is a very broken system, maintaining and worsening power imbalances, deficit, and forced dependency. There have been pockets of people all over the world challenging these beliefs and creating solutions from a different perspective, these are often social entrepreneurs. And then, we recently all experienced a global pandemic and movements such as BLM. These had people closely examining themselves and created a growing awareness of our choices, our privilege, and our accountability. These experiences possibly further pushed people to connect inwardly and find a different truth — we are ”enough” and we can create the change we want. 

— We are now experiencing a time, where we see people connecting and creating from this baseline — as opposed to fear and unworthiness. And we are seeing the reflection in new start-ups and in our systems and institutions. It means more government support for social enterprises, unexpected cross-sectoral collaborations, and co-creative approaches. 

”We don’t need to ”give a voice” to anyone, we just need to listen to it”

What are the most important call to actions for an executive and a corporation in order to improve social sustainability work?

— It is important to disconnect from a very old way of being and doing business, one that many of us were shown our entire lives. It is a narrative that people need our help and that we know how to help them, and it is destructive, Boccieri and Baba state.

— We know that to keep on being disruptive, we need to question and sometimes unlearn these lifelong codes and habits. To be a part of this shifting narrative means having a willingness to deconstruct our own experiences and beliefs. It means not being afraid to examine ourselves and our deep core values. In doing this inner work, we are able to trust in our alignment and embody our values in every aspect of our company. This allows for a journey with fewer struggles and more flow and ease. Part of the ”co-creative process” is finding abundance and worthiness in ourselves, and seeing this powerful reflection in others. We don’t need to ”give a voice” to anyone, we just need to listen to it. 

— In a practical sense, if a company is partnering or donating to a ”cause” — are we intimately aware of the genuine needs of the people we are impacting? Our due diligence goes beyond just checking the legitimacy of our partner organizations, it means knowing whether our partnership addresses the root causes of a particular social issue, or if it further perpetuates social imbalances. Rather, social sustainability can be built into the core of every business. It means co-creating solutions and remaining accountable and grounded. In other words, just be a good person, or company, at the core. Connection, collaboration, and understanding with humans are always the answer. 

Do you have any colleagues that can serve as good examples?

— Our friends at A New Sweden are doing some great work and are a perfect example of living in alignment with their values. We hear a lot about ”slow fashion” these days — their pieces take one full year from collection of wool to finished garment. When they started, they were looking for a supply chain that met their requirements — insofar as sustainability and ethics — and they didn’t find one. So, instead of settling, they went through the laborious — and exciting — process of creating one, the duo shares, continuing,

— Both being passionate about artisanal skills and wisdom, we follow examples like Atelier Bartevelle, a creation studio and association working to safeguard Mediterranean intangible heritage. We believe that language is an important and powerful tool when it comes to social sustainability. The women of Atelier Bartevelle wield it as such! Their focus is consistently on the value of the artisans, the communities, and the power of their transmissions. 

A few weeks ago, Koldbath Craft Kollektiv was announced one of two Swedish winners in Vistaprint’s start-up competition Njord Nest. They’re now open for made-to-order pre-sales and will be launching very soon.

Cara Boccieri and Audrey Baba