Berlin’s fashion hub is taking shape. Two years ago, the German capital announced its intention to promote innovative and more sustainable fashion with a new online centre. This is how the institution with the official name “Vorn – The Berlin Fashion Hub” will look.
For a few weeks, the presence of the fashion hub can be found online. Those who visit the website initially see various questions that alternately come to the fore like a screen saver:
“What are regenerative fashion systems?”
“What is a paradigm shift?”
“What is the key to sustainability in the fashion and textile industry?”
The fashion hub is undoubtedly addressing fashion’s biggest current and future questions, and there is no formula for providing answers to them yet. But even those who want to solve big questions start out with small steps.
A house full of inspiring fashion companies
The digital member area, one of the four pillars of the Fashion Hub, recently went online, Chief Executive Officer Magdalena Schaffrin tells FashionUnited in an interview. Three more pillars will soon be added: an innovation lab, a scaling program and a co-working space with an exhibition area. The location of the fashion hub will also be decided soon.
“We have big plans for the medium term. I dream of a big house full of interesting companies working in fashion. They will then meet at our events or during their lunch break,” says Schaffrin, who has been pushing green fashion in Germany for years. She is a co-founder of the consultancy Studio MM04 and the Greenshowroom, which later became the fashion fair Neonyt.
In the long term, Berlin’s Fashion Hub should stand on its own two feet. The funds from the state of Berlin – 1.29 million euros (pound) until 2025 – serve as initial financing. In the future, the hub aims to finance itself and run profitably.
The founders, who won the Berlin Senate’s tender for the project, will contribute an extensive list of contacts from their previous ventures.
Schaffrin’s expertise in fashion lies in sustainability and fair trade. Her fellow board members have a deep understanding of the supply chain: Marte Hentschel is managing director of the sourcing platform Sqetch, while Max Gilgenmann founded Studio MM04 with Schaffrin and is also in frequent contact with manufacturers of technical textiles and textile machinery.
Members can exchange ideas online, share resources and network in the community area. Anyone can become a member, including companies from Berlin and from other parts of the world. Soon, for example, a company from Sri Lanka will join.
“We are promoting the Berlin scene with the hub and want to address it with physical events,” says Schaffrin. “The international nature is also in the interest of the city of Berlin, because Berlin also wants to attract international companies and develop the city.”
The hub’s focus is on discovering talent and helping to build businesses in a sound way. Membership fees start at 120 euros per year for startups with up to ten employees.
“That’s the low-threshold approach for anyone who wants to work with us but isn’t that big financially yet,” Schaffrin says. “Our community is primarily aimed at the young companies, the creative scene, startups, scaleups – that’s where life is, where we see the interesting ideas and innovations.”
But larger companies are also welcome. As members, they pay up to 2,500 euros per year and in return get access to an “interesting community”, creatives working on sustainability or innovations like the Metaverse, Schaffrin said. “This is where the future of fashion is happening. It’s where you find those who think and work in a way that will shape the future of fashion.”
The Innovation Lab is envisioned to become the biggest section of the Berlin Fashion Hub in terms of business volume. Research partnerships with other organizations will be formed with the help of grant money. In addition, a Living Lab could house, for example, a microfactory, a 3D printer or an in-house recycling facility for a limited time.
Along with the machines, there will be a program to make the technology available to startups or creatives. “In these programs, we work specifically with industry partners,” Schaffrin says.
Collaborations with one of the hidden champions in the field of technical textiles or textile machinery manufacturing, in which Germany is the world market leader, would be a possibility. These manufacturers often have no connection to fashion yet, says Schaffrin. New products could emerge from a collaboration or new markets could be explored.
The Innovation Lab also includes the Vorn Academy program, which is already up and running: Ten young talents spend eight weeks in Berlin learning about how fashion is digitally developed and circularly designed. A stipend of 3,000 euros per month comes on top, and partners include Berlin-based online retailer Zalando, Israeli textile printing machine manufacturer Kornit, and Unity, a San Francisco-based game developer.
The result, a “phygital circular fashion capsule collection”, will be unveiled at the upcoming Berlin Fashion Week in January.
Co-working space and scaling program
Once the Berlin Fashion Hub moves into its premises, there will be a co-working space where members can book a workstation. A showroom will serve as a window to present sustainable fashion topics in exhibitions and make them accessible to the public. It can also be used temporarily as a space for events.
Green fashion will be given a permanent public space in Berlin. A similar concept already exists at the organisation Fashion for Good in Amsterdam, where start-ups receive funding to scale up, and where innovations are regularly presented in the adjacent museum. Paris also has another incubator for green fashion, La Caserne.
But the Berlin fashion hub doesn’t plan to be a traditional accelerator. With the scaling program starting next year, the hub wants to bring larger companies and smaller labels together in collaborations and advise them in this process. For designers, for example, it can provide legal advice or communication advice on the topic of sustainability for larger companies, so that the collaboration takes place on an equal footing.
The fashion hub as a cooperative
The hub is organised as a business cooperative that can be invested in and distributes profits, similar to a fixed-income investment. The investment should be seen more as a contribution to the future viability of an industry, not as a venture investment with high prospects for profit, Schaffrin says. After careful consideration, she and her co-founders deliberately chose this legal form.
“The cooperative ensures that our values, which we wrote down in our Code of Honour, will continue to exist. It was really important to us to choose an organisational form that doesn’t play into the cards of classic predatory capitalism,” she says.
So far, the debate about a more sustainable fashion industry has often focused on materials or fair working conditions. But the root of the problems often starts with the underlying conditions. Corporate structures such as stock corporations tend to put profits and growth ahead of factors such as the environment. For this reason, the founder of the outdoor brand Patagonia recently decided to hand over the company to foundations.
“If you think about how to solve the problems in the fashion industry, broaden your view and look at the system, then you also get into the growth discussion,” Schaffrin explains. “How much growth can we tolerate? But this idea of growth is written down in the corporate forms. Our cooperative stands for moderate and impact-driven growth.” Talks with interested parties are ongoing.