I Tråd Med Verden: Putting People Before Profits

Karla Borg

Stress, exploitation, and even modern slavery are words commonly used to describe the in many ways problematic textile industry, providing the 8 billion people on this earth with everything from clothing to curtains. At I Tråd Med Verden (In Thread With the World in Danish), words like well-being, personal development, and patience are more fitting to describe their business philosophy and operation. ITMV is a rare kind of business that truly puts people before profits. I met with their chief designer Liv in one of their Copenhagen-based workshops to learn more about this inspiring enterprise that has social justice as its core.

What inspired the creation of I Tråd Med Verden?

“ITMV started 13 years ago as a collaboration between KEA (Copenhagen School of Design and Technology) and the Red Cross. Back then It was a project focused on integration, and it aimed to create a community through crafts, for women who, for many different reasons, have ended up isolated and far from the Danish labor market. Since then ITMV has taken many different forms and collaborated with lots of different institutions. 5 years ago it became a certified social economic enterprise, which means that all our profits go directly to the women we work with.”

How do you work with textiles at ITMV?

“We recycle and upcycle used textiles both for companies and our own products. Crafting is like a third language for us, where we can meet each other regardless of language barriers and other differences. The women that we work with are very far from the workforce and often society as a whole, for many different reasons. Our newest employee is a Ukrainian woman who speaks neither English nor Danish, so we communicate through hand gestures, drawings, and a translation app. For us, that’s not a problem at all. 

We work with three different techniques: sewing, embroidery, and fabric dying. You can really tell a woman’s temper by which technique she works best with. We can never 100% plan how the final product will look like. Sometimes things happen during the process that you could say are mistakes or miscommunications, but here we embrace that and consider it an important part of our design-DNA and process.”

What does ITMV’s design process look like? 

“Normally, a design process starts with a form, then selecting a material, and at the end, there is a person who creates the final product. We’ve flipped that whole process and instead start with getting to know the person and making sure they will get a positive work experience. Then, we receive the material from our collaborators, and at the end, we develop a form, a product.”

The women ITMV employs are often not able to be active in the Danish labor market. In Denmark, that means they are going through the extremely complex, and confusing, bureaucratic system that the state and municipalities have established. We’ll refer to this as ‘the System’. 

What are your thoughts on the System?

“Most of these women are going through a long and tough fight with the System and when I started it was clear that when a new woman comes here the first time, she sees me and ITMV as part of that system too. Most quickly realize that we are on their side and not an extension of the municipality. But it takes time. It is hard to describe how affected some of these women are by the experiences they’ve had with the System.

We are known at the Jobcenter as the “softest” workplace, and we are actually quite proud of that, especially since we at the same time manage to keep up with production deadlines and big collaborations. It’s very important for us to keep a balance between our social mission and hour production and business commitments.”

Is it difficult to keep that balance?

“It can be. We do have to decline really good collaboration offers because they just wouldn’t work with our capacity and workflow. Sometimes we have to educate other businesses a bit, so they understand what collaborating with us entails. But if they are willing to work with us on the terms we set, they will be taking social responsibility, and fortunately, we experience that many companies are interested in that.”

Who do you collaborate with?

“Right now we are working with Glyptoteket who has given us their old exhibition banners so we can create new products from them. We are also collaborating with designer Sif Pristed, IKEA, Ganni, and then we have a brand new collaboration with Underprotection, which we are very excited about too.” 

Have you seen any change in the interest in working with ITMV and supporting your social values? 

“We’ve seen a huge change in the past 5 years. Recycling and upcycling have really developed, both in concept and in popularity. At ITMV it’s both the materials and the people working with it who get a new start in life. During Corona hour private wholesale exploded and we are very thankful for the whole #supportyourlocal-trend. And we’re very happy to see the interest from private individuals continuing also post-Corona. Before the lockdowns started, we didn’t make any designs or products in our own name. Now, that is about 50% of our business. Our brand stays much stronger because of this and we are very fortunate for that.”

What should people know about ITMV?

“That we’re an option. We’re an option, for businesses who want to take societal responsibility. 

Do you see ITMV as political?

“That’s a tough question. In some way, it is, because we are all very motivated by the unjust and unfair treatment of people who have it the most difficult within our society. So it is not directly political, but definitely driven by our passion for social justice.”

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