Re:Skills increases the sustainability of textiles and fashion

Katarina Segerbrand, knit designer and participant in the Re:Skills project

Publicerad: 30 January 2023

Re:Skills is a project financed by the European Social Fund. Through courses and workshops, the project has helped fashion and textile companies along the path towards a more sustainable future. For knit designer Katarina Segerbrand, knowledge gained on the project has helped in discussions with suppliers.

As a knit designer, Segerbrand creates knitting patterns on commission from companies and magazines, including Vogue Knitting, and has even exhibited her work in Japan. Her services have also been engaged by the costume department at Swedish national broadcaster SVT, where she has designed for a number of productions, often using second-hand garments or costumes recycled from other projects.

“Personally, it has always come naturally to think and work sustainably. Consumption and production in the fashion and textile industries today is far too high; it is vital that we are aware of this and that we can change our mindset. By being well-informed and keeping up to date, I can deliver optimally based on my own conditions while still pushing the envelope a little more. It’s important to always stay curious,” she says.

Making conscious choices

Thanks to the European Social Fund and the Re:Skills project, a collaboration between the University of Borås and Science Park Borås, Segerbrand has increased her knowledge so that she can communicate better with customers and suppliers.

“I make knitting patterns that other people can knit, so in that sense the only garments knitted are the one’s the customer wants. For me, it’s a matter of making conscious choices. Of working with materials that I can really stand by, but also not buying too much yarn or producing too much. Better that I run out than that I have too much stock. These days, I’m careful not to work with any collaborators or suppliers who are purely focused on quantity; I try to find people who think along the same lines as me. When you gain knowledge and awareness, it becomes easier to stand your ground and point out other possibilities. Having a good argument increases my credibility and makes it easier to convince the other party,” she says.

When you gain knowledge and awareness, it becomes easier to stand your ground and point out other possibilities.

The fashion and textile industry is in a restructuring phase linked to the green transition of society, with the emphasis on more sustainable production, consumption and retail. Interest is growing in production chains and materials, while at the same time demand is growing for alternatives to new production. The pandemic has placed additional strain on the industry. Plummeting sales of shoes and clothing hit both suppliers and manufacturers hard and a large percentage of the workforce was laid off.

Perquisite for change

With the help of the European Social Fund, the industry has now received assistance to transition through skills development.
“To a large extent, it’s a matter of raising awareness in order to exert influence at an early stage. If companies are to survive, they need to keep up with developments. Through Re:Skills, we have created one prerequisite for change; we have set the ball rolling to facilitate the industry’s necessary transition,” says Anders Stenström, director of research and innovation at the University of Borås and project manager of Re:Skills.

The project is based on offering courses and workshops on everything from the quality of textiles to circular flows and sustainability analysis.
“We have had a broad target group in textiles, fashion and retail, from buyers for major chain stores to textile shops that are small businesses with hourly-paid employees. Our primary target is the individual but to create long-term change we need teamwork throughout the organisation, from management to employees,” says Stenström.

Anders Stenstrom-11
Katarina Segerbrand, Konsumtion, Garn, Sticka, Bra material
Katarina Segerbrand, Konsumtion, Garn, Sticka, Bra material

Taking new knowledge to the customer

Courses have mainly been held online. This has been an 80–90 percent digital project. When we sketched the project, we envisioned a number of hybrid solutions and physical events, but that proved difficult during the pandemic. While this proved to an advantage in as much as we could reach out broadly, unfortunately it also prevented participants from creating networks with one another,” notes Stenström.

Through Re:Skills, shop assistants have gained new knowledge to help them in encounters with increasingly environmentally aware consumers. This might involve answering questions about washing instructions, sustainability, making alterations or second-hand value.

“One of the greatest challenges facing the project has been making people in the industry see that skills development is a strategic business development resource. There is no established culture of allowing continuing professional development for employees. Even if many employees are aware of this need, they have failed to prioritise skills development.”

Anders Stenström, director of research and innovation at the University of Borås and project manager of Re:Skills.

Because of this, Re:Skills has had more success at reaching people who are already interested in sustainability issues or who are self-motivated to develop their skills.

“Here, employers have a great responsibility; it is important that they understand that skills development is a vital piece of the puzzle if they’re going to avoid falling behind. Many of them have come a long way, but the industry needs to change its view of skills development, which is something we take will take with us”, says Stenström, who believes that there is much work left to do. “The need for greater sustainability remains and we will continue to work with similar projects on the same theme in future. Having worked on Re:Skills, it will no doubt remain in some form.”

About Re:Skills

The purpose of the project is to accelerate the fashion and textile industry’s transition to more sustainable production and consumption. Thanks to a grant from the European Social Fund, continuing professional development could be offered to stakeholders in textiles, fashion and retail in order to inspire climate transition and demonstrate the new business opportunities offered by the circular economy.
The project was targeted at everyone from executive management and chain store buyers to fashion designers, small businesses and shop assistants.

The project is co-owned by the University of Borås and Science Park Borås.

The project period was June 2020 to December 2022.

Tips from the project manager

Have the courage to allow your project to develop over time. If you want to make administration as easy as possible, prepare all the details in advance. However, you can keep developing content as the project progresses. I am convinced that the project would not have had such an impact otherwise. We had a good dialogue with the Swedish ESF Council early on and identified a common strategic objective for what was feasible.

Make contacts in the industry at an early stage. It is important to maintain a good dialogue with the industry throughout the project. As we had already established channels of communication, it was easier to recruit the right people to the steering group and other important functions.

Be prepared to adapt content to the participant’s conditions. For example, we held early-morning workshops so that shop assistants could attend before opening up. During the pandemic, many shop assistants were on short-time working but, due to conflicting regulations, they could not use this time for continued professional development. It was therefore especially important to offer recorded online content so participants could watch when it suited them.