Sheworks Atelier – the place where positive social framework for women and circular stories come to life
In a small Danish town, a circular design atelier dreams to become “the leading interior design brand in Scandinavia, with a social and sustainable agenda and a strong design aesthetic.” Solveig Søndergaard is the woman who broke the norm and decided to path her way, trading what could have been a future in fashion lived through big brand names, for a small business meant to change the lives of immigrant and refugee women in Denmark through passion, the beauty of cultural diversity and circular fashion.
It is estimated that 92 million tons of textile waste come annually from the fashion industry, so producing more fabric and waste is undoubtedly not the future and not on the agenda of Solveig’s design studio – Sheworks Atelier.
Sheworks Atelier employs immigrant and refugee women
The “Climate Hero”
The Danish woman-led atelier was born from an open workshop at the local Design School Kolding, where Solveig Søndergaard saw tens of talented women who had the craftsmanship to create beautiful design pieces, but no way to get paid for their skills. Solveig decided to test the market and, supported by the local authorities, she has used the past two years building the Sheworks Atelier into a successful small business with a green agenda and positive social impact for women. “The overall project frame for the research project was to create jobs specifically for women since statistically, it is harder for them to find jobs, unlike men who can work heavier jobs in more physical demanding industries.”
Growing up in a family that has always worked with textile and fashion, Solveig thinks that “true passion lies in how you can use the tools from fashion to create a change, both socially and environmentally.” So, when she saw the opportunity to follow her passion and do good towards the environment and women, she didn’t hesitate. For that, she’s gathered a long list of awards for the studio, amongst them the title of “Climate Hero” appointed by the Danish Entrepreneurial Union in 2021.
Cultural Diversity & Creative Unity
Sheworks Atelier is more than a workplace for the seven employees, where Solveig is the only Dane and the CEO. The six women employed come from different cultural backgrounds sharing the same enthusiasm and passion for the work they’re doing. “I think we are quite colourful compared to other Scandinavian brands, and I love that”, says Solveig. “Our Margrethe Pillow is a good example of a technique from the Syrian culture, called “smock” that I had the chance to learn thanks to the wonderful women from Syria working at Sheworks Atelier. The design work started in pink silk, I suggested grey wool and then something magical happened.”
The women of Sheworks Atelier learn from each other and grow together by sharing knowledge and cultural inspiration, which result in beautiful, handmade, unique pieces of circular design. “This is one of the best things about our team at Sheworks – we can unite craft traditions from other cultures and give them a Scandinavian feel, all while we take care of the planet reusing textile waste.”
The Margrethe pillow in smock technique by Sheworks Atelier
Beautiful upcycling pillows made by Sheworks Atelier
Environmental and Social Responsibility
“Circularity principles need to be implemented throughout all stages of a value chain to make the circular economy a success. From design to production, all the way to the consumer.” Jan Huitema, MEP Lead on the circular economy action plan.
The EU Parliament’s plan to achieve a carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050, known as the Circular Economy Action Plan, has seen major fashion brands rethink their sustainability strategies, turning towards a more circular fashion mindset, but the world needs more and more initiatives like Solveigs. She wants people to wonder where their clothes come from and consume fashion and textile products more responsibly.
“I have been aware of the major sustainability obstacles in the textile industry for decades and it worries me both professionally and personally. Producing our designs from deadstock and waste materials from the industry thus came naturally and is core to our business. We use only what already exists and do not contribute to any further production of materials since our resources are sparse.” But Solveig’s work cannot stand alone. Support from companies in the industry can help the work of the seven talented women. “Combining it with the help of companies like A-TEX (Trimco Group), which give our products the final touch, the zero-waste products look more professional and live up to their high quality. It super important for our products to look just as good, even better, than products from traditional production if you want to survive in our industry.”
Can the Atelier Grow?
Without a doubt. Solveig plans to reach outside the Scandinavian market and spread the good message to everyone, setting a great social and environmental example. “Younger generations, and also the “older” generation like my mother (sorry mom), are keenly aware of our responsibility as consumers in modern society. I believe that both sustainability and social inclusion will become our competitive advantage – and when our design is great – I am sure more and more people will embrace this mindset”.
Can seven women change a whole world? Maybe not, or not now, but it surely is a great place to start. Plagued by wars, social inequality and environmental catastrophes, the world needs to change and take action. “My dream is to create jobs for people all over the world, and I think that in times like these where we see a new wave of immigrants and refugees coming from Ukraine, I believe that our business model is more relevant than ever. We need to be smart about (and kind to) the human resources moving across Europe and in general. The world is in constant change, and our industry needs to be able to adapt.”
Trimco Group is proud to support Solveig’s initiative and be part of Sheworks Atelier inspiring story, making the world just a bit better.
“I like to do things in the way that feels right. And what I do now feels right every day.”
Solveig Søndergaard, Sheworks Atelier
Photo credit: Sheworks Atelier, Video by Iværksætteren.