A Dutch social enterprise and winner of the INSEAD-partnered 2019 Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, A Beautiful Mess is helping refugees rebuild their lives through opportunity.
As a three-year-old, Naz Kawan left Iraq and arrived in the Netherlands with her mother and little sister, in hope of refuge and a new home. Having seen her mother experience the challenges in realising those hopes, Naz understood the difficulties refugees face in trying to settle into a new normal and find employment. Today, Naz alongside Fleur Bakker is the Co-Founder of A Beautiful Mess, which provides refugee craftspeople a form of livelihood by creating sustainable apparel in the Netherlands.
Reflecting on her journey, she said, “As a former refugee, I saw how difficult it was for my mother to start a new life after losing everything. These challenges created an awareness of the social impact and responsibility we have as individuals within society and in business.” As the world faces the highest numbers of forced migration, which pushes people to the side-lines of society, it is vital for businesses to help bridge this inequality through inclusion.
Looking to do exactly that, while also researching on circular fashion production, Naz decided to harness the skills of craftspeople that had fled to the Netherlands from Central Africa and the Middle East. A young social enterprise that began in 2019, A Beautiful Mess was a winner in the 2019 Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, when INSEAD joined the Tommy Hilfiger team as a key partner to walk-the-talk of using business as a force for good. Beyond contributing in the design of the Challenge, the school was also involved in organising boot camps, arranging mentors for the winners and admitting them into Executive Education’s prestigious INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme (ISEP), providing them access to one of the deepest sources of impact entrepreneurs around the world.
Two refugee craftspeople working at the Beautiful Mess workshop
Ethics and responsibility in business education has been a fundamental part of INSEAD’s vision and mission, along with the importance of sustainability. Sustainability is also ingrained within the business model of A Beautiful Mess – the enterprise is working towards a fully circular factory, where the process involves the repair and recycling of usable materials to reduce waste, and to produce apparel with a smaller environmental and bigger social impact. In the Netherlands alone, an estimated 80 million kilos of textile is discarded every year. The mission of A Beautiful Mess is twofold – it aspires to transform the fashion industry’s supply chain into a more inclusive and circular landscape, and help refugee craftspeople settle into their host country through economic and social independence.
They began in 2019 by supporting a team of 25 tailors. Some of them found employment within the core team of A Beautiful Mess, while the enterprise helped some settle into other similar roles outside of the organisation. Not letting the COVID-19 pandemic dampen their efforts and mission, the enterprise continued some of its functions and organised workstations for the tailors to carry out their craftsmanship conveniently from home. With the recent gradual re-opening, the team is slowly getting back to the offices and factory.
According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), an estimated 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide have faced persecution, conflict, human rights violations and much more. While many social impact agencies, governments and societies are doing what they can to help these refugees, more businesses also need to come forward and do the same, and recognise their ability to contribute. As Fleur Bakker mentioned in her Tedx Talk, “The word “refugee” has now become a label, where we cannot see the people behind it – bakers, designers, engineers.” More than sympathy, offering them opportunity is more important, because nothing will help them rebuild a new life quite like economic inclusivity.
For more inspiring stories of resilient refugees and entrepreneurship, read this INSEAD Knowledge article about Seven Lessons from Refugees Who Became Entrepreneurs