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Berlin’s At-Risk Youth Make Fashion for PEOPLE

By Allison Krupp . June 15, 2020

PEOPLE is a social fashion project.

But the individuals involved don’t just make clothes and jewelry. They find their creative voices in a society that so often ignores them.

The project is made up of people from ages 13 to 27–sometimes homeless or drug-addicted, from various walks of life and post-different bumps in the road. It fuels an exchange of diverse ideas and artistic construction at every level of fashion creation. These individuals operate as a fashion line, even sewing, crafting jewelry, and selling the garments and other items at pop-ups. PEOPLE rethinks the approach to charity work and builds a foundation of empowerment for individuals from difficult backgrounds.

PEOPLE‘s results are pretty spectacular, and you can experience them for yourselves at their pop-up store at Torstrasse 170 until June 20 (or for online purchase at any time, here). Make sure you check it out before they close up shop!

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We had a chance to chat with the masterminds behind this innovative project, Cornelia Zoller and Carola Knitz. Their optimism for a better world–both in fashion and not–thrills us.

What is PEOPLE’s origin story?

The artificially-created fast-pace of the fashion industry, as well as the democratisation of the elitist fashion scene, has always been a big topic for us. We worked in different areas of the fashion industry but always came back to the same point, asking ourselves: where do we see the future, not only for fashion, but for ourselves?

Therefore, almost six years ago, we founded PEOPLE. After the concept was developed in 2015, we received our first funding from the human rights organisation Terre des Hommes and the VW Staff Foundation. This supported our vision of a more diverse future in fashion.

Do you have any background in social projects?

Coming from a background in fashion, we didn’t have much experience in other social projects.

Now, we work daily within a multi-disciplinary team of social workers, case manager and psychologists, and we all learn a lot from each other. The young people themselves also value this diversity in their daily social interactions.

Who are the young people you work with?

Our atelier is part of KARUNA Int. e.V.’s DRUGSTOP. This institute allows us to team up with social workers to help young people find their way back to life.

PEOPLE is open to all teenagers in need from the age of 13-27 years, no matter if they are homeless, addicted to drugs, struggling from mental issues or if they’ve dropped out of school.

Together, we create annual editions of design objects, sartorial pieces and accessories. Each person is involved in the whole process of the fashion label. Everyone can take part in the project without any professional knowledge about the handcrafting of fashion.

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What do people get out of PEOPLE?

The feeling of having an impact in society, of having a voice that can be heard actually means a lot to these teenagers. Many times, these people have been traumatised, stigmatised, or not heard throughout their childhood.

For some young people, the DRUGSTOP facility, or PEOPLE, is the centre of their lives. Some of them have been with us for several years, while others are only with us for a few weeks.

Our society usually excludes these young people–but PEOPLE supports them in developing self-confidence and social skills. They rediscover their creativity and achieve self-awareness. As we listen and believe in them, they gain trust in themselves and also in their environment.

The whole project is always oriented towards the needs of the young people. Our goal is to make their concerns, as well as their skills, more visible and to create an environment for them that they perceive as professional.

How do you arrive at the featured designs?

Teamwork is a big part of PEOPLE. The design process itself is the same as in any other design team: brainstorming, researching, drafting, cutting, draping, testing, sewing and production.

Through different creative workshops and conversations, we try to find out what they are thinking or feeling about their environment. After finding a general consensus, we have a lot of workshops in which they rediscover their own creativity through different manufacturing and design processes.

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How would you describe the PEOPLE aesthetic?

The teenagers’ lives and their points of view are always the main inspiration for us. The themes revolve around how the teenagers feel in our society. They talk a lot about feeling like outsiders or being judged by how they look or behave. They feel invisible, different, and have a fear of abandonment.

Through their work with PEOPLE, they explore new forms of expression and question fixed social norms. For example, in each collection, we question established fashion classics, like a blazer or a white shirt. We then take them apart and put them together again. There is no right and wrong.

In the same way, the young peoples’ own experiences, memories and wishes also merge into the work. As everyone has their own story and a different and often difficult background, there are always a lot of different ideas and thoughts. Each piece is handmade in our own atelier, here in Berlin, and truly unique.

What do you think including this fresh voice in design and fashion could do for our society as a whole?

The project is not about pity; its goal is to sensitise the upper society about the democratisation of fashion. We hope to make others think about the problems a lot of teenagers from the fringes of society deal with.

The anonymity of the young people is very important to us. That’s why we have chosen not to publish pictures of the participants, but to make them visible by promoting their individuality, strength and talents in a professional setting. Our goal is to give these young people access to a framework of creative expression, whilst simultaneously challenging society’s preconceptions.

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What is the future of PEOPLE?

Of course, it is always a great challenge to turn a social concept like PEOPLE into reality. But over the past years, we have been able to establish structures to ensure that we grow and develop continuously. In the meantime, we are hard at work on our fifth edition. We are convinced that others will follow.

What has been the reception so far?

Our temporary stores are highlights for the teenagers. For them, these encounters are almost as important as the work itself, because it allows honest feedback from society on their current values, ideas and visual expression – without any moral preconception regarding their past.

Actually, many are surprised by the incredible ideas of the young participants and how they translate their ideas and stories into design.

We would like to invite you to share memories from our archives with us in our temporary store in Berlin. Some of our pieces are also available in our online store https://shop.peoplepeoplepeople.de/de.

You’ll be able to find us at:

PEOPLE
Torstrasse 170
10115 Berlin/ Mitte

Mo-Sa 11-19h
10th-20th June

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