What do beekeeping, high fashion and inclusion have in common? You might think “not much”, but that’s because you’ve never heard of Espero.
Espero is a physical workspace and a fine example of the French-designed “Integration through Economic Activity” programme, designed to support people far from employment to access productive activity and training. Workshop concepts like Espero support target groups while delivering socially useful, revenue generating activities.
Work integration Social Enterprises in France, 2021
Supporting people with complex needs through this approach is a collective challenge. That is why the programme relies on joined-up action between state, companies, social services and local authorities.
Innovation at the crossroads
Espero is a hub of innovative intersections, placing itself squarely at the convergence of social inclusion and sustainability. It supports the environmental transition without leaving behind the most vulnerable.
On the social side, Espero engages people in precarious situations facing multiple obstacles to employment. These include refugees who often find themselves excluded and vulnerable, even if they bring with them a wealth of experience from their country of origin. Many of the refugees that make up its beneficiaries have received no or very little formal schooling. Some are even illiterate.
In many cases, their talents are lost when seeking to integrate into the French labour force. They frequently choose careers far from their talent base but with easier entry points, such as cleaning or construction. Yet when they come to the space, they receive tailored support to overcome the obstacles they face, including language barriers and skills gaps. Espero strives to recognise these “lost” talents and to connect everyone to their dream career.
Espero works with many refugees who already have skills in sewing and embroidery, in some cases connecting them with some of the biggest fashion houses in the world. It’s not just the refugees who benefit from this crossroads.
The legacy of fashion in France, which requires attention to detail and technical skills, is preserved and strengthened. At a time when fashion has become even more trendy and disposable than before , with fast fashion taking the world by storm, the tedious, detail-oriented handwork that makes fashion so special has been continually devalued by society.
Preserving France’s unique legacy of luxury fashion requires people who are still committed to the craft, willing to invest hours on the smallest details of a single article of clothing.
To achieve environmental goals, Espero promotes career paths that are in line with a sustainable environmental transition, including upcycled fashion, beekeeping and permaculture. Each of these contributes in some way to reducing waste, preserving biodiversity and promoting a circular and regenerative economy.
As part of this commitment, Espero also receives donations of unused fabric from luxury houses, allowing the beneficiaries to develop their skills to work with high quality fabric while contributing to an increasingly circular economy. In many cases, these same houses may place orders for a specific line of products produced by its beneficiaries.
As a result, Espero creates a win-win-win situation, flying in the face of zero-sum logic and doubters. Yes we can simultaneously promote social inclusion, protect the environment, and value our most treasured legacies.
Now almost 7 years old, Espero has provided personalised support to more than 300 people. Since 2019, it has conducted workshops to raise awareness for societal change to over 500 people and over 100 people have returned to work with their guidance.
As of 2022, more than 43 people were employed in one of the two sewing workshops between 10-35 hours per week. More than 4 000 rolls of fabric have been revalued by the workshop while over 220 articles of unsold clothing have been recovered and transformed by the workshop.
An Espero beekeeping project has produced over 1 000 kilograms of honey in the Paris region gathered from its 24 beehives, has taught over 500 workshop participants about the role of bees in our world, and trained 60 people in beekeeping.
More than 32 people have also been trained in permaculture and 100 more have been exposed to the related issues.
Espero is more than just beekeeping and high fashion. By combining social inclusion, environmental protection and various creative skills, it is a firm working to make the world a better – and fairer – place. Governments must strive to put the right policies in place to enable many more social enterprises to do the same.
Learn more about OECD work on the Social and Solidarity Economy.
Register for our upcoming webinar on 24 November about refugees and the Social Economy here.