The social entrepreneurs behind mimycri are turning migrants’ broken and discarded rubber boats into designer bags and wallets – not only offering refugees meaningful jobs, but also helping to reduce plastic waste in the process.
The non-profit project mimycri was started by the Berliners Nora Azzaoui and Vera Günther after the two had both carried out a volunteering stint on the Greek island of Chios, where they supported refugees who had arrived after surviving long and treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean on rubber boats: indeed over 1 million refugees have reached Greece after embarking on such a journey since 2015.
Back in Berlin, and with a firsthand perspective of the refugee situation, there was one image they couldn’t get out of their heads – the piles of plastic waste on Greece’s beaches, leftover pieces from refugees’ rubber boats that they had used to reach the island. This was to be the inspiration for their innovative social business, mimycri.
© mimycriThey connected with local volunteers and refugees back on Chios, who were charged with collecting the the plastic and materials littering the island’s beaches. The collected materials were sent over to Berlin where an international team of designers and tailors – with refugees employed in key roles – got to work producing cool and functional bags. A hugely successful crowdfunding campaign helped them gather the funds to set up the project.
The mimycri product range includes durable and water-resistant backpacks, pouches and bags (all can be ordered by email). The products are not just cool, ecologically and ethically produced, they also embody a history, that of refugees escaping war and looking for a better future elsewhere – ultimately, a message of hope.
A Tool for Integration and a Reminder of Refugees’ Ongoing Struggle
As well as seeking to turn tragic realities – such as fleeing conflict, the separation from family, the alienation of living in a foreign country and culture – into something positive, mimycri’s bags are also a tangible tool towards the integration of the refugees who make them. And they also act as a visual reminder for the communities in which they are trying to settle – not just promoting integration through design and employment, but also by raising awareness and starting a conversation about the issues underlying the plight of refugees.
Once mimycri becomes fully self-sustaining, they will be able not only to pay all contributors and production costs, but also to reinvest or donate any future income to non-profit refugees organizations. The initiative recently won third place in the first phase of the German Integration Prize: in the next phase they are in for a chance to win up to 100,000 EUR.
Here are mimycri’s founders and contributors talking about the project: