Bootstrapping Coworking #2 – New Ways to Empower People

Enrico Cassinelli —  September 3, 2012

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Welcome to the second episode of the Bootstrapping Coworking series.

Today we’ll have a talk with Swantje Wendt, owner of Nadelwald Co-Sewing space, one of the most original coworking spaces in Berlin.

Launched almost one year ago (if you are reading us from Berlin, be sure to not to miss the birthday party on September 22nd) Nadelwald is a wonderfully furnished facility in the Neukölln neighbourhood which allows people to rent sewing machine equipped desks.

Originally thought as a spot for fashion designers, it’s now become a place where DIY lovers come to learn how to produce their own clothes and accessories.

To put it in Swantje’s words:

no more shopping guys — Let’s do something by your own.

Hello Swantje, please, lets talk a little bit about yourself.

Yes, sure. I started as a tailor and worked for three month in this job, before I recognized that this shouldn’t be my daily business. So I left everything behind and went to the private school at Mannheim to study Fashion Design.

After working for about six years in different fashion companies, I decided to start my own business…no more endless meetings, thousands of clothes to be copied and no more people bored from their jobs.

Not that easy to do the first step, but actually the best thing which happened to me.

Now I’m back to the roots again — working with my hands and just doing things I love.

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What do you do in Nadelwald Co-Sewing Space?

First of all — sewing is not that difficult as it seems.

You can rent a machine and start your project as you are in need of. It’s all up to you, and I’m always here to help you doing your stuff.

I love teaching others, and I’m glad to see the happy smiles when people leave my space with something self made in their hands…so no more shopping guys — Let’s do something by your own.

For those who don’t have sewing experiences I’m also doing workshops like Shirts, Dresses, Skirts, Shoppers, Pillow cases, pattern making, knitting and other nice things.

You just have to bring your materials like fabrics and yarn — and you’ll find everything else in here.

But if you’re really unable to work with your hands and do something by yourself, you can also buy nice handmade things in the store.

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Co-Sewing sounds like an interesting concept. How and when did you come up with the idea of launching a co-sewing space?

The first idea came up in end of March 2011. I just wanted to start my own Accessory Label with illustrated scarfs and hand knitted shawls.

Unfortunately it was impossible to find a co-working space where I was able to leave all my stuff. And I’m no person for working at home…

So I decided to build up my own working space with all the things I really need for sewing — like different machines, large tables, scissors, needles, ruler and a lot of space.

To keep the costs low and don’t be alone the whole day, I decided to open it to others who are interested in doing the same. I threw away my first business plan and started a new one.

The concept is much more complex than I first thought — teaching people, preparing and doing workshops, ordering and selling products, answering thousands of questions and keep everything running is a full time job.

Actually I don’t have much time to do my own stuff, but it’s the greatest job I ever had and who knows what will happen next?!

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Was your initial idea influenced by concepts like Collaborative Consumption and Sharing Economy? What do you think about them?

When I tried to start my Accessory Label, my boyfriend was working in the Wostel — a coworking space in Neukölln.

I loved the idea of working on my own stuff surrounded by people who are doing the same, but for different things: for me it’s really necessary to stay in contact to others and I’m always interested in what people are doing.

You won’t get new ideas, opinions or inspiration if you’re always working in your home office staring at the walls. Coworking spaces are perfect places to push yourself and your ideas — just by communication.

So there was no alternative for me other than to open a co-sewing space.

And I have to mention at this point, that I got a lot of support by the two girls from the Wostel. That’s what I like that much at the coworking community instead of the fashion community — no elbows and egocentric behavior. Just helpful, tolerant and open minded.

Today it’s like I said — every day I’ in touch with lots of wonderful people and they all have fantastic ideas and projects. I love to work with them or just sitting at the bench, drinking coffee and laughing.

I’ll never change my job again.

Do you work with a team? What’s your business structure?

No, there’s no team — It’s all up to me, so there’s no time for holidays and illness.

But since four months I’m supported by a good friend of mine — Britta. We first met in Bremen, when she worked as Quality- and Production Manager and I worked as a Fashion Designer in the same company.

In beginning of this year we met again and decided to try out a new start. And now she’s finishing and selling her own jewelry collection here. We have a lot of fun and I’m glad to count on here when I’m getting ill or there’s a workshop I can’t prepare — together it’s much easier.

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Starting a company is always difficult. What’s the most arduous obstacle you faced during the process?

For me it was the financial thing. All the different schedules based on fictional assumptions…nothing real, everything might be or not. No, that’s not for me…

For this part I got some help by a Coach, in fact that I needed a credit about 40 thousand euros from the Sparkasse.

Yes, not that much money, but my first liabilities…and that’s always a bad feeling. It took me almost a week to sign the contract.

How did you rise the initial funding?

I had saved money, which was meant for my label. But because I then needed more rooms, more sewing machines than expected and interior furnishing, I had to take a bank loan.

From April to early June I wrote my business plan and submitted it to the bank.

In late August came the long awaited approval from the bank: at that time I had already rented the space.

It seems you’ve carefully chosen the furniture, looking for a very specific atmosphere and feel. How did you setup the space in the beginning?

It’s so important how you feel when working.

For me, the most important thing was (and still is) to have a nice atmosphere. Anybody should have a comfortable feeling in here.

Unfortunately we had to wait very long for the money, so it was impossible to buy the interior like planned.

Due to tight time schedule, we just bought the most necessary things from the flea market and built nearly everything by ourselves.

It wasn’t planed this way, but finally it’s much nicer and cheaper than mentioned in the business plan and we are very proud on this individual style.

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How did you handle the marketing and launching processes?

Hmm…I think the best decision ever, was to call it co-sewing space, since everybody is talking about coworking these days.

But there’s another part, ’cause the whole Do It Yourself movement is experiencing a second renaissance. It’s popular again to do knitting or stitching after work and much easier to sell handmade stuff via Etsy or DaWanda.

Today there’s a large community of crafting people and lots of them like the idea of Nadelwald co-sewing space. So I really often get press inquiries from bloggers, makers, community sites and also from newspapers or magazines.

We also printed flyer, shared them around the corner and gave them to the different fashion schools in Berlin.

But the most important channel is Facebook. We tried to inform our Facebook fans about any step from the first day on. So we nearly grew up together.

The people want to see what’s going on and how the self-made things look like. It’s much easier to reach the creative people via Facebook than via our official website.

For the launch last year we sent out invitations to important editors and journalist. Sure nobody came that evening, but all of them had heard of us and many came back after a while. This year we’ll have a second try ;)

By the end I think that every channel has its own advantages, and you should try to exploit each marketing opportunity you get.

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It’s been nearly 1 year now that Nadelwald Co-Sewing space is open. How things have been going so far? After launching, what was the most difficult task to act on?

It’s going on better and better. There are much more people interested in sewing than expected.

Mostly hobby creatives, who want to learn special things, but also professionals in need of special machines.

Surprisingly many men want to copy and sew their favorite shirt.

I’m glad to be able to pay my rent and any other costs. It’s still not enough for living at all, but I won’t expect too much in the first year…step by step.

Each day I’m really happy and proud of everything we get done.

The next big project will be the online store and this is also the most difficult task, because I’m always depending on others. Sewing, sawing, hammering, drilling, painting — no problem, but programming…ouch. So this will be the big task for the second year.

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Is there any piece of advice you’d like to give to somebody who wants to open a collaborative workspace?

Be sure to love working with different people and to be motivated each day — there will be good days and bad days and you have to manage all of them.

Do it the way you most like, and it will the best thing you ever did.

What’s your thought about the future of coworking?

I think it’s just the beginning. A lot of companies will reflect the increase potential of coworking and hopefully use it for their employees and their own development.

Maybe the spaces should be better connected to generate more profit for their customers? It would be great to have a single ticket to enter coworking spaces in different cities all over the world or in one city just for special projects.

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Enrico Cassinelli

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3 responses to Bootstrapping Coworking #2 – New Ways to Empower People

  1. Love this interview Cassi, keep them coming!

    @Swantje: Good luck with your co-sewing space….and KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!

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