For our latest article, FAIRE had the pleasure of meeting Andra Weiss, a participant of the COMBO program run by makesense and Elan Interculturel.
Andra came to speak about Younited Cultures, her statement brand that wants to celebrate diversity and change the way our society views migrants by telling their stories on socks and scarves.
Hello Andra, I would like to thank you very much for granting me this interview. Could you tell me a bit about yourself: where are you from and what was your professional background before coming to France?
My name is Andra Weiss. I'm from Romania. I moved to Austria in 2004, after college. It was the first time I emigrated to a country I didn't know, where I didn't speak the language. It was a culture shock but also an opportunity for personal and professional development. I worked for 6 years in an Austrian luxury cosmetics company as a project manager and client relations manager. However, given that the cosmetics production sector was environmentally unfriendly and unsustainable, I wanted to move on.
My brother invited me to join Impact Hub, a global social entrepreneurship community. I saw people who were very happy doing what they loved, even there were risks involved. So in 2014, I launched Younited Cultures in Austria.
In 2019, I came to France and launched the company here.
How did your Younited Cultures project come to be and what is it currently about?
I have always been very concerned about the negative image associated with migrants. Throughout my career, I've always been faced with discrimination because of my country of origin, Romania, both in the job market and in my company. It seeps into your subconscious.
With Iulia Berger, we wanted to create something to change this. We started with scarves, a simple product that doesn't require any particular know-how, upon which we drew inspiring stories of migrants. That's how Younited Cultures was born and received the Social Impact Start Award in 2014. But the scarves were a bit too expensive and not accessible to everyone. So we rethought our product and launched a line of socks.
We also launched the "Celebrate migration" collection; colorful squares, representing a culture, a color, an identity to celebrate cultural diversity and to represent all the untold stories.
You were incubated at SINGA and today you are incubated at COMBO. Why did you choose these programs?
Upon arriving in France, I told myself that discrimination exists everywhere and that I could relay the stories of immigrants in France. I wanted to join an incubation program to get to know the French market, the people and to understand the stages of growth in France.
I learnt about the SINGA program in Austria and I had the chance to pitch in front of their jury here in France. At the same time, I had also applied for makesense and I was selected.
I had no problem participating in both programs. I appreciate the fact that both programs are not in competition with each other, rather there is a genuine cooperation between them to help people with migratory backgrounds to take advantage of the services that exist for them.
What have you gained from these two programs?
At makesense, all the documents and tools made available are very rewarding and useful. I needed to learn the rules of the French system, the language and the way to communicate in France. The network, the contacts and the mentors provided within the COMBO program were also very helpful. Despite COVID, we tried to attend workshops and I met a lot of interesting people. There is a desire to help each other and to share resources.
Did you encounter any difficulties during the development of your project? If so, what were these difficulties?
In Austria, the problem was financing because social entrepreneurship did not fit into the criteria of the funds granted by the State. It's a battle we always lost, and we took a 10,000 euro microcredit, at a 3% interest rate. Ever since, we’ve been producing socks and scarves out of the income from sales, and sometimes we put in our own money.
In France, I basically encountered the same problems with financing. I tried to raise money from various organizations, but they asked me for a turnover, for proof that the project would work out. So for now, the best method would be to do this crowdfunding, start doing some sales and in a year, I will try to ask for funding.
What's next for Younited Cultures?
I would like to continue to diversify our products. I will also launch a crowdfunding campaign on Ulule on May 8th, with the help of two volunteers. We tried to contact people who were also in this business, who could give visibility to our project, share our video and give us access to a community.
If you had one piece of advice to give to a refugee who wants to become an entrepreneur, what would it be?
To surround yourself with people who are doing the same thing, entrepreneurs, to look for networks along the lines of the project. In Austria, we say three times, "Networking, Networking, Networking". There are many benefits to meeting people who have similar projects, to collaborate, to exchange ideas and above all you don't feel alone. You meet people who want to help because they are in the same situation.
What are your expectations for the future?
To find financing because it remains important. I am also looking for an associate. Finally, I am also looking for African people, and more specifically a woman, to do a story for a new pair of socks because there is a lot of discrimination against the African migrant community.
If you are interested to know more about Younited Cultures and their products, please take a look at their website : https://younitedcultures.eu/