Written by Carmen Critelli
Posted on 17/03/21
Back in September, six friends, Anna Mohr, Venetia Chatzidaki, Alexandra Panou, Simon Vullinghs, Javier Mayora, Miltos-Apostolos Kalaitzidis, felt the need of taking actions to tackle the humanitarian crisis experienced in the refugees’ camp of Moria. In September 2020, in Lesvos, Greece, almost 13.000 refugees were left without shelter due to fires that destroyed the camp. So, the six friends felt the need to be actively involved.
That is how in October 2020, they started the initiative of POP Boutique: People Over Profit. The fund-based main goal is to collect donations sent to the Samos Volunteers’ association in Greece, directly involved in Moria’s camp and Greece. Through their page on Instagram, they post pictures of second-hand clothes received by student’s donations. The price is set up for a minimum price, and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Samos Volunteers.
I was able to conduct an interview with two of the members, Anna and Alexandra which shed light on how their project came up and how the initiative connects two different fields, the sustainability and humanitarian aid ones, showing how such project can help not only a lot of people but also the entire world.
How did the idea of POP boutique come up?
Pop Boutique idea originated from the necessity of being actively involved in what was happening in Greece. When the fires destroyed the camp of Moria, we felt the urgency of taking actions as soon as possible. The Migration crisis shocked all of us. Me and the amazing friends around me that were willing to contribute thought about creating a fund-based project. Opening an online shop seemed the coolest way to tackle at the same time the issue of fast fashion and helping the refugees out.
As Anna said, we wanted to do something entrepreneurial: creating something in a way that no one else has done it before. We were really in favour of what Anna had thought: our primary target was Moria, or the islands nearby, where numerous refugees arrive and live under terrible conditions. It is a crime against humanity. So, we thought: How to make people willing to contribute and donate? That is how we came up with the idea of sustainable fashion to reach our final goal and then send 100% of our profits to an NGO that we know will take practical actions.
Why did you choose to help Samos volunteer, and how do you contact them?
We started looking for an NGO operating around Moria, but we found it very hard to trust some organizations because either they were shutting down or because of some fraud cases. Then Alexandra and Venetia had the idea to donate to Samos Volunteers, and we directly found them through our research. We messaged through Instagram and wrote them an e-mail.
The main problem for us was to find a reliable NGO, as Anna said. Especially for me, Venetia, and Apo, since we are Greeks, we knew that whoever helps refugees is not “treated that well” in Greece right now. Since there were some fires in the camps, we could not trust all the migrants and directly help them come to Moira. So, we had to find another solution. We chose Samos Volunteers because we were really amazed by what they do. After all, they provide education to refugees, which is really important. We had to contribute to their operations. Samos Volunteers primarily works with kids: we knew that the funds would be collected for a worthy cause.
Also, a big part of Samos Volunteers’ projects includes families since in Moria’s camps, there are many of them with kids. But a big part, that we also admired, is that they focus on education and psychological support because many refugees struggle with PTSD, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Thus, it is crucial to have someone talk to and process all the mental issues you encounter. If you imagine yourself as a refugee, sitting around for two years and not knowing which direction your life is taking, this situation can lead you to frustration. So, they provide mental support to talk with them and engage in activities such as music classes and yoga classes or other many different things. Also,volunteers are refugees themselves , which helps them be involved and find a purpose. It was a good factor that we liked about Samos Volunteers.
They also publish quite a lot of their projects which made us sure that they were active. If you search them on Instagram, you can easily see that what they actually do is a great job.
What is the biggest challenge that you guys encountered so far?
Well, the logistics, probably. I think that at first, it was hard to plan everything. In particular, it was challenging to find a logistic process to work on because we were, for example, randomly meeting with people for picking up clothes whenever they had time, and we just found that it is kind of stressful for us to be always available all the time.
Yeah, it was mainly tricky to distribute all the jobs, like who will do what. Indeed, we had to decide who keeps the clothes, or since we want to make sure that the clothes would be clean, someone who does the cleaning process before and after having taken the photos, who manages photo-shootings, the timing of posting the items and other technicalities. Also, fitting the schedules of everybody and not doing anything last minute was challenging. But for me, the biggest challenge was to hear people’s opinions. A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by an online magazine in Greece, and I faced massive hate and received nasty comments such as going to prison and similar others. This is just because we are helping out refugees. People there believe that refugees or migrants are over helped by the European Union, by Greece. They really do not know the actual truth. I had some days when I said to myself, “Maybe I should quit doing it”, but then I realized the importance of what we are doing and have to keep going. Also, what keeps me going is the fact that we are inspiring other people.
How is the Maastricht community responding to this initiative?
We have received so much love. This inspires us. For me, that is the most important thing. When you see that what you do is acceptable, and people actually keep motivating you, saying “go on” is encouraging. A lot of people send us donations, and that is just amazing.
It is so lovely to hear so many nice words. Everyone reaching to us and telling “oh, that’s a great thing what you’re doing” For me, it is a sort of recognition.
Talking about sustainability, do you think your project is encouraging people to reflect on their everyday choices?
For sure. I feel that our project is really part of two major causes. Of course, supporting Moria’s camp is essential for us, but on the other hand, doing it through sustainability has a complementary role. By avoiding fast fashion and promoting vintage fashion, we make people see how they can comfortably wear fashionable and cool brands by helping these two primary causes. Also, we will donate everything that we do not sell to asylum-seekers here in Maastricht or to Samos or sell them to vintage shops. We are trying to drive the project in the most sustainable possible way.
It is a huge message. I have to claim that this would have not been possible without the contributions of Maastricht students. For me, the connection with them plays a significant role. If you think of that, it can be said that it is an example of unity because students give their clothes away and in exchange, they get something else: another person’s donation. The Maastricht community is really strongly united on this point. To tackle this significant crisis, why should not have chosen sustainable fashion? Maybe in ten years, it will be an upper clothes’ trend.
Pop Boutique is becoming increasingly popular within the Maastricht community. Not only their work is focused on raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Greece but they make people reflect on the choices of everyday life. Indeed, as they reach the Maastricht community primarily on social media, they spread a message of paramount importance. Small actions can help someone else’s life and solve the climate crisis.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions totality and nearly 20% of water waste. Moreover, shipping impacts and the energy used to produce them is irreversibly impacting our environment. Pop Boutique represents the perfect example of how people, through small actions, can contribute to change things and stop the climate crisis from reaching its tipping point. So if you want to make the difference and take actions, helping POP Boutique is what you are searching for!
Here’s their Instagram account:@popboutique.maastricht