Korina Molla: “It Is The Trend of the Market to Use These New Materials and Technologies” [Interview]

Coordinator Korina Molla gives further insight into what makes Europe-wide competition WORTH Partnership Project different and who they would like to hear from.

Every creative person, designer, artisan, startup, technology company and SME manufacturer from the fashion and consumer goods industry, actively looking for new opportunities to exploit ideas and fashionable concepts with a high degree of design, innovation, disruption and integration of new technologies, can apply to be a part of WORTH Partnership Project.

The session was rounded up by WORTH project co-ordinator Korina Molla with some inspiring fashion and technology stories | Photo Credit: The Worth Partnership Project

As one of the mentors on the WORTH Partnership Project, I thought that it was essential to have a sit-down with someone from the project alongside Mano, co-founder of FashNerd. The WORTH Partnership Project hands out monetary awards to design-driven products and collaborations between fashion designers, tech startups and manufacturing industries. Keen to connect with, we managed to find a moment at Wear It Berlin to have a sit down with Korina Molla, the coordinator of the Europe-wide competition.

Please explain what the WORTH Project is and who is organising it?

Worth is a project funded by the European Union through the COSME program for the competitiveness of the SMEs, and it is focused on the creative industry. Let’s say, fashion, textile, footwear, furniture, jewellery, leather, and accessories. 

“The aim is to establish partnerships between companies and designers from different countries to foster the competitiveness of the European SMEs.”

It is a transnational project, and the idea is that these partnerships make disruptive products or processes with a hight component of the design. The project should not only be technologic focused, but they must be very well designed.

Who is behind it?

Behind the worth, there is the European Union.  AITEX, the textile technology Institute in Spain,  is the coordinator and we are coordinating the project on behalf of the European Union. 

What is your role in the project?

I am the project coordinator, in charge of manage all the activities of the project.

Would it be even marketing that you guys are participating?

Of course, the advantage for the people participating is that they are going to obtain financial support of 10k, but this is not the most interesting in my opinion. The most interesting is that they are going to receive a mentoring program. They will have a mentor dedicated to each project we help them to bring the products to the market. We will support them in all process through the conceptions and prototyping to establish the support the needs to bring this product to the market.

Also, they will participate in 2 international events to showcase their products, and we are thinking about the Milano Fashion Week and the Dutch Design Week. Also, they will participate in two networking events to obtain professional links and other support like business angels and retailers.

What is the aim impact that worth expect to cause in the creative industries? 

The idea is to increase competitiveness, introduce new technologies and new materials with a high component of the design. 

There was the first call; now the second is open. From the first call which is, was the are that brought the most innovative ideas?

I think that wearables were the most innovative projects we received. But we received projects that deal with several kinds of issues like new materials or new ways of thinking, new ways of conception for the product and also new ways to produce them.  But the main point has been the new materials and wearables. 

And why is that?

I think because it is the trend of the market to use these new materials and technologies. 3d printing that is a new technology has been very successful in the first call for proposals. 

When we were talking about mentorship programs. What type of mentors are we talking about? Is this a smart approach you are trying to have? Are they influencers in the wearable tech space? Are you looking at some particular expertise and fields?

The coaching program is established in 2 ways: we have a training program of 30 hours on different topics like business development, marketing, fashion trends, fashion tech, standardisation, and crowdfunding. We have several topics. On the other side, each partner has a dedicated mentor, and this mentor is someone with high expertise in the profile that suits the most to the partnership. For instance, if the collaboration is working on 3D printing, the mentor is someone that has a lot of expertise in this field. Concerning wearables, that we received several applications, several mentors are supporting this field. The idea is to guide through all the process and in case they need a specific mentorship in some topic we look for a mentor that has expertise in this topic. We have received a lot of interestest in IP issues. There are also some partnerships that needed expertise in marketing, so we put some expert in marketing to help them. They have one mentor for each partnership to take care of that.

Jasna Rok holding Court at Worth Madrid | Photo Credit: Worth Project

Are the mentors working together? I can imagine a 3d printing project tied up to a 3d print mentor. But a 3d print mentor might not immediately have a lot to offer when it comes to marketing. The way that it is distributed is expressing the value. It is an essential aspect. Is there a crossover?

They have a lot of meeting together, and in these meetings, the problem, and if the mentor detects the need for the specific expertise they advise them, and we look for the particular support.

How many projects will be awarded in this second round?

The total number will be 150 projects. Now in the first call, we have funded 25. We would like to the second call be most potent. We want to support around 70 projects. The idea is to have only three calls, doing that we will have 30 more projects for the third call.

On the first call, there was a weekend in Madrid with all the selected groups having a pitch in front of the competitors. It was a fascinating selection process. Is it going to be in the same way for the second round?

Yes. I think that the worth weekend was a very successful event for everybody, the selected and the non selected. They had the opportunity to pitch the project and have an interaction with the steering board members. This model I think will be repeated. I still don’t know where. Maybe in Milano. We will organise a more significant event. This model of roundtables with the steering board, mentors and members of the partnership will be repeated. The non selected projects receive valuable feedback to resubmit or reshape the project. I think this model has enriched the evaluation.

What does it take for a project to be successful?

The first thing is to have a high component of the design. Worth is not a project to found technology. For this, there are a lot of other European programs. The idea here is to foster the creativity of European SMEs. This is the first point, to have something innovative in design and on the other side to have something innovative. There is no need to be entirely from zero, the material could have been used already, but the most valuable here is to have a high component of the design. It does not matter if the material or technology was previously used. The important is the way they apply this new material to conceive a new product.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

For this new call, we have a unique collaboration with the British Council. They are going to award the best project with a sustainable component. This project will receive one week of training in Center St. Martins or the Royal College of Arts in the UK. They will receive the training and all the expenses paid. This is something new. 

It was on the last part of this interview that you mention just now the word sustainability. Why not before?

Because sustainability is one point, not the critical point. However,  if the project has a component of sustainability, they will receive an extra point. This is because the British Council has a specific program toward sustainable fashion and they want to give this award for the project that provides particular sustainability issues. 

I believe sustainability is already at the back of the mind of the designers. Especially the new generation that is graduating now, they are paying more attention to the life cycle of the product they are designing. What are your thoughts on this?

It is a new trend among designers, and it is essential. We will have a specific steering board members for an award that focuses on sustainability.

Will the Next Award show will be in Madrid again?

No. We don’t want to repeat. The idea is to make in some of the IED, one of our partners. They have lots of facilities in Italy. The idea is to organise there or in Valencia. We would like to change countries. It will be more significant than the other one.

Is it going to be a Worth event not tagged to something else?

The idea for this new session is to have a private part of the weekend for the winner projects and to have one day open to the public. With lectures and other activities. 

Looking at Wear Sustain as an example and to see someone else to do what you guys do, it can give you an entirely different perspective. You can criticise what they are doing and try to do better yourself, or you don’t have to make so many mistakes because your competition is making those mistakes. To what degree do you guys self-reflect an are you criticising your project? Is there are room to say we have learned a lot from this?

In fact, the first call for proposal in worth was a pilot call. This is why we have only found 24 projects. We have received 111 applications, and I am sure that among the non selected projects there are people that are very good. But the idea was to have a pilot to test all the process. To test the mentorship, to examine the training, to verify the events and so on. What we are doing now is to monitor the winner’s projects and also the nonwinners to learn what we have done. And the first thing we made was after the worth weekend we had made a feedback session with the mentors and steering board to know their opinion about the weekend and all the evaluation process. It was interesting because we have modified the way of evaluating and also we changed the application procedure or order to make it simpler. To facilitate the work of the applicants we have created an application sample. They have examples or everything for them to make this process.

We have made specific guidelines for the videos because some applicants are not familiar on how to do it. They put the corporate video that does not explain the project very well, and this does not help the evaluators in the process. We have done a lot of work to facilitate the task of the evaluators. In fact, we are very connected with wear sustain. We are watching each other a lot and learning from the mistake of others.

If you would like to find out more information on the Worth Project, you can do so here. If you are interested in applying, you’ll need a preliminary business plan, a dossier of sketches and drawings, a portfolio(s) and a video for your project.

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Ricardo O'Nascimento

Ricardo O'Nascimento is the founder of POPKALAB - a design/research studio focused on innovation in the field of wearable technology. He is an artist and researcher in the field of new media and interactive art. He investigates body-environment relations focused on interface development for worn devices, interactive installations, and hybrid environments.