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OFFCUT Switzerland

How a good idea can grow

The OFFCUT Zurich team: Annina Massaux-Roost, Mirja Fiorentino, Livia Krummenacher, Silvan Kuhl, Matthias Wehle, Anna Pfister (f. l. t. r.). Photo: John Patrick Walder
The OFFCUT Zurich team: Annina Massaux-Roost, Mirja Fiorentino, Livia Krummenacher, Silvan Kuhl, Matthias Wehle, Anna Pfister (f. l. t. r.). Photo: John Patrick Walder

What if the idea makes an impact and fans turn up elsewhere? A luxury problem? More like a strategic sticking point that you don’t think of when you start off with a good idea. Or in technical jargon: Can the model be scaled? OFFCUT is in the middle of this process, also thanks to Engagement Migros: the project is not limiting itself to the one materials market in Basel. Further materials markets will soon emerge in a variety of Swiss cities. The plan is to not just use synergies, but also to ensure greater visibility and a stronger political position for upcycling. The kick-off location for expansion is Zurich; phase two of the OFFCUT Switzerland project has now been running for two months.

Of course there are many similarities, of course the concept is easily recognisable when you enter the OFFCUT Zürich store – opened in February – on the grounds of the former SBB maintenance yards. But there are also differences: the foyer, which almost looks like a café; the large windows; and some eye-catching objects and props on the shelves.

A lot of proactivity

It really is an OFFCUT materials market, but it has its own signature. This is explained by the background of the initiators – the three friendly scenographers Mirja Fiorentino, Silvan Kuhl and Leonie Süess from Zurich. They were always annoyed by “the amount of valuable materials that simply get thrown out once a production series is completed,” as Fiorentino explains. At some point they became aware of the OFFCUT initiative in Basel and thought: “That’s what we would need in Zurich, too.” They made contact, discussed possibilities for collaborating, rolled out concepts, repositioned the team, looked for suitable locations and now, a good two years later, the store has opened. “Finally”, as Fiorentino says.

We learn from what we do, not from what we talk about

Dominik Seitz

Dominik Seitz, project manager OFFCUT Switzerland, on the other hand, wrinkles his forehead for a moment: this opportunity within the old work yards came almost a little too quickly; the opening of a second store in Zurich happened a bit ahead of schedule. A lot had to be done at once: contracts had to be written; models developed. But of course Basel is pleased that the idea is being copied, because this kind of parallelism also has its advantages. “In Zurich, for example, the rush forward repeatedly led us to just try things out and not develop or discuss them at our desks first,” says Seitz. “We learn from what we do, not from what we talk about. Zurich’s initiative continuously offered us new perspectives, which was of course a very welcome input for the development of our organisation.” 

The OFFCUT idea – creatively reusing remnants and offcuts – caught on in Zurich as well. Photo: John Patrick Walder

The OFFCUT idea – creatively reusing remnants and offcuts – caught on in Zurich as well. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Short leash or long?

Did the OFFCUT concept almost get spread around too quickly? The Basel team did indeed not especially have to propagate their idea. Interested parties from other cities contacted the organisation of their own accord. The fact that there was a lot of media attention and that a network, for example via social media, developed almost by itself, makes it clear that the idea resonates. But this self-propelling aspect can also be a crux, as Dominik Seitz says: “Those who identify with the OFFCUT idea do so with a certain idealism. It quickly gets emotional.” The challenge: Can and should OFFCUT Switzerland set standards at all? Or simply let the new OFFCUT comrades-in-arms deal with that themselves? The Basel-Zurich team has been quite absorbed with such questions in recent months.

Remnants as valuable materials: OFFCUT is raising awareness for conscious dealings with resources. Photo: John Patrick Walder
Remnants as valuable materials: OFFCUT is raising awareness for conscious dealings with resources. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Not according to any old scheme

For Dominik Seitz, it is clear that some things require leadership: for example, when it comes to developing the brand and presenting it uniformly. The umbrella organisation actually wanted concerns like these to be clarified before the first branch was set up, but they didn’t want to slow down the momentum of the Zurich team. They therefore set new priorities in favour of developing the Zurich location, offering a helping hand in getting the pilot up and running. As a well-functioning partnership.

“This is exactly why we have an adaptive support model,” says Samira Lütscher, project manager at Engagement Migros. “Our projects are designed to adapt to new circumstances and act in the interest of the cause. It would be counterproductive to insist on pre-set interim targets.” As a rule, the projects supported by the development fund should not fall back on proven models, but should try out something new, which requires flexibility on the part of the project and the fund.

 

Maximising values, not profits

So how do you organise this kind of network of idealists? The solution found by OFFCUT Switzerland is social franchising. Although: “Within our context, franchising is kind of a misnomer,” says Dominik Seitz. But if your aim is effective multiplication, you can hardly get past this model. At first, the Zurich team was also rather sceptical: “Then why not just have an economist come by and implement it? That kind of thing doesn’t really suit us,” Mirja Fiorentino thought at the time. During discussions, however, the team realised that the idea of social franchising – because it’s not about maximising profits, but values, i.e. social benefits – corresponded best to the desired goals after all. It was not a matter of building an OFFCUT empire, but of passing on as broadly as possible the value of creating things from existing materials.

It’s a matter of passing on our values as broadly as possible.

Dominik Seitz

What has remained the same as with the market economy model: the licensors provide a framework for new operations and select the candidates (usually all the more carefully). Licensees respect the set framework and pay a fee to use certain templates. “A rather symbolic amount,” as Seitz says. OFFCUT Switzerland sees this fee as being more for the knowledge transfer. The experience and versatile expertise of each team should benefit everyone. Seitz’ vision is a swarm intelligence for OFFCUT. First, however, a framework is being built around it: a cooperative is in the process of being established, and an office is being set up to take care of administrative matters. All members of the cooperative will be equal, and digital processes are currently being developed for the exchange of ideas and know-how.

Each OFFCUT offshoot passes on the big idea, but will have its own character. Photo: John Patrick Walder

Mirja Fiorentino thinks that a lot of background work is already being done by computer, and personal contact is also very important. And that’s where Livia Krummenacher comes in, as a link to Basel: she worked there for some time and has now joined forces with the Zurich team. This kind of “godmother” who is able to act as an intermediary and diffuse moods is worth her weight in gold. Fiorentino recalls that there are more than enough moments of uncertainty in such a process: When can you just do something and inform the umbrella organisation afterwards, and when do you need to get an OK first? In personal discussion, however, many worries vanished into thin air.

 

National idea – local characteristics

So what about independence – what about those props in the foyer? There was a lot of discussion about whether such materials would only dilute the product range. As Livia Krummenacher notes: don’t over-processed objects belong in a second-hand store? At OFFCUT Zurich, it was already noticeable in the early months that this kind of orientation meets a need, also shaped by the team’s personal careers in film and theatre. “Even now, film crews first come to us on their way to disposing of items used in production; they give us materials and accessories that can still be used. Only what can’t be goes into the incinerator.” This is also the vision in Basel: each OFFCUT branch will develop its own character, depending on the location. And still support one big, common idea.