Much of what we do nowadays is online, and this is a hyper-truism when it comes to the shemakes and fabricademy networks, where the work is distributed over different labs and businesses around the world.
We are an active community with no borders, making us citizens of the world through the democratisation of fabrication.
Six years ago, though, I participated in the Fab12 conference in Shenzhen China, an annual event that reunites representatives from the more than 2000 fablabs around the world. Here, I met women with similar interests to mine - digital fabrication, biotextiles, sustainability and all the themes that now make up shemakes. These women, in fact, are now my colleagues; shemakes could not have happened had our paths not physically intersected in that place.
Indeed, this project proposal was written during the scariest beginnings of the global pandemic, and unlike most EU projects, we’ve not been able to have a physical kickoff meeting or share our agenda in person. But most of us have worked together in the past, and as we already share both values and working methods, we’ve been extremely productive through digital means. The Fab16 conference in August 2021, however, has provided the first opportunity for many of the shemakes labs to meet and make in person, at the Aegean Idea Lab in Paros, Greece, as a distributed hub of the global event.
Fab16 took place from August 9-15, 2021, and included 130 activities worldwide, in various formats, combining activities in local hubs with hybrid ones and online-only ones as well. Shemakes contributed eight workshops of different formats in two locations. The Fabricademy gathering concentrated on diverse activities from wearables, soft robotics, sustainability with biochromes on wool to traditional leather moulding.
The open-air setting of our host - the Aegean Idea Lab led by Kathy Sinclair in Paros, the warmth of the locals (and the weather, 36 degrees!), the energy of working together (sometimes barefoot, always masked) generated creative energy and planted the seeds for future projects.
The vast majority of participants at the conference site in Paros were women, leading their own labs, alumni of Fabricademy, makers, educators… with the common denominator that all of us are female innovators in the textile & clothing sector. This setting provided the perfect opportunity to gather together in an open, inclusive and transparent discussion on the gender reality we face in our work environment.
Waag proposed a co-creation exercise that, through controversial questions, with no right or wrong answers, ignited interesting discussion. Such as: what defines gender? On what attributes is a woman first judged in her work? What kinds of support do exist for us as women in our work environment?
Together we explored many different perspectives, coming from different realities and cultures, we formulated a list of the big barriers and opportunities as women, trying to understand our ecosystem and reinterpret it. The activity can be seen as an initial attempt to create an open and comfortable channel, to listen from inside the community and understand how, on our differences, we can find the empowerment needed to support more and better the women surrounding us.
Tasneem Hussain is a member of Fabricademy's alumni who leads activities about sustainable textiles and wearables at the Qbic Qatar Fab Lab Scale 7 in Doha. During the conference, she gave a workshop on materials management, a call to be more aware of the Fab Lab’s resources, where she showed us great ways to reuse waste materials. As an example of this approach, Tasneem developed several decorative jewellery applications focusing on different patterns such as the amazing cross stitch embroidery that is traditional in Islamic culture.
Finally, we presented the first shemakes scientific publication on female makers and innovation ecosystems. We presented the context and the innovation ecosystem that shemakes wants to enable through all the dynamics of the labs, the maker movement, the textile industry, technology and science. (If you’re interested, you can read the paper in the Proceedings of the Fab 16 Research Papers Stream, Hogeschool Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, pp. 221-239 available freely online. ) We hope that these workshops and our paper have reached many women who want to contribute to diversity and inclusion in FabLabs spaces, the fashion industry and beyond.
This gathering reminds us of the value of meeting physically as humans as a living community and the power of it, understanding how the ultimate goal of a true network is to support each other, bring skills together and reflect on how to migrate from fields of research to expanding our community. This conference gave us the chance to learn from each other and continue on to the next chapter of shemakes, always growing together.