18 November 2019 LESSONS Fashion

Fabric of Change

A close up of hands using a sewing machine

The global partnership aimed to invest and support people who create innovative solutions for a socially and environmentally sustainable apparel industry through collaborative entrepreneurship with a particular focus on countries where C&A has a strong presence: Europe, Brazil and Mexico

The key objectives of the partnership titled ‘Fabric of Change’ were to:

  • Map the current landscape of innovations relevant for apparel industry and build a network of changemakers poised to transform the field
  • Identify, support and accelerate the impact of new leading social entrepreneurs with system-changing ideas to transform the apparel industry along the value chain, from farmers to consumers
  • Amplify what works and engage other key players and influencers to transform the apparel industry


Partner: Ashoka

Investment: EUR 2,914,249

Duration: 2015-2018

Geographic region: Global


While the design of the initiative was relevant for the defined objectives, it had an overly ambitious theory of change

The initiative demonstrated the relevance of Social Entrepreneurs as a source of innovation for transformation of the apparel sector, however their potential to scale solutions was not adequately understood

The initiative theory of change had weak causal links between the initiative’s inputs and intended outcomes. A disconnection, akin to a ‘leap of faith’, was noted between strategies and inputs; and, the level of ambition of intended outcomes 

Further, the theory of change did not explicitly state the assumptions on the trajectory of change(s) and level of uncertainty regarding the timeframe given that social entrepreneurship and innovation are erratic processes

While the initiative’s performance was reported as adequately effective, it made only indirect contributions to outcomes

The Social Innovation Mapping conducted at the beginning of the partnership was inadequate as the breadth of the mapping was not sufficient in identifying gaps

Financial support provided to social entrepreneurs (stipends, prizes, and awards) was the most important input provided by the initiative. The initiative allowed social entrepreneurs to increase their reach to workers, communities and artisans and alsoincreased the capacity of the social entrepreneurs to scale their work – for example, in expanding to new geographies 

While the peer network for the Fabric of Change initiative served as a resource that was valued by the social entrepreneurs, collaboration within and between social entrepreneurs and apparel industry stakeholders was limited. This was because sustained collaborations required clear incentives and an investment of time which social entrepreneurs lacked. 

The initiative made a substantial contribution in four out of eight cases where the social entrepreneurs were able to secure additional funding for their work.

The initiative performed at an adequate level of efficiency, but the partnership was marked by misaligned expectations between Ashoka and C&A Foundation

The partnership between Ashoka and C&A Foundation was not aligned on the approach. Ashoka’s view of implementing a systems change framework did not encompass a linear programme delivery with pre-defined outcomes. C&A Foundation, on the other hand, expected results – a door to innovation in the sector where they could source initiatives to support – and this did not happen

Ambitions and expectations were not managed well by Ashoka and C&A Foundation. After the mid-point, both worked towards finding solutions and adopted a flexible approach that led to adjustments in planning 

The findings related to value for money were mixed. While the social entrepreneurs reported that the value for money generated by the initiative to be high, it did not meet C&A Foundation’s expectations

What did we learn?

C&A Foundation

For systems change it is essential that the timeframe for a partnership to achieve results is longer – five to ten years

An overly ambitious initiative design makes expectations hard to manage and leads to frustration between partners 

Establishing and maintaining an open and honest channel for mutual feedback at the start and during the partnership is crucial for constructive relations and problem-solving 

The logical framework is not the appropriate results setting tool in cases where direct trajectories to intended outcomes cannot be predetermined – as is often the case with initiatives supporting innovation

For Partners & Others

Social entrepreneurship employs specific, and often unique models, operating out of a varied set of contexts implying outcome trajectories that evolve overtime

Collaboration activities such as peer networks, exchanges with industry and non-industry stakeholders benefit from intentional designs 

Adequate mapping in such a complex value chain as the apparel industry and with the size of the social and environmental issues at hand, requires time, financial resources, and specific sector expertise