Knitting Social Fabric

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Knitting Social Fabric

Rotterdam, Netherlands
Project Stage:
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Knitting Social Fabric project aims to eradicate social isolation of older people by intergenerational interaction with the fashion industry.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Seniors are often considered a burden. A burden on those that are related to them, on those that are obliged to take care of them, and especially on those that are paying for their care and wellbeing. Societies as a whole have shown a tendency of considering the position of seniors as superfluous and passive. An undesirable phenomenon, especially since we are all reaching increasingly higher ages. This passive role that society has cut out for seniors initiates a vicious cycle. This cycle starts with ending your working life and the with that change associated gradual disintegration of income, social network, sense of purpose, health and wellbeing which occurs. This instigates dependency on care givers, it increases the amount of money and effort others will have to put into your wellbeing, and eventually it will prove society right in no longer depending on your active contribution to it. There is a direct link between social isolation and decreased wellbeing. But so far this link has never been made visible and quantified. We nonetheless foresee that the cost and effort of present day senior care can be substantially reduced by making improvements to senior resilience. We also recognize the need for programs that are designed to be self-perpetuating instead of dead-ending, as the majority of current aid programs are.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The key to breaking the vicious cycle of dependency lies in realizing that we as a society have made a wrong assumption. Those of us who retire aren´t necessarily condemned being inactive from then on. Quite the contrary; seniors have spearheaded and carried some of the most impactful initiatives, and will continue to do so. People which are simply involved with a project or program of some sort have shown to remain in much better health and wellbeing. The presence of a social network, in combination with a communal goal, a sense of purpose, has proven paramount in maintaining autonomy. Our solution provides a sustainable business model that enables senior citizens to take action in their own lives providing them a sense of belonging back into society. The project is innovative not only because address a big issue "social isolation in older people" but also because allows them to gain from intergenerational creative social interactions (with young fashion designers). Our solution is unique because is a fashion label benefiting society and not the other way around.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The program ‘Knitting Social Fabric’ aims to achieve exactly this reduction in care-costs combined with self-perpetuating aid. The involved seniors will end up in self-help clubs, improving their physical and financial state, and building social cohesion amongst them. The idea is to set these clubs up as largely autonomous cooperatives which produce, check, and ship knitted goods for the European market, and which take care of their own wellbeing. After an initial start-up investment, the social business model should start running itself. Additionally we intend to employ our seniors as the population for a scientific research on the effect of reducing social isolation on wellbeing and medical expenses. The value chain is aimed at bringing Peruvian seniors and Dutch consumers as close together as possible, with each individual product tying back to that one specific knitting granny, accountability as transparent as possible. The main advantage we have over the market is our pool of young Dutch designers, providing our products with the newest of styles, combined with all the traditional crafts knowledge from the participating seniors.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

At a Dutch national level, there is another organization called Ouderen Fonds, which has copied parts of our model, and have put knitting clubs in place. This organization is competing with us for the same funding and investment sources. However, the main differentiator is the successful fashion brand we have integrated into our model. Granny’s Finest sets the highest standards when it comes to design and branding, and with obvious effect when judging from the overwhelming media attention over the past two years. It truly is a fashion label with social impact. At an international level, there are other initiatives such as Big Knit in Ireland where older people knitted huts for soft drinks, and a percentage of the sales went to charity. We believe that this project not necessarily competes with ours, and that it shows different ways to tackle the same issue. Granny’s Finest unique selling point is that it allows the key players (the Grannies) to gain control back and makes them the centerpiece of this social entrepreneurship initiative aiming to tackle the issues that affect them most.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


Implementer(s) and cooperation partners

Granny's Finest


Social enterprise (partly economically self-sustained through market products and services, primary mission is to solve a social problem)

Country where main implementer is located

, ZH, Rotterdam

How long has the main implementer been operating?

1‐5 years

Please provide a short description of the main implementer.

Granny’s Finest is a fashion label benefiting society. It offers senior citizens social interaction and involvement in a social enterprise. Grannies gather once per week and work together with young designers creating knitted pieces using natural materials. Started in 2011, and has now 140 participants. Through this experience, generations learn from each other while fighting loneliness (Out of 2.6 Million 65+’ers in the Netherlands, one million struggles with loneliness). With the proceeds, the participants are taken on trips and encouraged to live an active ageing life style.

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Cooperation partner



Non-profit/NGO/citizen sector organisation

How does this cooperation partner support the initiative? What competencies and resources does this partner bring to the initiative?

WorldGranny is the only Dutch NGO dedicated to improve the quality of lives of older people in the Netherlands and abroad, working for their best interest since 2004. WorldGranny brings to Granny’s Finest its experience working with big scale projects and scaling up small and middle sized projects.

Cooperation partner

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How does this cooperation partner support the initiative? Which competencies and resources does this partner bring to the initiative?

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Cooperation partner

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How does this cooperation partner support the initiative? Which competencies and resources does this partner bring to the initiative?

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Cooperation partner

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How does this cooperation partner support the initiative? Which competencies and resources does this partner bring to the initiative?

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Problem and solution
Which of these fields of Active and Healthy Ageing are addressed by your initiative?

Independent living solutions, Social inclusion (intergenerational practice, work and volunteering), Age friendly buildings, environments, and communities.

If none of the above, answer here:
Please describe if and how your stakeholders (cooperation partners, funders, users, etc.) have been participating in defining the problem and developing the solution.

Our stakeholders include our grannies, designers, photographers, stylists, retailers, corporation partner and final consumers.

Together with our grannies, we developed the solution of gathering them in social knitting clubs where they can gather once per week and share their passion for knitting while working closely with young designers.
Fashion professionals: through questionnaires it was brought to our attention how difficult it can be for young designers, stylists and photographers to enter the fashion industry. The Knitting Social Fabric projects bring them the opportunity to build their portfolio while collaborating with a social entrepreneurship initiative.
Cooperation partner: WorldGranny
WorldGranny has nine years experience scaling up projects that benefits older people.
For Retailers, this initiative represents a sustainable solution to the demand they face from their customers on innovative fashionable items made of natural materials.
Final Consumers: This initiative allows them to broaden their buying options with items that have a positive social, economic and environmental impact.

Has your solution been tested in trials, experimentations, or pilot projects? If yes, please describe the process and outcome.

The Granny’s Finest concept was first tested in July of 2011 with a pilot group of about 15 grannies and 2 designers. Together, they made the first winter 2011-2012 collection.
In October of the same year they launched their first store in Rotterdam and their online shop.
The concept was well received by media, consumers, health care institutions and all participants in general.
As part of the pilot, it was asked to the grannies and designers to grade their experience. The satisfaction rate given was a generous 9 which represents the impact of the project in their lives.
In addition to the knitting experience, the project organizes special trips and excursions for all the grannies and designers participating in the program. As a result of the pilot, Granny’s Finest won the RET Aardig Onderweg Award (“best project on the works”) in the category of Society and Sustainability.
After the pilot, Granny’s Finest opened their signature concept store in Rotterdam. The space has a feeling of a community fashion center where young and old can meet at any time for a chat, cup of coffee or a new knitting project.

How long has your solution been in operation?

for 1‐5 years

Please select the relationship between your solution and related solutions currently established in our society. Is your solution…

substitutive (your solutions is substituting existing solutions because they do not meet needs or solve the problem appropriately)

What barriers might hinder the success of your initiative? How do you plan to overcome them?

One of the potential barriers is that consumers’ demand exceeds output numbers from the grannies available in the clubs. That is why it is important to continue spreading the word about this initiative, increase its reach, and decentralize the clubs. Ideally, we would like to extend the number of clubs across the country and internationally as well. Granny’s Finest is actively searching to partner with regional governmental and care-agencies so the initiative can be taken on in other regions with the ongoing support of local institutions.
Another potential barrier is the sourcing of sufficient affordable raw material, which is why we are exploring different supply channels overseas to keep the model economically feasible, and therewith sustainable.

Organization and funding
Regularly paid employees



100 (grannies)



External advisers and experts


Others (please specify)
What are the specific professional backgrounds and competencies your team brings to the initiative?

Niek van Hengel
Background: Strategic management / Finance & Investments (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam).
Niek is oversee the business side of granny's finest

Jip Pulles
Background: Small Business & Retail Management Specialization
He runs the knitting clubs

Young Designers: Our young designers are carefully selected from well-known fashion academies.

WorldGranny Team: International team with over 9 years of experience implementing social development projects for seniors in the Netherlands and abroad. In the areas of social inclusion, and active ageing.

Please describe your management or coordination structure in the initiative.

Niek van Hengel
Niek is in charge of the business aspect of Granny’s Finest. He manages the designers and strategically plans how to better consolidate the brand as well as the daily operational logistics of the business.

Jip Pulles
Jip is in direct contact with the grannies and in charge of managing and recruiting more participants for the knitting clubs. He oversees the knitting projects and organizes the trips and excursions for the grannies.

Please provide the total yearly budget in Euro that your initiative spends on implementing the solution.


National public funding


European Union public funding


Economic return from own products/services


Foundations and philanthropy capital


Single donations from private individuals


Donations from private companies


Crowdfunding platforms


Participation fees


Other (please specify)


Target group, scale and impact
Which target group(s) do you want to reach with your solution?

The Knitting Social Fabric project aims to eradicate loneliness among older people in the Netherlands.
However, the beauty of the project is that is also intergenerational. It promotes creative social interactions between older people and young fashion professionals. Together, they learn from each other and engage in a creative process that leads to a sustainable business model.
Main target group: Older people 65+ living in the Netherlands
Other target groups: Young fashion professionals and consumers looking for high fashion products with a story to tell.

Please estimate the number of persons within your target group (users, clients, etc.) that you currently reach directly with your solution.

Grannies: 140 in Netherlands, and expected to grow further. Fashion professionals: 50. Consumers: 1,000/2,000 yearly

In which local/regional/national area(s) is the solution currently implemented?

The knitting clubs gather in Rotterdam and the Hague. Stores located in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam & the Hague

What is the impact on your target group (users, clients) you want to generate?

Social Impact: The project aims to eradicate loneliness within older people in the Netherlands. The project empowers older people to take ownership of a business model that works for them.
Economic Impact: This is a sustainable social enterprise. Proceeds are re-invested in the business, or spent to take grannies out on trips and excursions.
Scientific impact: quantitative research on the benign effects of solitude reduction to this program. With the data from this research we hope to influence governmental policy on the wellbeing of senior citizens.

What is the wider impact on society you want to generate?

Ideally a change in the mindset of goverments, companies and society so new policies taking in consideration the needs of older people can be put in place. A sense of appreciation and consideration towards building a society that integrates people of all ages by providing them with the necessary tools to live a long and productive life.

What are the impacts on your target group you already achieved?

Currently, we have 100 grannies enjoying creative social interaction with young fashion professionals, while attending the knitting clubs.
They are learning lifelong skills such as business planning, product design, product development, branding. With the proceeds obtained, they are taken on trips and excursions where they learn about active ageing.
It is worth to highlight too the sense of “belonging” and re-insertion back to society that our grannies experienced with this project. They are proud to be active and take ownership of this business model where they are the “key” players.

How has the impact of your initiative been assessed?

Experience-based self-assessment (you assessed the impacts based on your experiences with the target group), Feedback-based self-assessment (you assessed the impacts based on feedback from the target group without using specific methods), Self-evaluation (you used qualitative and/or quantitative methods to assess impacts), External evaluation of impacts based on qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups, etc.).

Public information and strategy
What information on your initiative is publicly available?

Mission and strategy, Organisational structure, Information on team members, Activity report, Working method and 'theory of change'.

Please indicate webpage or contact for obtaining the respective information. contact: Niek van Hengel [email protected]

What are your milestones for further developing, implementing, and establishing your initiative in the next three years? Please describe 1-3 milestones.

Milestone for 2014:
Extend to 4 new cities in the Netherlands, benefiting 250 grannies. Increase physical and online store presence. Finding new sourcing abroad.
Milestone for 2015:
Extend to 4 new cities in the Netherlands, benefiting 500 grannies. Have at least 10 stores carrying out our products. Sourcing raw materials from Peru and training knitting clubs there too
Milestone for 2016:
Extend to 3 new cities in the Netherlands benefiting 750 grannies. Have a store presence in every city where there is a knitting club. Sourcing raw materials from Peru and start producing there.