Inside Out

Icons use case study city info



Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

City Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2007/01

The city of Antwerp has turned the challenge of integrating refugees into the labour market into an opportunity to transition to a circular economy.

Inside Out is an innovative scheme that combines social care with work experience and education to give newly arrived refugees with textile and clothing experience the support they need to gain self-esteem, secure jobs and contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry. The city’s social welfare organisation, OCMW Antwerp, saw an opportunity to open doors to the labour market for refugees while also reinvigorating the local fashion industry by bringing production back from abroad and promoting circular principles.
Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF:

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2017 in the following category: Participation.

Antwerp, Belgium

Size and population development
510,610 (as of 2014); most populous city in Flanders

Main functions
Third port in Europe,

Main industries / business
Trade, chemical industry and oil refinery

Political structure
The 55 representatives seating in the City Council are directly elected every six years

Administrative structure
The municipality is divided into nine districts. The municipality of Antwerp is made of the city of Antwerp itself, as well as several other towns

Antwerp is centre of the Belgian fashion industry, home to a renowned fashion academy and designers such as Marc Jacobs and Dries van Noten. Yet refugees arriving from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria with experience in the industry find it impossible to get work. Their lack of formal qualifications isn’t the only thing standing in their way. Poverty, personal presentation and confidence also play a part in preventing them accessing the jobs they have the skills and talent to do. From the start, the OCMW team was clear that the initiative must pay attention to participants’ inner selves, their self-confidence and wellbeing, as well as their outer selves, their appearance and clothes. Through debates with the target audience, the team then defined the mix of practical, psychological and professional support needed.

As part of  OCMW's  service portfolio, the Inside Out project has access to its 200 social workers. These social workers are in touch daily with the city’s vulnerable groups and ideally placed to identify refugees with relevant backgrounds. Following assessment and acceptance, individualised support packages are created and those for whom work experience is appropriate are offered temporary labour agreements for up to a maximum of two years. The project helps vulnerable adolescents and children, single mothers and the poor by combining three areas of activity: a clothing store, a tailoring and alterations studio and social care. The latter aims to emancipate and empower people to improve their chances of securing work, through training, guidance and one-to-one coaching. Activities focus on everything from hair and make-up to housing, personal hygiene to styling, and body language to managing stress. Group workshops are also offered to enhance people’s social skills, expand their personal networks and help them integrate into society.
The social clothing store and studio are where the project’s vision comes alive. The shop provides much more than new clothes and styling advice – offered for free to job-seekers and at low cost to families referred by their social worker. It’s where refugees can work as sales assistants to develop communication and sales skills that will help them realise their career ambitions. And it’s how unwanted or damaged stock donated by the project’s clothing industry partners is saved from landfill and incineration. Vocational and skills training and hands-on experience in clothing modification, tailoring and product innovation are offered in the studio to put participants on a more even footing with others in the labour market. And what they learn about textiles and clothing waste, recycling and upcycling, gives them additional knowledge of value to employers. The upcycling activities that began organically to deal with shop overstock have led to the launch of a range of bags made from old jeans and folders made from old banners and flags - sales of which now fund sewing machine maintenance and repairs.

The lead agencies for the project are the city of Antwerp and OCMW. The total annual budget of €674,000 funds five full-time staff and nine temporary work experience roles.

Through relentless effort in these areas and continuous innovation and improvement, Inside Out has evolved from a small project into the comprehensive service it is today. Renowned fashion stylist Gerdi Esch helped secure the commitment of companies such as Torfs and Carrefour. 

The OCMW team’s immediate ambitions are to move more Inside Out professionals into local production and to bring their world ever closer to that of local fashion designers through collaborations.

Inside Out may have become an established OCMW service but there was initial resistance to what some perceived as a lightweight project about giving people makeovers. It has gone on to prove how much more than this it is by reaching around 2,600 adults and children annually, getting unemployed refugees into career roles - including at a leading couture house - and enabling many to set up a small business of their own.
Even with the support of well-known companies and desginers, finding new partners to contribute clothes to the store has been an ongoing challenge, as has the search for potential employers willing to give participants a chance. 

The OCMW team believes this success owes much to four factors:

  1. involving the target group from the beginning;
  2. making use of social media to tell the project’s human stories;
  3. raising its profile among employers and suppliers, and
  4. providing psychosocial guidance to those gaining labour experience.

- Cities in action - Antwerp Inside Out, boosting products, boosting people, creating jobs for refugees - Eurocities, November 2017

On the Map

Map placeholder

Want to know more about this project?

Brussels Capital Region, Belgium


Institution | Urban Award

Jakki Mann
Melbourne , Australia

Jakki Mann

Individual | Project Manager, Circles of Sustainability

Photo gallery

Related case studies

Know Your City: Lusaka 2030 - a city without slums
Lusaka, Zambia

Know Your City: Lusaka 2030 - a city without slums

To foster a sustainable working relationship between local government and slum dwellers in a bid to expedite the creation of an inclusive city.

HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee
Milwaukee, United States

HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee

HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee empowers residents to transform neighbourhoods by re-purposing City-owned vacant lots into community food assets

Growing a social and solidarity economy to regenerate neighborhoods in Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona (ciudad), Spain

Growing a social and solidarity economy to rege...

The city of Barcelona has implemented a social and solidarity economy (SSE) approach to tackle the growing inequalities among the cities different districts.