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July: A Focus on Tanzania

This month, our attention turns to Africa. We’re excited to be working alongside Bishop Benjamin at Nyarugusu refugee camp.

Nyarugusu is about 150 km east of Lake Tanganyika in the western province of Kigoma, Tanzania.  It was created by the UNHCR and the Tanzanian government in 1996 after an estimated 150,000 Congolese refugees crossed the border into Tanzania to escape civil war. 

Although the population of the camp was reducing just before 2015, a further 110,000 refugees from Burundi arrived that year to escape riots and civil unrest. These refugees came to Nyarugusu until the government allowed them to go to other camps. Approximately 65,000 Burundian refugees remain at Nyarugusu, while 55,000 are at Nduta refugee camp with another 19,000 at Mtendeli refugee camp. 

Working with refugees at Nyarugusu camp

We’re working closely with Bishop Benjamin who, like many others, arrived at the camp in the first place to stay out of danger. However, his life is also a demonstration of what it looks like to live life with hope. 

Along with his team, Benjamin supports refugee entrepreneurship so that people can capitalise on resources, skills, networks and knowledge whilst seeking refuge. People are able to contribute to local economies in their host community and learn skills to use in the community where they’ll live in the future. They can also act as mentors for others or facilitators for cross-border trade and marketing.  Here are some examples of current enterprise initiatives: making and selling bread, buying and selling second hand clothes and growing and selling fruit and vegetables.

This community in Nyarugusu camp would like to grow a new enterprise, making and selling clothes.  We’d like to help them do that.  

Would you like to support us to help them?

Find out more on our TotalGiving campaign page.

To start the project Benjamin and his team will use local self-employed tailors who are well skilled and proficient at dressmaking.

 “Our aim is to reduce unemployment in the camp and therefore reduce the risks of theft, banditry and prostitution. Dressmakers are permitted to trade within the local camp community as well as outside the camp, at local markets in the nearby town, Kasulu, where we will be able to source locally produced fabric, machinery and other resources. The local government is keen for refugees to earn their own income as this contributes to the country’s economy.”

The Dorcas Dress Project will set up our usual sponsorship scheme, enabling each new dressmaker to buy their own sewing machine in return for making us 6 dresses that we can sell from our UK headquarters.

Please consider giving to enable us to start this project.  We are trying to raise £3,000, this will provide a start-up kit which will then provide a rolling provision for new dressmakers as they each make their first six dresses and buy their own sewing machine.

Dresses arriving from Nigeria!

May I introduce Esther, one of our new dressmakers in Akure.  
Our next batch of dresses is currently on the way from Nigeria despite the cost of courier fees having trebled due to the global price of fuel. 
We’re very excited to receive them and are hoping to launch them on our website this coming October/November so watch this space!  We will be introducing others in this group in a future newsletter, along with some of their favourite local meals.  Esther’s is pounded yam and vegetable soup.

As ever, thanks so much for reading and for all your support. 

God bless

Maria & and The Dorcas Dress Project team

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June: grace is a gift, share it abundantly.

A steep learning curve
As the phrase goes, you live and learn. That’s certainly been my experience over the last month as we’ve navigated some tricky situations and had to find the grace to overcome hurdles. 

In business and life, sometimes we’re called to ‘walk the extra mile’ for someone. This resonates with me because of the historical figure of Jesus. No matter who you think he was or wasn’t, the way he encouraged and modelled generosity was revolutionary. In the first century AD he encouraged his Jewish listeners to carry a Roman soldier’s kit bag, not just the obligatory one mile set out in Roman law, but further, simply to demonstrate generousity. 

I’ve lived this experience this month. It’s been hard work and the aches have been real but the fruit of respect and friendship has been too. 

So, what happened?
In general, our production run has gone smoothly. There could have been many opportunities for sour words and anger from the factory, from us and from you, our customers, but that hasn’t been the case. 

In the early stages when I first began to build a relationship with our partner factory, everything went very well. From samples to agreed production dates to in-person visits, the factory was doing everything possible to give us the best experience. 

Unfortunately, the navy fabric we had chosen did not arrive in time to meet the production date. The factory had offered to dye the shade just for us and it was a shame that their gesture of generosity caused delays. 

Nevertheless, their show had to go on: not with our dresses but with bigger orders for bigger brands. As our production date slipped further and further the factory sought out other factories to help them. This is a common practice in Leicester as different businesses seek to support one another and share the work, but it has its own challenges. 

Under the pressure of the delay, the work was rushed and unbeknown to us, mistakes were being made. The early time and effort we’d put into laying a great foundation were largely lost. Again, our initial factory contacts wanted to help as much as they could, offering to ship dresses directly to our customers rather wasting time waiting for us to collect to the stock to then ship them out. Only then, did we realise there were issues with construction. 

So how would we put things right and as we shared last month, who would you want to hold power? Costs had risen significantly since they were first agreed and we hadn’t got quite as many dresses as we’d expected either. We did the sums to find the funds left after putting things right would be just £7 per dress. In our case, those funds, little as they are, will help to fund English lessons for garment workers. This experience shows that margins are always tight and choices are always challenging, whatever the size of your business. You’ll notice we’ve increased the retail price of the dress to reflect the real prices we paid.  
66081238Thank you to the lovely Hasna for modelling our navy Dorcas Dresses so beautifully. We still have stock to sell so do consider sharing this newsletter and encouraging a few friends to buy frock 😉Buy a dress now!Who goes the extra mile?
I spent a lot of time discussing the problems. Factory workers still need to be paid. The fabric still needs to be bought. Factory running costs still need to be covered. The way this industry works leaves little room for human error. And yet, humans do make errors. My extra mile was sat at the sewing machine altering the placement of the side ties on a significant part of the production run. Sewing is my place of refuge, I love to pray as I sew, I see it as a well choreographed dance. I took the opportunity to pray for each customer that will receive a dress, for joy and grace to permeate their lives.

I’ve never been more conscious of the frustration, human cost and scrabbling for margin that runs the clothing industry. And yet, I’ve never seen so strongly how grace, love and patience can fight in the face of injustice, arrogance and inequality. The factory we worked with have graciously done what they can to redeem the situation.  

We can all do things differently and when we do, people notice and relationships change for the better.  

Grace is a gift. I encourage you to share it abundantly. 


In other news
our English classes for garment workers in Leicester have seen up to six delegates. We will be reviewing their success in July and will share our plans for September in our next newsletter.PHOTO-2022-05-10-20-55-03our Nigeria sewing hub have grown to seven ladies. They are currently producing a small batch of dresses which will be shipped to us shortly… watch this space for new stock in our shop.PHOTO-2022-06-11-15-29-29our Uganda hub will be receiving a shipment from us very soon. We recently sent a sewing machine, bundle of threads and hand tools which should arrive next month… more news of this next month.Screenshot 2022-07-01 at 10.58.39we are exploring setting up a sewing hub in a Tanzanian refugee camp. The group have analysed local sources for materials and equipment and local outlets for sales. We will be sharing ways you can support this group in next months newsletter too.Screenshot 2022-07-01 at 10.54.34Find out more about us!Thanks for reading. See you soon!

The Dorcas Dress Project team
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May

Production begins

May has been a month of real highs and lows. We were delighted to receive the first batch of dresses from the factory but disappointed to find that some of them had faults. It’s always a challenge to balance robust quality checking against meeting a deadline and nearly unheard of to get a production run that goes without a hitch. 

Nevertheless, our promise to the customer is that every dress will be to the highest standard so we needed to put the faults right. That lead us to the next question… At whose cost?

Who benefits, who pays, who decides?

In the world of big business, it’s common practice for retail brands to put the cost of any errors onto the supplier. Factories can be faced with fines, penalties or thousands of items of rejected, unpaid-for stock if the goods they make don’t meet the standard that’s been agreed. 

Many would argue that if the factory hasn’t followed the instructions or checked the production and stock properly then this is entirely fair, but I’ve been considering the ramifications of this ugly status quo. 

As we think about money and power, John A Powell encourages us to ask “Who benefits, who pays, who decides?” These are powerful questions and since one of the goals of the Dorcas Dress Project is to show a better and more humane approach to making garments, we wanted to include the factory in asking how to put the faults right. We want to empower them to help make decisions when things don’t go according to plan, rather than dictate what happens while we withhold the purse strings. 

Everyone, both customer (in this case, DDP), supplier (the factory), the garment worker and the end customer need to win. That requires us to work together and this is what we’re working on right now to make sure we fix the faults, learn for next time and send out a beautiful run of dresses.  

See the Leiceseter line of DDP dresses here. 

English classes begin

Our second English class took place last night with a small group of students, five people, garment workers along with one spouse. We are delighted with this initial interest and hope interest grows as we continue to publicise the event. This is a great start to our new initiative and we’re looking forward to bringing you more news about it in the coming weeks. 

Missed the story so far? Find out everything here. 

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April 2022

The Big Launch!

On Thursday 21st April we officially launched The Dorcas Dress Project in Leicester!  The manager and personal styling team at the John Lewis Leicester store were the hosts for our event where local factory and business owners, charity and council representatives and participating volunteers came together to mark the occasion. 

We began the event at the personal styling station on the ground floor in womenswear. With a refreshing glass of bubbles in hand, the guests listened to a short introduction about the project from myself (Maria) and the store manager, followed by some great ideas from the personal styling team on how to wear the dress. 

We later headed up to the second floor where students from the Fashion Styling and Communications course at De Montfort University had done a superb job of styling and photographing the dress to make an eye-catching visual display next to the lifts. 

Find out more about John Lewis ethics and sustainability here.

Recognised by Leicester City Council

We were delighted to welcome Clr Clarke from Leicester City Council at the event who praised all partners involved, saying:

“This work is a perfect example of an organisation that believes in Leicester, bringing their amazing charitable initiative to our city. And we’re really delighted to welcome them here. 

Teaming up with Denovo Apparel is something that has developed innovation, along with DMU. And John Lewis and Partners has been here to harness that ingenuity and creativity with integrity, which is really important. 

So the new recycled polyester jersey dresses are a fantastic example, a metaphor that enables us to understand what we need to do to overcome big social and environmental challenges that we face. 

That’s why I really wanted to be here today to welcome that. We’re not just celebrating a garment – I think it’s so much more than that. It actually helps to define the city we want to see in terms of our ethical and sustainability credentials.”

A city comes together

One of the most inspiring things about the event was seeing these different partners in Leicester engaged and united in their desire for a better city. 

We hosted factory owners who want to do the best for employees and business owners who want to take their responsibility seriously. We welcomed students who have lent their talents, volunteers who are facilitating the project, charity representatives who see the wider problem and of course, John Lewis and Partners, as a leading retailer and household name. 

Seeing people come together like this really does show that it’s often not the appetite for change that’s lacking, just the means to make it happen. We’re so hopeful and grateful that The Dorcas Dress Project can continue to be an inspiring catalyst for positive change. 

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March2022

Getting Ready for Production to Begin 

During the last few weeks, we’ve been working closely with our partner factory in Leicester to get ready for production to start. At this point, it’s really important to think ahead and make sure that we’ve thought through everything in advance. 

We need to make sure that labels are ready, that we can produce as planned to the right timescale and that we have a robust system for checking quality. To make sure that the dresses are consistent across production we work to a ‘sealed sample’. This is like a benchmark of quality for the entire production run and we’re currently waiting to see and sign our final sample off with the factory. Once we do, it will be all systems go!

A key meeting in Leicester

Another significant milestone for us this past month was being invited to an industry meeting to discuss textile production in Leicester.  There were lots of key players present including high street brands Very, Asos and MissGuided who all manufacture in the city. These brands are all involved in the Fast Forward campaign, an initiative designed to build sustainable supply chains and make sure that garment workers are fairly treated. 

The city council, trade unions, Labour Behind the Label and Hope for Justice were also represented.  It was really interesting to hear how the brands wanted to work with these organisations for a better supply chain and we discussed some great ideas and strategies.  

Find out more about the Fast Forward initiative here. 

Asking the right questions

One thing that did surprise me was that there were no factory owners present at the meeting. Getting different parties together to talk through the challenges and opportunities of UK clothing manufacturing definitely feels like the right way forward. I raised this openly when the right moment came because factory owners are crucial in raising standards for everyone. 

I also questioned whether buyers were really aware of how much the products sketched up by their designers truly cost to manufacture. Pricing products correctly and fairly is a simple process, not a dark art, as long as you understand the manufacturing process properly. Again, better knowledge and co-operation will help to improve the situation going forwards. 

And in other news…

We’ve just met as a board of trustees having recently welcomed a few new members and restructured how we work. With our growth since the Crowdfunder project, it feels more important than ever to move into this new chapter with a strong structure of governance in place for the future. 

We’ve also had meetings in Uganda and the ladies there are getting themselves set up on our training platform.  We’ve been arranging for a new batch of dresses to be made in Nigeria too – please do watch out for these coming soon in the shop!

Explore the shop here.

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February 2022

The Dorcas Dress Project Launches in Leicester

A century ago, Leicester was an international hub for textiles and “clothed the world” but more recently the city has been plagued by accusations of terrible working conditions and modern-day slavery at the hands of fast fashion. 

I felt that the Dorcas Dress Project might be able to get involved in Leicester, coming alongside garment workers to provide English lessons and share God’s love with those too often neglected in the fashion supply chain. We want to become a self-sustaining charity that uses the sales of its dresses to lift people out of poverty around the world.  To make this a reality we needed to think beyond our current bespoke small scale production, so we started to explore a large batch production in a factory in Leicester.  The project has organically grown as we listened to local needs and aspirations to prove there was a core of factories that valued everyone in their workforce.  Our aim is to model gentle, kind business practices in an aggressive industry, where we can bring joy to others through our charitable actions, discipleship and prayer: much like Dorcas did in the early church.

After much thinking, prayer and conversation, I launched a crowdfunding campaign and began to put the word out. 

Do you have the vision to be like Dorcas in your local area? If you’d like to explore setting up your own hub please contact maria@dorcasdressproject.org

A nail-biting time 

Despite the crowdfunding being up and running, I felt incredibly vulnerable. By the start of February, we had barely reached £4000 of the £6000 target but even so, others were encouraging me to move forwards and meet with church leaders in Leicester, the Head of Styling at DMU, a factory owner and the visual team at John Lewis, Leicester. 

Deep down, I battled with fear, imagining what it might be like to have to go back and tell all these people we hadn’t raised the money. Astonishingly, as time passed, the funds came in – and how! By the 14th of February, the target had been nearly doubled. I was blown away. 

The power of prayer is incredible. If you’d like to be linked into our prayer group please email maria@dorcasdressproject.org, introducing yourself and pass on your mobile number so that I can add you to the WhatsApp group. 

A team comes together

With the crowdfunding complete, the project became a whirlwind of hitting social media. I’m so thankful for all the people who were willing to model and try on the only dress sample we had from the factory. They certainly came up with a lot of different looks!

As the news went out that we were pushing forwards, a group of wonderful people from churches across Leicester came together on Zoom. Together we talked about how, and who could support an English teacher with lessons for the garment workers or organise and help run social activities for them to practise their newfound language skills. This is all in the works and I’m looking forwards to bringing you more on that soon. 

We’ve also had a couple of meetings with people who might become new trustees. We’re eager to grow that too so from every angle, a team is coming together. 

John Lewis, Leicester, gets behind the project

One of the most exciting parts of this project in Leicester is to have the support of a major retailer. Gavin, Emma, Tina and Rachel make up the Community Liaison and Visual Merchandising Team at John Lewis in the city centre and have given us a great spot near the lifts to show off our dresses. 

The team have plans to paint the display area then let students from DMU, who are studying in this area, to come in and style the mannequins. We hope that will be a great experience for all involved. 

Things are certainly moving quickly yet this is far from fast fashion. We still need to schedule in the manufacturing but are determined to show gentleness rather than pressure and aggression when we set this into motion with the factory owner, Abz. 

And in other news…

We’re also starting work with a charity called Guideposts which runs workshops across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. I met with leaders and volunteers last week and they are going to be making one of our jewellery pieces, designed by a student from Abingdon and Witney College. This promises to be a great opportunity for people in the local community to access support, friendship and creativity as we seek to create equal chances for everyone. 

The Dorcas Dress Project also continues in Nigeria. Joy, who runs the project there, introduced me to a new dressmaker called Osho. Both live in Akure where our links are fragile and we’re praying for better communication by text and Zoom which is often challenged by poor internet connections. 

We’ve sold half of our Nigeria stock and it would be great if we could sell what remains – do please check back to the shop to see what’s there!

Explore the shop here.

Help spread the word

I want to thank you so much for your interest in the Dorcas Dress Project and I’ll keep you posted as things progress in Leicester – watch this space!

If you know someone else who’d be interested in the project then do please forward this email on or get in touch any time at maria@dorcasdressproject.org.