We’re building women’s self-esteem and providing an opportunity for asylum seeker’s residing in a local hotel to learn a new skill.
Over the last few months we have been visiting a hotel where over 100 families from around the world are being housed whilst their case for seeking refuge in this country is heard. Families from all sorts of places: we’ve been learning to say “hello!” and “thank you” in Farsi, Persian, Arabic, Albanian and Kurdish, for example. Each week around 20 – 30 women join us for an afternoon of sewing. Some are professional tailors, others have excellent skills passed down from their mothers and some have yet to learn. We’ve been fortunate to receive funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to help us fund the teaching and buy sewing machines. And the Mothers’ Union Diocese of Oxford have generously given funds to one of their members so they could provide 20 women with their own sewing kits. I had never really contemplated how useful my mobile phone would be to talk into and receive a translated message back. The women must have made at least 60 garments between them so far too!
It is good to get involved in activities around the village. We had a great village celebration for the King’s Coronation and we decided to participate in a village flower festival. We made lots of flowers and produced a wonderful display.
It was nice to pause whilst we made, to dedicate a flower to someone we could not hug right now, simply praying for their safety and peace in this difficult time.
We would like to branch out and offer sewing classes in other places where there is need, likely in a community hall, accessible to asylum seekers, refugees and people on low income that would love to sew, mend, alter and make clothes from donations made within their local community. We’ll provide the sewing skills, resources and training. All we ask is that there are 3 or 4 local volunteers eager to be a friendly face, a listening ear (with google translate if necessary !?!) willing to follow instruction and enable others to copy.
May I properly introduce you to some of the people that work at TANU, a vocational skills centre, based in Eastern Uganda.
It has been a huge privilege to work with the whole TANU community, and an honour to say that The Dorcas Dress Project is one of their partners. I thank Jerry from TEN communities for introducing us. May I take this opportunity to introduce you to Joel, Rachel, Eveline and Regina, some of the people who all work at the centre. Joel managers the centre and oversees all the vocational programmes which include, carpentry, building, computer repair and tailoring. We asked each of them what their favourite colour was and why.
The ladies have been really busy increasing their efficiency on the sewing machines. It has been a joy to join them on zoom to virtually participate in classes, help them diagnose issues with their sewing machines so they can repair them, and participate in community worship and conversation. Here you can see Rachael, the Production Manager overseeing the paper pattern preparation, fabric cutting and sewing.
My What’sApp feed has been busy with photographs and smiles. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I did when I received them.
This feels like a little milestone for us here at The Dorcas Dress Project. This is the first time we have been able to present a range of dresses where we have wholly and solely relied on our virtual learning environment and online zoom classrooms to learn together and more importantly for me, grow a community across continents. If you’d like to see some of the resources we use you can sign in as a guest. Everyone has been really busy preparing a package of lovely dresses. These arrived earlier this week. What do you think?
We’re trialing out a new variation on our pricing structure. So you will notice when you visit our shop that these dresses really are a very reasonable price. We hope that will encourage you to order one: the more orders we make, the greater impact we can make, together, to be a part of a growing and thriving community. This offer is available for 6 weeks only, so act fast! And if you’d like to add a donation into your basket at the same time then that will help us deliver our online classes, continue producing excellent online virtual learning and help us expand and serve other sewing hubs.
We are hoping, for example, to help Christine set up a sewing hub in Western Kenya. Christine explains how due to the challenges of living in poverty, girls are often forced not to finish their schooling, either because they are needed to financially support their families, their families can not afford to pay for their education, or because of poverty marry very young.
They have made fantastic progress as they build a community space to meet, worship and teach from. Christine is a well qualified, specialising in agriculture and a keen dressmaker too (no surprise there!). She is also a wonderful ambassador amongst her community, teaching and encouraging those around her to be the best they can be.
Isn’t the scenery beautiful!
There are so many ways to support us. Buying something is a win for us and a win for you too!
I attended a prayer meeting this morning, with Great Lakes Outreach, one of our other partner organisations (more news from Burundi very, very soon!!). During the devotional time Roger focused on Psalm 91 and the shadow of the Father’s wing. He explained how it provided a place of security, a place of refuge and a protective shield.
We have been venturing into new ground in the UK: working with asylum seekers living in destitution in hotels. It has been a steep learning curve over the last few months. We’ve learnt about needs and wants. We’ve discovered the power of persuasion can often be at the detriment of the timid. And we’ve realised that life is never as simple as it seems.
Pray with us for security as we stand up amongst giants: as we meet with authorities who have the power to love and demonstrate compassion; as we compete alongside big fashion brands for a tiny foothold in the retail market. Pray for us to be a place of refuge for everyone that comes to a sewing hub, that they would find a place of peace and reconciliation, a place to dwell and know that they are loved, and a place where we can share our skills and love of dressmaking in way that grows friendships and builds community. And pray for a protective shield, in this mornings meeting this was a reflection on our failings, so we pray that in all our doings and conversations there is grace, grace to fail, grace when we act inappropriately and therefore grace to apologise and grace to enjoy simple fellowship together.
May the coming weeks be ones of bounty and plenty for you all.
And The Dorcas Dress Project team
Please share this newsletter with whomever you think will be interested in what we are doing, and if you’d like to receive our regular newsletters…
Over the last few weeks we have been working particularly hard to support our three partner organisations in Burundi, through Great Lakes Outreach. It has been a joy to receive their WhatsApp messages, photographs and videos, which really do share the colour and sounds of life in Burundi.
___________________________________________________________________________________________ Together for Development work with vulnerable members of their community by injecting hope, where all hope seems to be gone. Together for Development believes in teaching beneficiaries in a way that brings all generations together so they can develop their communities and know life in its fullness. They run sewing training schools which we have been able to link with, gathering people together to build their own sewing co-operatives.
ICJ work with hundreds of widows and orphans across Bubanza, Muramvya and Cibitoke in the northern regions of Burundi. They are helping them rebuild their lives after the frequent raids from rebels during the civil war. They have set up a sewing project as part of a wider aspiration to build business opportunities for those living in poverty in these regions.
RAJEDES predominantly work in the Burundi’s largest city, Bujumbura, in the deprived parts of the city. Their focus is empowering young people, providing business skills and enterprise opportunities. We are working with their sewing and tailoring provision to provide a product that can be made and sold locally to a high standard.
You have the opportunity to support each of these groups by ordering dresses from the fabric options which will be made available: please watch this space. The dresses will be made to order and delivered in the early Autumn. It might be a little forward thinking, but what a perfect Christmas gift for someone you love, by giving a little love too. You don’t even need to know the recipients size: as they are size-adjustable!
We’ll release more details when we receive photographs of the prints and colours available.
Let’s be praying for an exciting and productive few months for these guys.
Significant growth, new sewing hubs and exciting local UK initiatives.
Our newer sewing hubs in Burundi and Uganda have all been busy.
It’s been an absolute delight to visit Burundi and Uganda over the last few months, all from the comfort of my workshop in the UK. Isn’t zoom amazing! The different sewing hubs, associated with GLO in Burundi have just posted me pictures of the first dresses they have made. I am so looking forward to seeing their progress and stocking their dresses in our online shop.
In the meantime you might want to consider buying a dress made in Nigeria. Buying a dress will make a difference to the ladies that are part of our sewing hub there.
Our hub in Shropshire continues to send us encouraging reports.
The group, hosted by Hope Church in Oswestry is currently serving a group of women who each enjoy the friendships and relationship they are finding within their sewing group. This is a big part of who we are: enabling people to flourish in safe places where they are nurtured and valued.
A few weeks ago we ran a jewellery workshop with a group of learners linked to Guideposts in North Oxfordshire.
It was great fun enabling the group of 6 learners to make gifts for their loved ones so close to Valentine’s Day.
And the hottest news off the press, is our new hub in West Oxfordshire.
This has been a project on my heart for some time now. A hub close to my home, where, as CEO, I can put my dressmaking heart into practical use for people in West Oxfordshire. It’s been a prayer, overwhelmingly answered, as just before Christmas we discovered asylum seekers and refugees were being housed locally. We are providing a safe place where we can build friendships across cultures and languages. Our aim is to help these women to settle, and when permitted, provide character references to assist them in seeking work.
All in all in the last year we’ve grown from working with 1 or 2 people in Nigeria and 3 or 4 people in the UK, to working with well over 100 people from all over the world. How awesome is that. Sorry I haven’t found time to write, I’ve been a bit distracted!
An update from the new sewing hub in Tanzania. The equipment did arrive, but sadly with unexpected import taxes and release fees at the border have meant we have had to hold off buying treadle bases for the sewing machines we sent, whilst we wait for more funds to come in.
And it’s not stopping there, we are having encouraging conversations with a group in Kenya and with networks linked to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In other exciting news.
I have had the great honour of teaching students, via zoom, at our sewing hub in Teso, Uganda. It’s been great fun to engage with all the students and get to know them a little bit. We’ve had drawing classes, sewing classes and a session on servicing and repairing machines. Within a space of 2 hours the group had managed to get all their machines in tip-top shape, some of which had not been working for some time. Sharing knowledge and friendship is such a gift and a joy. A few weeks ago I had a video call from Everline, she wanted to introduce be to the youngest member of their group. I have been given permission to share photographs of baby Maria. I realise what a great honour and privilege it is to have someone named after me. Please join me in praying for Maria, her older brother and her family: for good health and for laughter and joy to fill their home.
We have been busy putting in funding bids to a variety of different organisations, in the hope of sustaining our rapid growth and bringing much needed exposure to our charity, which in turn we pray will increase sales and economic stability to those we aim to serve. Please be praying these funding applications are received favourably.
Thanks for reading.
If you notice a change in style it is because Martha very generously breathed life into my words last year. Thank you so much Martha for your support, encouragement and enthusiasm for The Dorcas Dress Project: we really valued your contribution and miss your input.
I will try not to make it so long until I write again.
Whilst we focused earlier on in the year on our project in Leicester, today I want to share news of our sewing hubs in Africa.
I’m so excited that we now have £1335 for the project in Tanzania. So far, the money has provided 3 sewing machines, all capable of being converted from electric to treadle power when they arrive in Tanzania, as well as a digital tablet and an electric saw for cutting large volumes.
All this equipment is on it’s way to Tanzania as we write and should arrive in the next few days, at which point we will be able to start training and helping to build a new sewing small business enterprise in the refugee camp.Give to our Tanzania fund
As more funding comes, we plan to provide funds for fabric and treadle bases for the sewing machines, which will be locally sourced. We also plan to support the group with much-needed live training, rather than asking them to navigate online platforms.
We’d like to get some of our video resources translated so that the local tailors can easily follow the instructions and believe this will improve efficiency as they serve the local community. In turn, we hope that this will also increase the visibility of the hub and help it to develop more quickly.
We’ve also started a second sewing hub in the Teso region in Uganda, a link that’s been made through Ten Community.
Ten Community have already set up a business hub, built sewing and carpentry workshops and are providing business training to make goods for sale in Mbale. The trainers are currently familiarising themselves with our resources so they’re prepared and ready to welcome new trainees when the academic year starts in January.
It’s an absolute privilege to be welcomed into this community. Covid has undoubtedly changed the world, and yet it seems even more possible now to build relationships with brothers and sisters who are far away. We’ve already had several online sessions with the group and are so excited to see this partnership develop. A Friday afternoon sewing class has become a firm fixture in our weekly diaries.
Burundi and Nigeria Finally, we have started to talk to a group called GLO in Burundi. Great Lakes Outreach have helped set up and support a variety of charities in Burundi, supporting people from all sorts of situations improve their lives. We had the privilege of meeting with 3 of these charities last week to explore how we can serve them to serve those in their communities whoa rein need. More information about this collaboration in the new year!
In the meantime, take a look at the garments from Nigeria – aren’t they fantastic?! Please do help us, help others: consider buying someone you know a dress from our group in Nigeria… or one of our new pieces of jewellery from Oswestry.
Thank you once again for being a partner in all that we aim to achieve and do.
As summer draws to a close and we welcome autumn, we’ve spent some time reflecting on the last 12 months.
We’re delighted and encouraged that The Dorcas Dress Project is giving people new opportunities. One of our trainees has new paid employment and another is starting a new enterprise designing catering aprons. These are huge steps for these trainees and we want to pass on our congratulations. We look forward to following these new journeys.
We’ve learnt a lot about running hubs, the kind of support trainees need and creative ways we can provide it. We are pleased with the progress we have made building our online training platform. We have plans to add more resources, particularly to better equip those trainees who live in remote parts of world. we’re looking forward to seeing some of these items on sale for Christmas so look out for them in the coming weeks.
The Leicester project has paused for a short while. We provided English speaking classes for 6 people who had loose connection to the garment industry. We found workers already in work less enthusiastic to participate in classes as the time away from their sewing machines meant to getting paid. We’ve reflected on this and teamed up with a local academy who provide technical training to get people into work, some of these trainees are unable to get work as they are carers and can not commit to working before 9:30am and after 3pm. We are hoping to provide social conversation in English during lunch break to help them get to know their peers.
We’re still very keen to set up a sewing hub in Tanzania. We’ve had donations of sewing machines and sewing equipment but still need to raise the funds to provide start-up fabric and stock. You can read about the project in full just here. Please do consider whether you might be able to give to this.
A box full of dresses has now arrived from Nigeria! We’ve organised a photo shoot at the end of October and look forward to showing you the final pictures. In the meantime, if any of the prints below catch your eye and you’d like to pre-order, do get in touch here.
Finally, how great to hear that the ladies in Uganda have started learning to sew. It was truly inspiring to see their new skills in action over Zoom when we caught up last week.
Thank you once again for being a partner in this work,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank 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.our 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.our 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.we 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.Find out more about us!Thanks for reading. See you soon!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are a UK registered Charity Incorporated Organisation (1177034). We support people out of situations of hardship by providing training, resources and pastoral care around our specially designed Dorcas dress and enterprise tool kit. Dismiss