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Walking the runway to success

5 MIN READ

Story highlights

  • Recent graduates from the Sewing for Jobs program put on a fashion show and spoke proudly about the skills they learned from their teachers and each other.
  • Sewing for Jobs is a program offered by EcoEquitable—a United Way partner—that welcomes self-identifying newcomer women or women experiencing barriers to employment into an immersive educational experience where they learn how to sew and gain other professional skills, all while building a community network. 
     
  • As a social enterprise, EcoEquitable operates business activities to generate revenue for its social programs. Specifically, they do contract sewing projects, public sewing courses, and textile recycling—diverting more than 10,000 pounds of fabric from landfills through their services each year. 
For Selina, a single mother, achieving her leveltwo Sewing for Jobs certificate was no small feat.  

Alongside homeschooling and parenting, Selina attends classes at EcoEquitable to work on her sewing, design, and professional skills. Her achievement is especially meaningful as Selina left an abusive relationship to take care of herself and her family. 

Students, teachers, and staff at EcoEquitable held a graduation ceremony for Selina and other participants in the Sewing for Jobs program. The event was a celebration of transformation as friends, family, and community supporters came out to cheer as women of all backgrounds participating in the program presented their talents with speeches and a fun-filled fashion show, displaying clothing designed and created at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Carroll

EcoEquitable is a nonprofit social enterprise whose dual purpose of textile waste reduction and women’s empowerment intersect through the art of sewing. Their flagship program, Sewing for Jobs, welcomes self-identifying newcomer women or women experiencing barriers to employment into an immersive educational experience where they learn how to sew professionally and develop soft skills, all while building their network in the community.

The Sewing for Jobs curriculum provides students with sewing skills for employment opportunities in the textile and fashion industries upon graduating the program. The long-standing tradition of sewing as a collective and connective art form is felt among the students in the Sewing for Jobs program, and with the volunteers and teachers who help women to realize their full potential. 

Many students in the program have left something behind: abusive relationships, war-torn countries, or pandemic upheaval. But what they gain through the program is a long list of practical skills and a community that lifts them up.

“Not only do we teach sewing, we teach confidence building.”

A skillful balancing act

United Way East Ontario works with EcoEquitable as part of our commitment to build communities that are accessible, inclusive, and financially equitable for everyone. This means that every person has access to employment, a solid understanding of how to be financially secure, and an opportunity to become financially independent.

Students in the Sewing for Jobs program learn to be proficient in technical skills like math, understanding industrial machines, and alterations. At the graduation ceremony, students also displayed the soft skills they’ve gained, such as public speaking and self-confidence.

Students come to Sewing for Jobs with a passion for fashion. Some connect to the art form because their mothers and grandmothers were seamstresses, or because they want to create their own clothes in their own style.  

Selina’s teacher Carroll sees many students come through the program and go on to be professional sewists or entrepreneurs. “It’s learning time management, communicating with people, getting along with different personalities, being able to balance your books. Having a family and coming to class and still having the passion to sew,” says Carroll. Some students haven’t had this kind of challenge. Realizing how much work it is helps to build a more resilient person.” 

“Before it was go with the flow, and things worked out, but to do this program? You need structure. It’s always a balancing act.”

A photo Selina at the Sewing for Jobs Graduation.
Selina

Giving one hundred percent

Joy

Joy is a new student to the program who received her level one certificate. She says the program has helped with consistency. “Practice makes perfect. Drop by drop is an ocean. Every single day you practice. Today is ten minutes, tomorrow is ten minutes–just keep at it no matter how small. Before you know it, you’re good with it.” 

Coming from Nigeria, Joy has fought to make a home for her children and herself, keeping them on schedule as she manages personal health challenges, preparing meals, running a household, attending classes, and keeping up with all the assignments. Resilient and determined, Joy radiates confidence and says she’s looking forward to the next level. “Whatever I do, this is the foundation. If I’m going to be a creative or designer, I’m going to give one hundred percent, all I have.”

Selina nods in agreement. “I put everything I had into it. It’s now or never. Where I am in life, I have to push through, as painful as it is. It’s worth it,” adding “I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.” 

“No one’s perfect,” Joy says with a smile.  

Setting the stage for success

COVID-19 has disrupted the financial wellbeing and employment of so many. Indigenous people, vulnerable women, newcomers, racialized communities, and people with disabilities have all been the most negatively affected. 

Even before the pandemic, these groups experienced major barriers to inclusion in the workforce, in community spaces, and in accessing services of all kinds—including stigma, misinformed perceptions, and biased or outdated assumptions. Having transferable skills, a supportive community, and self-confidence are basic building blocks that women are gaining through Sewing for Jobs. 

With our commitment to impact, our role as community convener, and our involvement with other funders and planners in this area, United Way East Ontario leverages our network of partners and donors to help our communities come together to create real solutions that will work for our region. Women United, United Way’s women’s giving initiative, proudly supports the Sewing for Jobs program. This local network of donors and members are dedicated to leveraging their time, talents, and funds to empower women in our communities to build strong, independent lives.    

As graduates like Selina and Joy walked down the runway in clothing they imagined, designed, and created, a new path opened up ahead of them—stitching their dreams, into reality. Thanks to our donors, we can empower people to build and confidence, paving the way for a brighter future.

Make a difference in the lives of women working to transform their lives.
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