November 6, 2015 | Next City by Cassie Owens
“Victoria Wright, Senpai & Kohai, Wild Mantle — these are some of the fashion brands that have hired sewers from the Refugee Women’s Textile Initiative, and put their work in stores. Last month, the Philadelphia-based RWTI won a grant for nearly $19,000, as part of StartUp PHL’s effort to spur entrepreneurship in the city. (The initiative is a collaboration from the commerce department and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.) In this latest funding round, six organizations received awards ranging from $6,000 to $25,000.”
Entrepreneurship wasn’t even in RWTI’s sights in the beginning. The group grew out of Philadelphia Burmese Women’s Initiative two years ago, and the seeds were sown when Jessica Lee, an organizer and Ph.D. candidate in social work at Bryn Mawr College, polled women to find out what activities they’d like to undertake. With sewing classes as a top result, Lee began to search for an ideal classroom. Enter designer-teacher Rachel Ford, and her school MADE Studios. The initiative has expanded beyond proper sewing, to a curriculum around textile arts, with artist Shira Walinsky bringing in local designers to collaborate with participants on weaving projects. But Ford has her eye on small-batch manufacturing.
“What I’ve come to realize in my own world is that everybody is a designer,” says Ford. “Everybody ultimately gets to a place where they want to scale things and hire other people to do their sewing. And as it is now, there’s really a lack for [that workforce.]”