How Sewing is Connecting Hobart Refugee Women
by Stephanie Williams
Melody Towns is the founder of Be Hers, an organisation that’s working to end slavery and exploitation. She also started the Be Hers Sewing Centre, providing jobs to Hobart women in need.
Tell us about the service and how it came about? We opened the original Be Hers Sewing Centre in 2019 in collaboration with Catholic Care who helped us with a start up grant. We initially employed four women, two mothers and their daughters from Afghanistan who had moved here as refugees and had experience in sewing. They helped us create our Dream Free silk range, which we sell online through our website. It’s a great product but during Covid we actually had to shut down the centre. When we re-opened, we were only able to keep two of the women on and helped the others set up their own micro-enterprise.
The idea for the alterations centre has been there for a while. After working with these women we realised that social isolation is such a big problem, alongside financial distress, lack of English and lack of opportunity. All these vulnerabilities can lead to labour tracking, and as a charity that fights human trafficking globally, we wanted to do something tangible here to help. We also wanted to create something that invited the general public to support where they could be involved. As alterations are a need, we had hoped it would bring in more regular work so that we can give these women more paid hours, and others also the opportunity to work here. We have been running the alterations for just three weeks and have been blown away by the public’s support and have been able to double the hours offered!
What sort of impact has the centre had on the women you employ? The centre is amazing because we don’t just offer work experience but also paid employment that gives dignity and empowers refugee women not just socially but also financially. There are so many skills that can be learnt here, not just sewing but customer service, online bookings, marketing and quality control. All skills that can be then used for life in gaining more work opportunities. There’s also the opportunity to practice English in real time and create relationships with others in our community. Part of the program also includes upskilling and we have had other designers and seamstresses offer extra support alongside the employment.
How does employment like this help both the refugee workers and the wider community? It creates connection. I’ve learnt so much from these women. Their hospitality, generosity and work ethic is inspiring. They are no longer just employees but our families have shared dinner together and they are now a big part of our lives. I would never have met them if it wasn’t for this program. It not only helps them financially to be employed and educated in this type of environment but it also helps break down isolation barriers, language barriers and cultural differences and creates unity. For the wider community, so many people who have come into our centre also feel empowered that they can help women in need through something as simple as getting their hems done or their pants taken in. It’s a beautiful reflection of the city we live in with many in Hobart embracing this social enterprise.
How can I readers get involved? Please bring in your items to be altered! We have a services list on our Be Hers Sewing Centre Facebook page, where you can also make an appointment. We are conveniently located in the Hobart CBD. This business depends on our customers so please come on in and share the page with your friends.
More info email firstname.lastname@example.org.