I had the pleasure to talk with Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope. This is a great charity that empowers women in Africa to learn skills that help then earn a living for themselves and their families. Let me just state up front that I have no personal affiliation with Sewing Hope, but I was blown away by the work they are doing. So after speaking with Tara, I asked her if I could interview her for my blog. And here you go!
First up, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? You have a pretty interesting professional background.
I came to New York about 8 years ago. I studied costuming in school in North Carolina. I started out here making ballet and Broadway costumes, then I worked in men’s tailoring at the costume shop at the Metropolitan Opera. I also worked as a freelancer between seasons. I did some film work, including costuming on American Gangster and John Adams, as well as some things that never got released.
For the last two years, I’ve been working on the TV show Gossip Girl, doing tailoring and alterations for the show. That’s been fun and it’s really enabled me to do work on Sewing Hope.
Tell us a little about Sewing Hope?
Fount of Mercy works to care for orphans and vulnerable children by partnering with African orphanages. Many of the women who are a part of Fount’s vocational training program, Sewing Hope, have children who must live in these orphanages because they can’t afford to care for them on their own. By teaching these women to sew, we are building families and communities. They, and we, work with organizations in the local villages to provide vocational training. The needs of these people and programs are really pretty basic. A little money goes a very long way.
Fount of Mercy and Sewing Hope work with the grassroots organizations in Africa to support what they are already doing. We work with three organizations that have year-round training programs for the women. They teach sewing classes one or two times per week all year. We support them by providing continuing education and certification for the teachers, by providing machines and supplies. It’s worth noting that we buy all the supplies and machines locally, to try to support businesses in Africa. We don’t import anything ourselves.
How did you become involved in Sewing Hope?
I had dinner with the founders of Fount of Mercy, and they were telling me about their work. It really struck a chord with me. Since I’m in the garment industry, I felt it was something that I could help with. So two years ago I went to Uganda with them. I was one of nine people: there were also teachers, a nurse, a financial expert and another designer. I founded Sewing Hope as one program under Fount of Mercy’s umbrella. It’s such a great experience!
Sewing Hope has an impressive list of accomplishments: training teachers, establishing curricula, paying for salaries and supplies. What are the plans for the coming year?
We are going to continue with training programs for teachers and for the women. Last year we taught a bag class, how to make fabric flowers and fashion drawing. It has really helped the women communicate their ideas, and it’s been very rewarding to do.
This year they have asked to learn basic patternmaking. They are interested in using local textiles to make western style clothing, and they want some basic patternmaking training for that. Things like skirts, tops – there’s a huge tourist trade in Uganda, and they would like to make things that they can sell to the tourists. Things that are made with local materials, but in western styles. They are also very interested in what they call “design machines”. These are treadle operated embroidery machines. I’m looking for suppliers of these types of machines right now.
In the future we’d like to teach beading, knitting, embellishment. We’ve also received requests for a classroom building with tables and space for the women to work. I also want to work with the local textile factories to supply fabric scraps or work for the women we train. I also have a goal to teach a class on reusable resources and repurposing. Fabrics are very expensive there, so I think this class would be really useful.
You’re holding an event on April 5 to raise awareness and funds. Can you tell us more about that?
Sure. Every time I go to Uganda, I bring back a suitcase filled with local textiles. I invite designers to design an outfit inspired by the fabric, Africa and these women. This year, we’re going to have professional models wearing the designs of 15 different designers. The models will be set in vignettes that highlight the cross-cultural aspects and appeal of sewing. It’s going to be really fun and very inspiring!
The event is going to take place at
China 1 Antique Restaurant and Lounge
50 Avenue B
New York City
Tickets are $75 per person. There will be an open bar from 7-9. Then at 10, there will be an after-party to benefit Sewing Hope. Tickets for that are $5, and the restaurant will be transformed into a French-Pop style dance club. It’s going to be a great time!
It is definitely going to be a great time. But it’s only one way that Sewing Hope raises awareness and funds for these great programs. For those who can’t make it to the event, how can people find out more about, or contribute to Sewing Hope?
You can find out all about Sewing Hope and make donations through our website, www.sewinghope.net. And to find out more about Fount of Mercy’s other programs, see www.fountofmercy.com.
Well Tara, this is a great organization. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about it. Folks, if you are in the New York area on April 5th, I encourage you to come to this great event. And do check out Sewing Hope. Thanks again Tara.
Thanks Ann, and thanks for putting us on your blog and helping raise awareness.
So there you go folks. Do check this out. It’s a great organization with a great focus, and it really does make a difference in people’s lives.