Empowerment: A New Life In Stitches

A young, shy seamstress in the making.

Colourful dresses line the walls of Sikoot’s front room.

A commercial sewing machine is tucked into a corner, near a window and natural light to work by. Large cones of thread in basic colours sit next to the machine. Folded stacks of partially-finished garments wait nearby, just needing final, hand-worked embellishments to make them ready for sale.

As you imagine Sikoot’s tailoring business, perhaps you imagine the tools of her trade set up in a small shop. In fact, everything she needs to run her business, started through a Preemptive Love Empowerment grant for small businesses, is set up in the unfinished house she shares with five other families.

We approached the home, a raw-concrete structure with tarps and plastic sheeting for windows, and Sikoot quickly came out to greet us with hand shakes, kisses, and a huge smile. We asked how many people lived in the house. She chuckled as she gave her answer: “a lot!” The center of the house is divided with scavenged tarps hung from the ceiling to give each family a little privacy. The house felt very full, and very full of life!

An industrial sewing machine sits at the ready, with large cones of thread.

Sikoot’s niece sat at the sewing machine throughout our visit. She is fast and talented at sewing, and though quite shy, was proud of her work.

She sews long dresses called ‘Maxis’, which are house-dresses worn daily by Iraqi woman. These women have an eye for colour and have chosen bright fabrics which will catch their neighbours’ attention. In a landscape of beige, bright clothing makes you a stand-out!

Sikoot’s niece can make two dresses per day. They’re currently making them for a slim profit, but their plan is to grow their client base first, gain the trust of their community, then to slowly increase their profit margin to create a living wage.

Sewing up the side seams of a new dress.

Not only are these women creating dresses from scratch, and a business from scratch, but they’re starting a life from scratch. They are all displaced from another part of Iraq because of war and violence. Like so many others, the life they lived before has been destroyed, and they are having to stitch together something new.

It’s one of the beautiful parts of empowering women like Sikoot—she is eager to build a new life. She isn’t wasting time in sorrow. She didn’t hold off on starting a business until she could afford to rent a shop, or even a home with real windows.

When she was given the opportunity to start a business with an empowerment grant, she jumped at the chance! She knew it wouldn’t take much for her to make a difference for her family, starting exactly where she finds herself right now—she just needed a chance.

Adding hand-sewn embellishments to a hand-made dress.

So she makes contacts in the neighbourhood, and tells women nearby about their wares, while her niece sews. She listens to what her potential customers want, and in listening not only gains their trust but provides product in demand.

Sikoot has her eye fixed firmly on the future. Standing near her sewing machine, the future looks bright.

Sewing dresses for sale in their Iraqi community.