London

How a social enterprise is employing refugee women ⁠— and keeping waste out of landfill

Repurposing fabric from furniture and drapery stores, and giving women meaningful employment, are two pillars on which Skilled Accents rests.

Nine women are turning scrap fabric into accent pillows through Skilled Accents

Hawraa Al-Juaifari shows off some of her favourite designs at the Skilled Accents showroom. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

If you ask Hawraa Al-Juaifari about her favourite creation inside the Skilled Accents' showroom, she'll point to a beige and cream pillow cover, with four squares of fabric and a leafy pattern.

Al-Juaifari, a newcomer to London in November 2014, says the pieces of fabric were smaller than what she would typically work with – but she created a new design to keep the material from being thrown out.

Repurposing fabric from furniture and drapery stores, and giving women meaningful employment, are two pillars on which Skilled Accents rests.

The idea for the social enterprise was born in 2017, when founder and CEO Kay Habib noticed how much time she was spending crafting custom accent pillows for her interior design clients.

The idea for Skilled Accents was born in 2017, when founder and CEO Kay Habib noticed how much time she was spending crafting custom accent pillows for her interior design clients. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"I started talking to the [Cross Cultural Learner Centre], and they have a sewing group there," she explained. "Some of the women in the advanced group joined me, and they're now working from home, so I supplied them with sewing machines in their homes and created a little set up for each lady."

Many of the women are from Syria or Iraq and most are refugees to Canada, explained Habib.

"We don't require them to speak English, we don't require them to have a certain diploma or certain certificate. It's something they already know. They all know how to sew, it's part of their household back home."

Al-Juaifari, for example, said her mother was a tailor and a designer.

"[I'd] help her when she puts fabrics on the table, I see her and how she cuts, and [I'd] ask questions," she explained. "What she is doing, I'm doing to my toys… she creates polos, I create polos."

Al-Juaifari started working at Skilled Accents in June 2018, and it's been a crucial part of her plans for the future. She needs an income to sponsor her husband's trip to Canada, so he can be with her and their two daughters.

She also just started taking a two year business program at Fanshawe College, and wants to start a business of her own afterwards.

Each pillow cover at Skilled Accents is signed by the individual who made it. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"[Hawraa]'s really taken initiative," said Habib. "She's the one who I can really count on, make sure the pillows are done right, does most of the cutting and she actually guides and coaches the other women."

Though most of the women do work at their own homes, there's a workspace inside the showroom where women can create, collect supplies, drop off finished pieces, and see what others have been working on.

Each pillow is also signed by the person who created it.

"It just makes it more special for the buyer," said Habib. "It's helping a certain person, and this is their name, and their story can be found online, and they can have that direction connection."

Habib hopes to hold a grand opening for the showroom in late September.