Embroidered Stories

Building Communities via Stitch Sainte Luce

Madgascar-based Stitch Sainte Luce has come up with a crafty way to help eliminate chronic poverty and build community—an embroidery business project that provides training for women to create the charming home décor and fashion accessories, but also learn English, business and marketing skills.

Located in the Southeast coast of Madagascar in the Anost region, Sainte Luce’s employment is focused on the male-dominated fishing industry. Monthly wages for the men average approximately $22.00 USD or £15 GBP. Families are mostly dependent on the earnings from either husbands or fathers. Whereas the majority of the women face extreme financial hardship or poverty due to domestic responsibilities, lack of work opportunities but also cultural expectations. Fishing opportunities have also become less reliable, adding to to the dire need of expanding employment opportunities. What better way that doesn’t interfere or interrupt with family obligations? Embroidery.

Considered an excellent livelihood, embroidery doesn’t rely on declining natural resources like the waning fishing industry. Embroideru is not physically intensive, making it easier for elderly, disabled, and pregnant women to participate. The creative nature of the work results in imaginative and colorful designs that not only make the job interesting, but provides a much needed income. In the 18 months since Stitch’s launch in June 2012, or Phase 1 of the project, the participating women earned and managed a tidy sum of nearly $5,800 USD or £4,000 GBP in commissions alone.

The mastermind behind Stitch is Sarah Brown, an embroidery artist from the United Kingdom, who saw an opportunity to help the women in the community while volunteering for Azafady’s Conservation program in 2011. A year later, she returned to Sainte Luce and launched Stitch. Phase 2 introduced 12 more women to the embroidery crew and saw a whopping 48 percent increase in products sold. Best of all, the efforts of the women paid off—an estimated 132 people benefitted from the increased income.

 The organization entered Phase 3 of the program in February 2015 that incudes a purpose-built studio was built in January 2015, featuring a shop for their products. Meanwhile, Stitch members are participating in an extensive course in establishing and running a successful sustainable livelihoods association. In addition, Stitch is expanding their market reach for their products.

The design are all created by Stitch embroiderers that based on their personal observations that are drawn in sketchbooks that are filled with rich and varied inspiration and later transferred via needle and thread. The designs are all personal and unique—the embroiderers never rely on design catalogues. Each embroiderer has her own style and trademark. The collections include Wildlife based on the beauty of the flora and fauna found in Sainte Luce. Geometric borrowed from traditional weaving techniques but also roof thatching, braiding hair, and lobster pot making. Finally, Culture and Storytelling that show daily life in Sainte Luce.

Embroiderer Anastasy, 40, who has three children and whose Stitch design centered on the story of why the cat and the rat are no longer friends, says this of her greatest Stitch achievement, ““Since I have been doing the training my mind has been opened. Before I had to borrow enough money to buy food. Now I have found another way. My life is getting easier and better already!”

For more information, visit www.stitchsainteluce.org.

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