BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- What started with five students and five sewing machines in 2011 has become a beacon of economic independence on Buffalo’s west side.
Sew Redi Buffalo teaches local refugees how to sew purses, handbags, and other crafts.
“This started as a project by the Canisius Enactust team,” said Director Pat Hutton.
Hutton, an economist, developed the program alongside her Enactust students at Canisius College; the team works on boosting community economic development.
Students at Sew Redi don’t just learn how to sew, they learn how to sell.
“We help them make goods for sale, and we help them sell the items and when their items sell, they receive all of the funds without the cost of materials,” explained Sew Redi Treasurer, Julie Gee.
The program also offers refugees, like Ensuf Mohammad, the chance for long-term earning potential. After a certain number of classes, students get to keep their machine.
“If you don’t have anything to do at home you can do your business,” Mohammad told News 4.
Ensuf, who is a top seller at Sew Redi, moved to Buffalo six years ago from Iraq. She had trouble finding steady work that also allowed her to take classes; she’s studying human services at ECC.
At first, Ensuf was making a bag a week at Sew Redi. Now, she makes a bag a day. After learning her story at a local craft fair, one customer asked Ensuf to sign the bag she’d made.
Sew Redi gives students a sense of pride, Ensuf explained.
“When I get this money I feel very happy because this is my own.”
The non-profit operates rent-free out of the basement of a Catholic Charities building on Herkimer Street. Volunteers come in to teach the students sewing every Saturday.
Nearly all Sew Redi students were resettled through Catholic Charities and use its other services regularly in the same building; having a rent-free space students can access easily was vital for the project to work, Hutton told News 4.
Finding buyers in the Queen City is the easy part.
“We’re really lucky that part of Buffalo’s resurgence has been an interest in handmade goods. We’ve found that there are a lot of people in Buffalo that are interested in supporting refugees and supporting economic independence,” said Gee.