I used an American-style oven glove yesterday for the first time since coming to Armenia. It didn’t come in a care package from America, and I didn’t have to go to Yerevan to get it, and best of all, it represented a project going incredibly well for a group of women in my town. Today, International Women’s Day, I wanted to take a moment to recognize a special group of hard-working Armenian wives and mothers for their amazing achievements in the past year.
On January 25, 2013, Vardenis Sewing celebrated the one year anniversary of their first oven glove sold. “Vardenis Sewing” is a group of five Armenian women who all live in my town. They used to gather every day to laugh and talk over coffee, and occasionally work on a few sewing projects, but until just over a year ago, were not really employed or making money.
My site mate Laura got them connected with Tim Straight, who I’ve mentioned before (the honorary consul of Norway and Finland in Armenia and product designer and founder of the organization Homeland Handicrafts), and who helped refine their designs and products for an American market. They started out with sewing American-style pot holders and oven gloves (and at that time I mentioned them in a different blog entry about helping out various Peace Corps Volunteer projects).
Since then, these women have been branching out into additional sewn goods like aprons, place mats, and a two-fisted long oven glove that is becoming popular in Europe. They are also experimenting with designs for pillow cases, pencil cases, cosmetic cases, and iphone holders, and have sewn wool king-size and baby blankets as well. And they just released a collection of garden veggies.
Now, a little over a year later, they have sold a total of over 1,000 sewn kitchen goods and other products. Originally designed and marketed for the Armenian diaspora and community, these products have been well received in more than 7 countries in the first year alone, including the United States, Korea, Australia, and Norway. Can you imagine the difference this project has made in their lives, when they live in a town with over 60% unemployment???
Because the project is going “sew” well, they decided it was time for a website, which I happily created for them. Their website is www.VardenisSewing.com. On it, you can see all of their products, the story of their beginnings, and short biographies of each of the women. I photographed their products, wrote about their project, and with the help of a diasporan woman in the US, published the site online for all of you to see.
In return, as a thank you gift, they sewed me a beautifully matching kitchen set of an apron, oven glove, and pot holder, with a pink background and a cherry chocolate cake design. It looks good enough to eat!
The Vardenis Sewing project has created a much-needed source of income for women with very little economic opportunity. It is a growing opportunity for them as well, as they use a Google spreadsheet to track orders, they now have strict work schedules and deadlines, and they are learning about quality control and attention to detail.
We are proud of what they have done so far, and look forward to seeing them accomplish even more in the future!
If you would like to order any products from Vardenis sewing, please email Tim at: email@example.com. We are hoping to have online ordering available sometime in the future.
The next four weeks, until April 7, is considered “Women’s Month” in Armenia. In my upcoming blog entries, I will highlight other women’s accomplishments and other women who I admire.
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