How the travelling sewing box is changing lives

Photo by: Sebastian Vidal Bustamante

When I first came up with this project, my intention was simple: To provide a safe and warm space for Latin American immigrant women in NZ to tell their stories, to share their journeys of migration and to sustain their language while stitching their  memories into a piece of cloth that keeps growing and extending.

What I didn’t expect was to witness the transformation that would take place within the group and within the women themselves as the project evolved from week to week. I know first hand that when you arrive in a  new country, no matter the surrounding circumstances, you are forced to evolve, develop and review your position in the world. In my case this generated a main shift in my own identity which created a horrible sense of dislocation, disengagement and an identity crisis which took me many years to overcome. This project gave me the opportunity to make other women’s journeys a little bit better and to share my own story of migration with them.

It was very moving for me to witness all the energies in motion as these women stitched their lives into our cloth. It was very moving also to experience that the stories and memories which were being stitched were creating new memories as the craft process was happening, and in doing so, new connections were being made, new processes were being learned and new possibilities were being conceived in front of all our eyes.

It was a privilege to work with these women, it was a privilege to work with ALAC and its wonderful team and a fantastic start to the cloth that will keep extending, will keep growing and will keep travelling as the travelling sewing box project travels from city to city in NZ and beyond!

Meet the amazing group of Latin American immigrant women from Hamilton, NZ. Wow, what a fantastic, talented and committed group of women.

 

The group working together, connecting individual stories into a bigger community piece.

 

How to tell a story through fashion, craft and textiles

A very clever lady called Mandy, told me yesterday that we teach best what we most need to learn. This really resonated with me since I have a passion to help people tell their stories through fashion, textiles and crafts but I feel that for the last many years I haven’t been telling mine.

Flowers, marigold and dyers chamomile

The need to document my physical existence in this world has been a burning driving force behind my creative practice since I emigrated from my home country more than twenty years ago.  However, this has taken many different formats in terms of output. For a while there, I decided to stay home and look after my children and as I fell in love with the spontaneous and creative ways of  children’s inner world I  got immersed in children’s literature. The Saffron series  was a very happy experience which allowed me to work in different schools around New Zealand drawing,  writing, sharing stories and creating imaginary scenarios with little minds.

Sketch book, Victoria Martinez Azaro

My illustrations were obviously very much embedded of my fashion style of drawing and because I was mainly collaging and composing through mixed media I started doing the same with textiles. It was then that I became passionate in using waste to collage my everyday life with meaningful objects. The love of natural dyeing and repurposed waste expanded as the years went by and as I became more and more aware of fashion sustainability issues.

Naturally dyed yarn and work in progress, Victoria Martinez Azaro

So, as I am about to launch the first pilot of the “Travelling Sewing Box Project” in association with ALAC, in which we will create a community textile piece which will depict social narratives and memories of immigrant women in Aotearoa New Zealand, I will also be narrating my own personal stories through my textiles and will be sharing them through this blog.

The Travelling Sewing Box Project ©

Cloth with Memory

A project created by Victoria Martinez Azaro

As an immigrant myself, this project is very close to my heart and its main objective is to give immigrant women a voice and a sense of participation within society by giving them a space to slowly stitch their thoughts and feelings on a  piece of cloth while talking and sitting around other women in a safe and supportive environment.

flyer alac blog

Weaving social links

Jeanny Buan

A lot has been said about the eco – friendly fashion movement and its efforts and strategies to put an end to practices that harm the environment. However, we are not talking enough about the communities who were once affected by this global over industrialized world and we are definitely not doing enough to re build them.

Weaving social links within the Philippines indigenous female communities is what drives Viahera’s founder and designer Jeanny Buan. Having grown up in Cordillera, Philippines, she knows first – hand what it means to struggle every day for the bare basics and has made social responsibility, ethical practices and sustainable values her main focus within her design practice.
Viahera story begins in 2011 when Jeanny Buan moved to Canada. The beauty of this new environment sparked a love for traveling and hiking in the wilderness, but it also made her aware of the importance of preserving and sustaining our world. And so, as Jeanny traveled around the idea of Viahera was born.

“I chose the name Viahera, also spelled Viajera which means “Female traveller” in Spanish. This name is close to my heart as I am mixed race with a blend of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese”, Jeanny explains.

Fashion and Heart had the opportunity to sit down with Jeanny and this is a little snippet of what she told us:
Fashion and Heart: “You already told us about your passion for sustaining our environment but where does the drive to create a brand that fosters sustaining indigenous traditional crafts come from?”
Jeanny Buan: “In 2013, two disasters occurred which totally impacted my views on  fashion and its implications for women and nature. First, typhoon Haiyan devastated Philippines and left over 10,000 people dead and shortly after the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 employees. It made me think of a potential solution that can help women inspire other women to dress up without harming the environment. VIAHERA WAS BORN. Viahera is an eco friendly brand of handbags and scarves made by Indigenous women from my home country Philippines in Cordillera, Cebu, Negros and Basey; and accessories which are locally handmade in Saskatoon, Canada. Our aim is to back to the community.”
Fashion and Heart: “What are Viahera’s core values?”
Jeanny Buan: “Respect, commitment to the environment, giving back to the community, inclusion and creating opportunity.”
Fashion and Heart: “Can you tell us about your “giving back to the community” strategy?”
Jeanny Buan: “Viahera gives back to the communities where we do business and where our products are made. In Philippines we pay for the tuition, monthly allowance and one extra curricular activity for three grade 7 Viahera scholars; we pay fairly to the weavers who are making the products, we raise awareness about weavers from Philippines in social media and we have an Annual giving- For the whole month of January and February, where proceeds from the sale of any pink product (wallet, handbag, headband, coin purse or scarf) goes to the Red Cross Pink Day program (bullying prevention education). In Canada we focus on the importance of immigrant inclusion and creating opportunity by employing skilled refugees or new Canadians that can help them gain confidence and experience in the Canadian workforce.”

Leticia Sab-it, Ruth Sanoy and Jeanny Buan at Pines City National high School.

Thousands of kids in Phillippines are unable to go to school due to poverty. Jeanny Buan was a government scholar while attending High School. Her company has developed a scholar system with Pines National High School to give back to the community where her product is made.

Fashion and Heart: “How are these values connected with your upbringing in the Philippines?”
Jeanny Buan: “I was able to finish my education through scholarships and I feel that I have the moral obligation to “pay it forward” and provide students the same opportunity that I had when I was a child. In terms of respect, my family, being mixed race, treated everyone with respect regardless of how they looked like or what language they speak. I owe it to my family for raising me to look beyond skin colour. In regards to the environment, I grew up not having much, we only had water from the tap three times a week so we would fill big tanks with water to have enough supply for the whole week. Some of my neighbors did not have electricity, we “re-used, reduced and recycled” so caring for the environment came naturally to me.”

Florentina coin purse $20 Canadian dollars. Photo by: Titanium Photography.

Flora Wallet $35 Canadian Dollars. Models: Aida Gossa, Melissa Cheetham and Kyarra Sumners-Daniel, hairstylist: Tina Monz, Make up: Hisa Quian, Photo by: Colin Chatfield

Click here to shop Viahera