Right in the middle of the Centquatre Cultural Center in Paris, visitors will find a vast Emmaüs Défi thrift shop. The back of the store is home to a sewing workshop that opened in early 2017 with support from the Fondation Chanel. The ambiance is both relaxed and studious. This is where Kome Senou works alongside three other seamstresses. This new addition to the Emmaüs Défi job placement program complements the other professions available to employees: collection, sorting, sales, logistics and delivery.
Kome Senou began at Emmaüs Défi as a textile sorter. This native of Mauritania arrived in France in 2003 and faced down the gauntlet of numerous visa applications, shelters, job searches, extremely unstable domestic jobs that never lasted more than two months… Then she got help from the social workers at a CHRS (lodging and social rehabilitation center) run by Emmaüs Solidarité. This led to her job as a textile sorter at Emmaüs Défi in 2014. Over three years she became increasingly skilled in her position and ultimately became solely responsible for baby clothing at the Riquet center in Paris.
Boosting employability through sewing
That is when Emmaüs decided to create a place to train women in sewing. The sewing shop debuted in early 2017, with four positions offered to Emmaüs Défi employees, chosen jointly by the support team and counselors at the various workshops. Kome accepted the job so she could take her employment strategy even further. Sorting had already given her a taste for clothing, fabric and materials. Now she will learn how to transform them and even engage her creativity at the workshop, which only uses reclaimed fabrics and recycled clothing. She and her colleagues are starting with gardener’s aprons, fabric bags and pouches that will be sold at a pop-up in the garden at the BHV department store. Kome’s stitches are increasingly tiny and even. Sophie Elmosnino, who is training the team, applauds her motivation and diligence, as well as her ability to absorb the extensive information through teaching that is essentially grounded in talking and doing.
Each afternoon, Kome Senou learns her trade. Although she still struggles to imagine the future, in a few weeks she has already gained self-confidence and shed a bit of her shyness. And now she has discovered that what she would really like is to craft clothing for women, especially dresses.
Independence in sight
Meeting one’s financial needs while learning a trade that will result in self-sufficiency: that is the mission of Emmaüs Défi. With this job training workshop, the association is offering women new possibilities that are compatible with language barriers, illiteracy or situations where women are isolated at home with their children. Kome and the other seamstresses will be qualified to work for an employer or to practice their new craft at home by sewing products ordered by private individuals. For Kome, learning a trade means even more: it is about learning self-confidence and taking pride in one’s work, which are now helping her imagine a better future.
reporter for Fondation CHANEL