The African Community Center merges fashion, fundraising and vocational training at Designing Women: A Cross-Cultural Design Collaboration, set for tonight, July 21, at Space Gallery. It's the first time the organization has hosted a philanthropic event of this kind, which will showcase apparel created by refugee artisans trained through ACC's We Made This program in collaboration with local designers.
The ACC started the We Made This program, which teaches sewing as a vocational skill and also helps refugees "build confidence, be able to make decisions [and] learn how to work in the American workplace," says managing director Melissa Theesen. It's a popular program: In 2015, We Made This had 55 participants.
The students, mostly women, attend classes for several hours each day, learning from a seamstress who's a Burmese refugee herself, and participating in a daily tea time, during which they work on their English and culturally appropriate workplace skills. Each level, escalating from beginning to intermediate to artisan, lasts twelve weeks, and after graduation, students receive their own sewing machines. After that, they can find jobs with their new skills or sell their handcrafted products — like bags, home goods and baby apparel — at the store at ACC's office at 5250 Leetsdale Drive, earning 55 percent from every sale.
The ACC, an Ethiopian Community Development Council-affiliated organization that resettles refugees coming to Denver from around the globe, provides educational and social services to close to 600 people annually. Roughly 2,000 refugees resettled in Colorado last year; according to the Division of Refugee Services, 57,839 refugees arrived in the state between 1980 and 2016. Following President Donald Trump's Executive Order banning travel from seven countries in Africa and the Middle East, however, the ACC expects the number of refugees they serve this year to dwindle to half of what they'd anticipated, citing the state's reduced estimate.
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But there is still plenty of need, and the July 21 event is intended to rally financial support for the ACC's work. At Designing Women, members of the refugee community will model the one-of-a-kind, collaboratively made apparel, like a style of dress generally sported by Burmese royalty that a We Made This participant created with designer Anne Fanganello of AnnaFesta, which will then be auctioned off live.
The $65 general admission ticket also includes hors d'oeuvres, live music and a chance to bid on artisan-made home goods, art and other items in a silent auction. Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne, Mayor Michael Hancock and Theesen will all be speaking. Tickets are available at Eventbrite; Designing Women begins at 5:30 p.m. and goes until 9 p.m. at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive.