OLGA VOYTENKO, an asylum seeker living in a Cork Direct Provision centre, has set up her own sewing and alteration business in the heart of Cork city. Sewing Studio is located at 19 Patrick’s Hill, on the first floor.
Olga is originally from Russia and has been living in the Kinsale Road Direct Provision centre for the past three years with her daughter. Her grandmother and two aunties were tailors and they sewed from home, and she learned the trade from them at a very young age. She also volunteers her skills with the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance, who sew clothes for premature babies.
“I opened [my shop] last Monday. I still can’t believe it, to see this room, this equipment, finally,” Olga tells The Echo. “When I have a small bit of work to do, I am very happy. I hope after Christmas I will have a lot of work.
“Sewing was like a hobby to me, but I think it was always my dream. I have big ideas, I’d like a few studios in Cork, maybe some in other cities.
“I hope it [works out], and I will work really hard to make my dream a reality.”
Olga is a professional musician by trade. She used to play the button accordion for an orchestra back in Russia. However, because she played traditional Russian music, she found it hard to get a job in the Irish music scene because the style was so different.
She still plays the accordion with the music group Citadel, who are based in the Kinsale Road Direct Provision centre.
Olga’s dream to set up her own business was achieved with the help of four generous Cork businessmen. They originally put out the call in October, saying they wanted to help a refugee or asylum seeker set up a business. John Dennehy, chairman and founder of Zartis, was one of the businessmen involved. He says they got around 14 applicants to the initiative, with different ideas.
“There was a car wash, an e-commerce business, online marketing, a restaurant, and then a sewing studio,” he says. “That was Olga’s idea. It was a really well-written application. We met to discuss things further.
“She showed me examples of her work, but because I didn’t know anything about sewing, I got my friend Carolann Deasy, who’s an interior designer, to look at the stitching. She said Olga’s work was superb and that she was very talented.”
Olga ordered her sewing machines and she and her friend Séan helped set up the studio.
“It was painted, the floors were put down, a countertop was set up, the sewing machines installed,” Mr Dennehy says. “Olga just drove the whole thing, she was incredibly motivated.
“It just goes to show that a lot of people in Direct Provision want to contribute. They are skilled, and want to work and integrate.”
The Zartis founder hopes that when Olga’s business is profitable, she will be able to pay back the loan and then they will be able to help another refugee or asylum seeker set up their own business.