A PROJECT, and product, designed to show solidarity with migrant women who have fled their home country for a new life in Cork, has been launched here.
Called FlauraBand, it’s essentially a range of handmade silk headbands but, according to Kinsale-based designer Charlotte Cargin, who is at the helm of the project, it represents far more.
It’s about bringing visibility to these women in the community; creating unity and helping them integrate.
Explaining how it all started, she says: “I was contacted last April by Dr Naomi Masheti, a psychologist who runs the ‘safe space’ at the Nano Nagle centre in Cork which aims at promoting wellbeing and integration for women and children in Cork with a focus on residents of direct provision centres.
“Maeve Dineen of the City Council Community Arts department organised funding for a 12-week research project on creative arts for these women and Naomi got in touch asking would I run workshops.
“Because of my clothing design label, Charlotte and Jane, which I run with my business partner Jane Skovgaard, we have an abundance of gorgeous fabric off-cuts and I decided this was a perfect material to upcycle into a new product I could work on with the migrant women.”
From these workshops, FlauraBands was born, so called as it’s as much about creating head pieces as it is banding together.
“From the unfortunate circumstances that have brought such a situation into being, with these women and their young families having to flee their own lands seeking a peaceful and safe life in Ireland, comes something so beautiful,” says Charlotte.
The designer presented the women with a template to make the bands, but says they all had their own ideas about colour and design:
“It was so inspiring to allow them to channel their creative ideas and watch as each woman brought their culture and their countries’ colours into their creations.
“What has emerged is more beautiful than I could have imagined, not only with the FlauraBands in their unique shapes and colours, but the very deep joy and unity we all feel crafting together, inspiring each other and connecting with one and other.”
Charlotte spent her formative years in Africa and calls African women the ‘Queens of Craft’, insisting that she learns as much from them as they do from her.
“Both Amber Grey, another designer who I developed this initial idea with, and I have travelled extensively and lived around the world, though we are both Irish, and it is largely from these travels that we have been inspired for our designs through the years and developed our love of textiles.
“I spent child hood years in Africa, as did my business partner Jane of Charlotte and Jane, and Amber in India, so we were all exposed from such a young age to the crafts of these countries and the rich feast of colour, prints and textiles there. It was in hillside villages in Zimbabwe that I spent my afternoons as a child with the Zimbabwean village women, learning how to sew, weave, crochet, knit and print, always so inspired by the textiles they wore and the colour, and in love with these times sitting together creating and talking.
“We owe so much of where we are now with Charlotte and Jane to the women who inspired us in our childhood in countries where these crafts are so alive and taught us such a variety of craft at such a young age, igniting the flames of artistic passion within us.
“Now, to engage with women of different nations, many from Africa, creating together again, this time on our doorstep here, is such a joy and it feels like a very rich cycle.”
A group of 24 women were initially involved in the workshops, which have now finished up, and a core group of four are now employed to work with Charlotte. They are: Rubije Zhuka, Gulnaz Aaqif, Samra Usman, and Arife Hysaj.
Samara says being involved in the project is representative of their situations and moving to a better future.
“By using remnants of fabric, we are making something beautiful through a challenge; and have a beautiful flower which represents a bright future,” she said.
Arife added: “FlauraBand was a project which started with all the ladies at the coffee morning. Then four of us wanted to go further and we started making them every Friday at the Cork Migrant Centre. It was something I’d never done before and a new adventure. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve done since arriving in Ireland. Charlotte was a great help to all of us.”
Through the medium of craft, the women found a space they could share their stories and build up trust with each other, which Charlotte says was “amazingly humbling”.
“It is such an asset to our country that we have people from around the world seeking homes within our communities and the potential richness of difference and diversity is so great, and finding ways to unite and enjoy the diversity, learning from one and other and inspiring one another, is very expansive.”
But, outside of crafting, she feels ‘these remarkable women’ have so much to offer our society and wants to do all she can to facilitate their integration.
“In buying FlauraBands, you will be supporting a project that aims to broaden community, and bringing in women who are currently living quite isolated from it,” she says.
Nano Nagle Place itself, where the group is based, is described by Charlotte as an ‘oasis of beauty and ecology’.
“It is a credit to the Presentation Sisters that they have been part of leading the way in showing how differences can co-exist in an atmosphere of respect. Sr Bride commented once to me on how beautiful it was to see a lady from Pakistan lay out her mat for Mecca prayer.
“We did a fashion day at Nano Nagle Place in the gorgeous garden there last summer at the end of the workshops, with all the women wearing the FlauraBands they had created. Instead of walking it, we decided to dance it together. Each woman had their style of traditional dancing, it was so magical.
“Many of these women stood up at the microphone in the garden that afternoon, saying that prior to these creative workshops, they had been feeling so isolated and invisible in Ireland.
“It was such a celebration and joy to see.”
Charlotte thanked Shane Clarke, Siobhan Allen, Sr Jo McCarthy and Karina Healy, who she says are central to the success of this women group.
The floral headpieces (costing €85, with the majority of the profits staying with the project) make ideal flower girl, bridal, party/festival wear or for any life celebration. They can also be custom- made.