The RV Project

"There Are No Wrong Roads to Anywhere"

Sewing Seeds of Change

Our new home.

We’ve relocated from one magical forest to another. Hello, Portland. Thank you to the lovely Ashley for housing us while I make some much-needed cash before heading to the Southeast! Read: Canada is expensive.

Every time we get to a new destination, I am reminded how awesome the climbing community truly is.

We drove into Bellingham on Monday night without a clue that our trailer wheel had almost fallen off en route. While Oscar was in the repair shop, we decided to check out the local Bellingham climbing gym.

Bright side

Bellingham is like a mini-Portland, hence, not such a bad place to get stuck. There’s also Vital Climbing Gym. It’s brand-spanking new and, as we heard from many local climbers, it’s brought the climbing community in Bellingham together.

Less than 5 minutes after we walk into Vital, Spenser is greeted by Sarah- a sweet lady climber who recognizes him from his many days spent at Great Western Power Company, the Touchstone gym branch in Oakland.

Less than 5 minutes after Spenser and Sarah begin to chat, she offers us a place to sleep for the night.

***

Over the course of our road trip, we’ve relied on this community for help countless times. At the risk of sounding overly cliché, the overarching climbing community can do anything together. Especially with the assistance of the Interwebs.

So…how far can we take it? What about climbers banding together to help people outside of our community?

We recently received an email from Stefanie Shumaker who wants the climbing community’s help to fund her Kickstarter campagin: buy a chalk bag, help a refugee. Flashback Friday to Sally Struthers, anyone? I was immediately skeptical. Who doesn’t have a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign they want you to help fund?!

Riding the do-gooder  high that we left Bellingham with, I decided to get Stefanie on the phone for a one-on-one to see what her company was all about.

Here’s the Kickstarter video to give you a brief introduction to what she’s trying to do:

This is the story of a “white American dairy farm girl” from the Midwest who has an unusual soft-spot for refugees.  This developed when her church, in a small South Dakotan town of 600, chose to sponsor 3 refugees from present-day Eritrea. Through this, she learned that getting to the USA is only half the battle for refugees. Earning a living and making a new home once they arrive can be just as difficult.

After graduate school, Stefanie moved to Salt Lake City in 2006 where she immediately got involved in the refugee community. For her, it was natural to as going on a hike to explore her new surroundings. She became friends with Aluta Nite, a Kenyan-born woman who expressed frustration about coming from a highly educated Kenyan family, but still struggling to get a job as a “middle-aged dark African woman” in “white SLC.” A struggle that is typical for refugees in the United States (you can read more about Aluta’s life via published books, available through Amazon).

Stefanie had been teaching to pay the bills, but soon realized that she had a different calling. While teaching sewing classes to local refugees, Stefanie realized that many shared her same skill-set. Her brother and sister pushed her to start a business to help refugees in SLC that could utilize the business skills and creative ideas of refugee women–whether in finance, clothing design and construction, or communication. Ambatana Threads was formed in 2009.

Stefanie and Sahar picking out fabrics at Ambatana Threads showroom in downtown SLC.

Stefanie and Sahar pick out fabrics at Ambatana Threads showroom in downtown SLC.

She got Ambatana Threads off the ground with the help of a friendly loan from a pair of “doctor friends” (of note, Stefanie says she almost done repaying that loan- way to go!) and countless hours spent in the library researching how to start a business. The name, Ambatana, is Swahili for ‘uniting people’- inspired by Stefanie’s friendship with Aluta. Although Aluta cannot work as a seamstress, she has played a huge role in Ambatana Threads from it’s inception, even helping to write the business plan. They started with simple, well-made accessories, including scarves, wallets, and clutches.

Last year, Stefanie had a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Last year, Stefanie had a successful Kickstarter campaign. Funds from the original campaign were used to employ another refugee (bringing the current count up to 3) and pay for a website that will include an online shop (set to roll out at the end of October).

And she's not leaving the guy's out ;)

Don’t worry, she’s not leaving the guy’s out! 😉

A wallet or clutch to add pizazz to any outfit.

A wallet or clutch to add pizazz to any outfit.

As Stefanie describes in a guest post for the Climb On, Sister! blog, 2013 was going to be a “yes” year. So, when a new friend, professional climber Nathan Williamson, wanted to take her to rope up, she swallowed her fears and went along. When Stefanie began climbing, she fell right into the community. When she asked friend & climber Jonathan Hickerson to take photos for her- he asked for a chalk bag in return. Suddenly, an a-ha! moment: she could mix her new-found passion for climbing with her life-long goal of assisting refugees, growing Ambatana Threads from simply focusing on accessories.

When Stefanie began climbing, she fell right into the community. Photog

Chalk bags designed with Nathan’s expertise and tested via the local climbing community.

We all want to be unique.

We all want to be unique. There’s a special chalkbag for each of us. 😉

So how does this story end?

With our help, Ambatana Threads can become an avenue for educating the community about refugees. Stefanie wants to spread the word that it’s “not scary to employ refugees and give them fair wages.” 

Stefanie has courageously reached out to her new community- the climbers, just like we’ve done so many times on this road trip. This time though, the goal is bigger than just us. We have the opportunity to help change misconceptions- how cool is that?

First things, first:

– Donate to the Kickstarter campaign. With 8 days and $4,000 left to raise, this would be the *best* way to help out.

– If you’re in SLC or just passing through, come by the studio to place an order or volunteer your time. No special skills required- Stefanie still relies heavily on volunteer help for stuff that anyone can do, such as cutting fabric. There’s also stuff for sale at The Front Climbing Club in SLC you can check out.

– Donate materials. Things she needs: upholstery fabric, thread, sewing machines.

– Host an Ambatana Threads gathering. Locally for now, but she’ll hopefully be sending out chalk bag samples to gyms & stores outside of the SLC area after this Kickstarter campaign! Feel free to message her about getting this process started sooner if you are interested.

Not local? Until the online store is up and running, you can place orders directly with Stefanie via the Ambatana Threads Facebook page. Depending on the level of customization, Stefanie says they can usually crank out an order in a couple of days!

Sahar sewing

Stefanie works with Utah’s Department of Workforce services to find hires, like Sahar. She currently employs 3 refugee women (2 from Iraq & 1 from Kenya), but with our help can begin to employ more! Stefanie works closely with their respective employment counselors (since they are provided government assistance) to understand the needs of her staff. She gives each employee the option to work from home and be paid by piece created, or come into the studio to work and be paid by the hour.

So what's so special about these chalk bags? A super-strong women thread for the drawstring to stave off breakage and an added velcro closure at the top to prevent the dreaded chalk-leak. Each seam is sewn twice to prevent breakage. Oh, you say you don't want velcro? Just say no- the bag is fully customizable. Your velcro stops adhering? No problem, just send it back to SLC and Stefanie will replace the velcro for you for free! One of the many perks of working with a small company.

So what’s so special about these chalk bags? They are made from durable upholstery fabric. The drawstring is made from super-strong woven thread to stave off breakage and an added velcro closure at the top to prevent the dreaded chalk-leak. Each seam is sewn twice to prevent breakage. Oh, you say you don’t want velcro? Just say no- the bag is fully customizable. What if your velcro stops adhering? No problem, just send it back to SLC and Stefanie will replace the velcro for you for free! One of the many perks of working with a small company.

Have your fill of chalk bags? No worries, what about a custom messenger bag?! Each piece is a collaboration between you and the Ambatana Threads Work Team.

Have your fill of chalk bags? No worries, what about a custom messenger bag?! Each piece is a collaboration between you and the Ambatana Threads Work Team.

Stefanie will work with you to make the bag just how you want it. Nathan had his specialized with extra interior pockets and elastic inside to hold a water bottle (not shown).

Stefanie will work with you to make the bag just how you want it. Nathan had his specialized with extra interior pockets and elastic inside to hold a water bottle (not shown).

We are look forward to checking out the Ambatana Threads showroom and products when we pass through SLC en route to the Southeast in the next couple weeks!

Want to know more about the refugee community in Salt Lake City? Check out these resources:

The IRC in SLC

Utah Refugee Coalition

Feeling philanthropic? Here are other opportunities to help out! Have I missed something? Do you have your own idea? Please share it!! Let’s do amazing things together, people!

Climbers Against Cancer

Lead Now Tour

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