10 March, 2006
MAHWAH , N.J. – With 70% unemployment, work is difficult to find in the poorest parts of South Africa. Former Janome dealers David and Andrea Blow have been doing something about it by teaching women from the poorest South African shanty towns how to start their own cottage sewing businesses. The Blows have been using Janome machines because of their reliability. And now, thanks to a donation from Janome America, Inc., the Blows have been able to provide additional machines and training.
In 2000, David and Andrea Blow were running Blow's Sew-n-Vac in Fargo, North Dakota when they were challenged to put their business expertise to use in the third world. They turned the store over to their son Darren and began their outreach program, Sewing The Seed. Six months later, with Nehemiah Partners and Operation Blessing, they set up 300 sewing machines in 16 locations around Johannesburg, South Africa. Since then, the number of locations has grown to 21. The Blows spend about two weeks in each location, usually staying in a local church, teaching sewing and basic business skills.
According to David, many of the poorest people in South Africa are refugees from war-torn Congo. They receive no social services and have very little to live on.
“Out of the most recent group of nine (eight women and one man) to receive training there were three HIV positive adults and four who had HIV positive children. They came to class not having eaten anything for breakfast, and they probably had not had anything to eat the night before.”
The Blows start with the basics, teaching how to make a carrying bag before progressing to more advanced items, such as fitted skirts with zippers. After three weeks, their latest group was offered a contract to make 200 bags to be used for distributing food aid to orphans. The instructor estimated the job would take three weeks to complete. Instead, they finished in just six days. David credits the reliability of their Janome machines for allowing them to complete the bags so quickly.
"They easily handled the 14 oz. denim, sewing up to six thicknesses at once and reversing often. Even after constant sewing, we never had to adjust the tension."
The students are paid while they go to class and then are eligible for a micro-loan to help them set up their own sewing cooperative. They're trained in every aspect of business from marketing their creations to basic sewing machine repair.
"We have to find other machines in the neighborhood to teach the repair classes," says Blow. "The Janome machines simply don't need anything beyond cleaning and oiling."
More than 2,500 miles to the north, another ministry is using Janome machines to help African women provide for their families. In Nairobi, Kenya the refugee ministry Amani ya Juu ("higher peace") serves 50 women a day, providing them sewing work, teaching them English, and helping them put their lives back together.
In spring 2005, Rosemary Wissink and Cindy Mickelson, who have a quilt pattern business in Wisconsin, raised enough money to take seven Janome Jem Gold and one Janome treadle machine to Amani. They're returning in March 2006 with more machines donated by Janome America, Inc..
"Because they weigh only 11 lbs., we are able to take the Jems in our luggage," says Wissink. "These new machines will mean more women can sew."
Amani sells the women's sewn articles in Nairobi and is now setting up a way to export them to the US. In addition to the machines, Wissink and Mickelson are excited to be bringing instructional materials to help the women design their own line of fabric.
Information on Amani, including photos and products is available at www.amaniafrica.org.
Janome America is the largest subsidiary of Janome Sewing Machine Company of Japan, which produces more than one million sewing machines annually as well as a line of related sewing products and embroidery software. It is a category leader in innovation, and Janome sewing machines are recognized throughout the industry for their ease-of-use and unsurpassed stitch quality.