Helping women to sew their lives together

Dressmaker Suraya Williams leans over student Raadhiyah Jardine, 16, from Rondevlei, while Gouwa Smith, 19, from Portland, looks on.

A Westgate woman is not only teaching young women the skill of garment-making but also how to earn a living and confidently showcase their craft.

Suraya Williams, 41, founder and director of fashion label Design 26, opened her workshop to 11 teenage mothers and young women from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn sewing skills.

The five-year-old company launched the Design 26 Foundation on Monday June 4 to motivate, uplift and empower girls, aged between 15 and 21, with skills.

“For me it is very important that when you start something you must complete it even if in-between you will face obstacles,” she said.

Ms Williams said she did not ask anything of the girls except commitment.

“In the beginning they came in all quiet and kept to themselves but now they come in bursting at the seams, like they can’t wait to catch up with each other and we have become a small family,” she said.

Ms Williams said it is not about competing with each other but rather uplifting and sharing.”I can make a difference in a positive way and I am not here to judge.

“This empowerment could prevent the girls from getting involved with substance abuse, gangsterism or even having their second unplanned pregnancy,” she said.

“I want for these girls what I want for my children and that is for them to be successful,” she said.

The girls come every Monday between 10am and noon. Ms Williams, who was born and raised in Heideveld, was two years old when she and her family moved to Rocklands. She is the middle child of five children.

Her mother Amiena Petersen was a machinist and after being retrenched, would do alterations and work her magic with a sewing machine and an overlocker.

Ms Williams, who is an administrator by profession, only took to sewing after her mother died in 2006, and she retrieved her mother’s machines out of her garage and attempted to make her niece a 21st birthday dress.

Last year she completed a skills programme in business strategy, and in 2015 a fashion trends seminar with the Cape Town Fashion Council and a small business academy development programme at Stellenbosch University.

Ms Williams and her husband Yusuf collect the girls every Monday morning from the Town Centre and Portland.

Each week they learn the basics of putting a garment together, from measuring clients to fabric selection, cutting, sewing and costing garments, which they could proudly sell.

They will be wearing their garments to their graduation ceremony on Saturday December 8 at the Wolfgat Sub-council chamber, in Lentegeur.

On Saturday December 1, between 10am and noon, they will be having an open day at 49 Martin Road in Westgate.

Gouwa Smith, 19, from Portland, said she came every week because the class was interesting and they learned something new.

“I can make my own wedding dress and it is going to be kwaai,” she boasted.

Gouwa said she now went into clothing shops to look at the garments only to realise that she could possibly make them herself.

Raadiyah Jardine, 16, from Rondevlei, said she had been given a skill that she could hold on to for a lifetime.

She said being among the girls allowed her to forget about home stress.

“I’ve gained something just by being here, the friends, the knowledge and the ability to believe in myself,” she said.

Raadiyah said after four months she is able to put together an elegant evening dress, which she could confidently wear.

The Design 26 Foundation will be hosting a women’s evening at the Mitchell’s Plain Indoor Sports and Recreation Centre in Portland on Saturday November 3 at 4.30pm. Tickets bought in advance cost R100 and tickets at the door R120. Funds raised will be used to ensure each of the girls has a sewing machine when they graduate.

Refreshments will be on sale at the event. Guests must come dressed as “divas”. Entertainment includes spot prizes, games and karaoke.

For more information or to get tickets, call Ms Williams on 072 459 4297.