SisterWorks empowers women

08 November 2017

Business connections and future opportunities were the focus of the inaugural SisterWorks Gala Dinner, a social event that fostered relationships between entrepreneurial migrant women and corporate contacts. 

Held at Collingwood Town Hall on Thursday 12 October 2017, the event raised over $20,000 to support women from migrant, asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds as they take their first steps towards employment and income generation.

SisterWorks is a non-profit social enterprise founded on the belief that work empowers women. So far, the organisation has supported 15 women, and the funds raised at the Gala Dinner will support a further 30 women over the next year. 

CEO and founder of SisterWorks Ms Luz Restrepo said the event proved so successful that she hopes it will become an annual event.

 “Allowing corporate supporters to meet the women in person allows them to interact, network and learn from each other.” 

“This fosters a sense of understanding and mutual respect, especially as businesses connect with this under-represented and under-employed sector of the workforce,” she said.

Ms Restrepo said language barriers, lack of opportunities and no networks can affect women trying to find their feet in the community.

“SisterWorks provides the most vulnerable members of the migrant community – women, who are primary carers within their family units - with the tools they need to thrive in Australia,” she explained.

Women make products which are 'Handmade with Love in Melbourne' and SisterWorks helps to find the pathways for selling them, with every product purchased from SisterWorks going toward the support of female entrepreneurs in the program. The products are made with ethically sourced materials at Sisterworks’ Richmond Design Lab and commercial kitchen.

One of these women is Sido. 

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sido arrived in Australia eight years ago -  where four of her five children are studying at university.

Sido left behind her clothing design business in Congo to escape ethnic cleansing and seek refugee status in Zambia. She continued her work as a tailor in Zambia, but soon developed eye injuries. Although she opened a successful restaurant, her original profession was no longer an option. 

“In Australia, I started again, with nothing. I couldn’t sew anymore, because I had a retinal detachment. I’ve had eight operations in Australia,” said Sido.

These were not the only hurdles to test Sido’s resilience.

Sido studied Certificate III in Hospitality but struggled to find a job in a restaurant, except as a cleaner. After studying Certificate III in Leadership, she took a small business course with the Women’s Legal Service, Stepping Stones which helped her to start a home cleaning business and introduced her to SisterWorks. 

Her eye injuries made it difficult to maintain the cleaning business, so Sido now collects second-hand clothes to sell at markets through SisterWorks, whose volunteers advise her on how to attract more customers.

“I start again. I try! I am what you call ‘persistent’,” she said.

“The volunteers [at Sisterworks] give me ideas on how to sell, and how to get more customers. They also have swapping events, where I come with my clothes; we buy and swap. The second hand clothes I pick out I either send it to poor children in Zambia or sell it at markets in Australia. All the profit from the clothes I sell here pay for the cost of sending clothes to the children. My business is a charity to help them.’

Ms Restrepo says communities benefit when women lead the way.

“Supporting mothers to build their confidence, improve their English, gain employment skills and the power to earn an income allows them to reduce reliance on welfare and access better healthcare and education for themselves and their children. All of these factors slowly transform multicultural communities for a better future.” 

“We foster a sense of mutual respect and pride as these women create products and share them with the wider community,” said Ms Restrepo.

SisterWorks is proudly supported by the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

To support entrepreneurial women from migrant, asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds, visit SisterWorks.

back to listing >