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With sewing store for refugees, UVa alumna passing hospitality forward

With sewing store for refugees, UVa alumna passing hospitality forward

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A University of Virginia alumna is helping refugees from Afghanistan find work in Charlottesville.

Gwen Cassady, who got her undergrad and graduate degrees at UVa and is a veteran of nonprofit work, founded the Super Sewing Shop in April. The shop employees are refugees who are in the U.S. on special immigrant visas.

At the Super Sewing Shop, 12 Afghani refugee seamstresses make clothing, jewelry and accessories, which are sold online. They make $15 to $40 per hour, depending on skill level.

The apparel is now also on sale through Sept. 30 at a pop-up store at the Shops at Stonefield called EcoChic.Boutique. The shop derives its name from the sustainable textiles the seamstresses use for the clothing. The business currently offers 962 unique items.

Sisters Palwasha Lutfe and Saleha Akbare came to the U.S. a year ago from Kabul, Afghanistan. Both were unable to find employment until hearing about the sewing shop. They’ve been enjoying the work ever since.

“My favorite part is getting to design custom clothing,” Lutfe said through an interpreter.

Cassady had been homeless earlier in her life, which gives her a special appreciation for helping refugees.

“I always knew one day I would try and return the favor and warm hospitality provided to me during some of my darkest days,” Cassady said.

The goal of Super Sewing Shop is to become profitable while teaching the refugees how to run a small business, eventually having the refugees take control.

Cassady is also trying to help some local high school students get started with an effort to aid refugees.

Albemarle High School juniors Dominic Ruiz and Analie Grosch are working to start a new club: an AHS chapter of Amnesty International, a nonpolitical human rights advocacy organization.

Their first goal after forming the club is to gather the signatures from fellow students necessary to pass an honorary resolution that would make Albemarle High School an “Amnesty Zone” where refugees are publically welcome and supported.

Cassady is donating 50 percent of the proceeds from this weekend’s sale at the pop-up shop to help Ruiz and Grosch start their club.

“We were super excited to partner with the sewing shop because of their work with refugees,” Grosch said. “Starting this club at AHS is a great opportunity to make more refugees feel welcome.”

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