Entrepreneurial warrior Rayana Edwards is training unemployed women through her Sari for Change project.
In a bid to promote job creation, Edwards is using her skills to fuse clothing, coaching and culture to boost South Africa’s ailing clothing manufacturing industry.
Sari for Change is an incubation project, where intern designers, seamstresses and beaders use fabric from donated saris to create exquisite new handmade garments.
Using beadwork, hand embroidery, crochet trim and other techniques, they are encouraged to incorporate traditional African elements into their designs.
This project employs women who are able to use a sewing machine but may lack knowledge of market forces and requirements, and provides them with on-the-job training for several months.
Professional garment makers teach the trainees through master classes, with Edwards imparting entrepreneurial skills.
These women are then encouraged to launch their own businesses closer to where they live, while still receiving mentoring. The women are also given the opportunity to produce clothing for Harem Clothing stores, Edwards’s business.
“This ensures they have a steady income and a client in the first few months of starting up. They, in turn, have to replicate what they were taught – paying it forward,” Edwards explains.
The Johannesburg-based designer is eager to impart much-needed creative and business skills. Edwards and her team are playing their own small part in promoting the manufacture and consumption of vibrant and proudly local women’s wear.
She refers to women supporting each other in launching small business as the “sacred economy”. “It’s about beating all the evils and wrongs done to women by ensuring we have healthy bank balances,” she explains.
“That way, we can make better decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. It’s about sacredly investing in each other as humans first. The intention, simply, is to channel abundance towards a creative purpose.”
Edwards is the founder and director of Harem Clothing, and runs a retail store at Northcliff Corner shopping centre. She fuses her love for traditional and Western garments by creating beautiful kaftans and tunics of all lengths, designs and fabrics.
The clothing – ranging from wedding dresses and outfits for special occasions to everyday wear – is layered and comfortable.
“Being a Muslim, we subscribe to a certain dress code, which is to dress modestly. Most of our products are produced in this way, yet appeal to many other women,” says Edwards.
“For example, the kaftan is worn by countless communities worldwide. Working with the sari, we are also catering for non-Indian women out there who wish to wear them – so why not have an Indian sari with traditional African beading? We are living in a global village, so our clothes should reflect that.”
She says: “We have just had our first intern designer launching her label online, and yet she still does work for us. We encourage collaborations and long-term partnerships.”
LOVE FOR FASHION
Edwards previously worked largely in property development, before embracing her love for fashion and clothing and opening her first high-end ladies’ boutique while living in Nairobi.
Passionate about Africa and its creative potential, she has since been at the forefront of merging the informal sector of indigenous fashion and handcrafts with mainstream business principles.
Upon moving back to South Africa, she imported sandals from Kenya that were snapped up by fashion house Sun Goddess for its participation in SA Fashion Week.
Edwards opened Harem Clothing in 2007 and set about creating an empowerment structure to support women in reaching their full economic potential.
Edwards continues to dream big: “The bigger vision is to have a central place where we have all the indigenous crafts of Africa collected and designed in products that feed into Africa,” she says.
“We’d also love to roll out 10 Harem stores countrywide within the next 18 months, incorporating our Sari for Change project, and for the owners of these stores to be located closer to their homes. Studies have shown that when women travel long distances to their workplace, it infringes on their [time with their] children and quality of life. This is a huge challenge in this country and it breaks my heart when an employee has to leave their home at 5am in the middle of winter to ensure they reach their place of work at 8.30am.”
Until then, Edwards and her team of emerging women entrepreneurs will continue their quest to build the sacred economy – building, supporting, sharing and celebrating successes together.