For those of you who are unaware of our bagforeveryone project: in 2020 we collaborated with the Swiss NGO #EducationEveryone to create a sewing initiative that would bring local communities on Lesvos together by teaching the transferrable skill of sewing. Two instructors conduct the sewing workshops, where they teach each student how to use industrial sewing machines. The students progress from learning basic sewing skills to advanced skills, such as the bagforeveryone shopper bag. Once the students gain the set of skills necessary, they too can teach the lessons to others.
The bagforeveryone initiative brings everyone- from those within the refugee and migrant communities, to local Greek people on Lesvos, and vulnerable groups- together. Find out more about why the project started, and hear from fundraising and communications manager Olivia below:
“Whilst I was in Lesvos, I met a young Afghan refugee named Sara who had the idea to make bags from leftover donated clothes and fabrics. I brought her idea to the women’s shelter where I was working at the time, and together with Sara, we worked on the project until I had to return home to Switzerland.
Sara working on the bags in Lesvos, Greece
Soon after I arrived back in Switzerland, Sara contacted me. She asked me to continue the bag project with her as she wanted to share her skills with people and create a source of income for herself. For me, there was no question that I would support her in this pursuit, providing opportunities for Sara which continued to be denied to her by Europe. So, I teamed up with a friend from Berlin and started the project. What awaited us was not easy at all. We spent almost a year finding solutions on how to get fabric in Lesvos, how to employ Sara without having her residence permit revoked, how to find someone who would give us a space to produce the bags, how we would ship the bags to Germany, and Switzerland.
We spent hours upon hours with endless bureaucratic questions until my Berlin friend decided to leave the project. This was the first stumbling block that got in my way. But this was quickly cleared out of the way, because as coincidence would have it, or not – I met Diana and Markus at an event and was introduced to their organization #EducationEveryone. They were looking for a project to support. So, we started the process again, this time intending to find an NGO in Lesvos that would take care of the people and the project directly on the ground and with whom we could enter cooperation.
We found an organization that supports people seeking asylum, and also supports the local Greek population and brings them together with refugees; the organization was called Starfish Foundation. It was exactly what we were looking for. Now we had everything and were more than ready. Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling block so far then followed. Joy and sadness were so close to each other: Sara received the positive news that she could finally leave the island and move to the mainland of Greece. For us, however, this meant that she would be leaving our bag project. Our set-up had to be rethought once again.
Starfish’s community hub “OpenSpace”, where the bagforeveryone workshops take place
It was our good fortune that soon we were able to find two tailors from the Moria refugee camp, who together with Marieke, the project manager with Starfish at the time, developed the bags from scratch. The sewing workshop grew to include ten tailors hailing from Syria, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Congo. The result of their hard work is – bagforeveryone – vegan bags, all handmade, all unique, created by refugee and local Greeks on Lesvos.”
Our workshops are currently on hold due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but our talented team made plenty of bags to keep the website going in the meantime- we also hope to restart the sewing workshops as soon as restrictions ease.
You can find out more about the project, and browse the collection of handmade bags here