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Art & entertainment

Wares by refugee women to be sold in Denver gallery

Glendale center works with venue to offer special event on Santa Fe Drive

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The website for “We Made This” includes a quote from Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan (United Nations secretary general from 1997-2006): “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

“We Made This,” a program operated by the ECDC/African Community Center in Glendale, is promoting a “Designing Women” special event from 5:30-9 p.m. on July 21 at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. The community is invited to see — and buy — collaborative arts and home accessories, as well as a special collection of garments.

“We Made This” is a sewing and job skills training program designed for refugees in the Denver area, focusing on self-empowerment. The stated mission is to unlock the courage and creativity of refugees through a multicultural sewing community. A refugee is defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.

In the spacious studio/boutique on the second floor of a large business building at 5250 Leetsdale Drive (at Forest Street), 50 women at a time learn basic sewing skills-and more when they wish. The studio also has a colorful boutique with items for sale, shelves filled with bright — including ethnic — fabrics and large cutting tables where we met designers Sweeta and Jessica.

Sweeta Afrooz, originally from Afghanistan, learned about the sewing program from Lutheran Family Services. (She arrived in Colorado with her family in 2014.) Named as “One to Watch” by the Denver League of Women Voters, Sweeta has showed such skill and good work ethic that she has graduated from the initial program, been rewarded with her own sewing machine and now teaches new students in the program. She also cares for her family: her husband and four children.

She has paired with professional area designer, Jessica Shaver from Littleton, a Pratt Institute graduate, in the Designing Women program. Each team is given six yards of fabric (some specially printed locally for this project). The artists will design and produce a garment to be introduced at the July 21 event. Sweeta chose one, from five or six designs she sketched, with a flared skirt, fitted top and interesting panel in the front. She has made a paper pattern, and draped a size 8 with a muslin prototype. Next: assembly and finishing of the actual dress from a sapphire blue solid fabric and a lighter weight white, digitally printed in Denver with a blue and green pattern, for a one-of-a-kind garment. “We still have to choose buttons,” Shaver said.

Dresses will be modeled and then auctioned at the event. All money from ticket sales and sale of the dresses will go to further the “We Made This” program.

Shaver, the professional designer in this team, worked for about 10 years in New York and then came home to develop her sustainable fashion business model, Bittersweet by Design, a curated online collection. She’ll hope to start a design studio in Colorado and complete a master’s degree at CSU.

If you go


“Designing Women: A Cross-Cultural Collaboration in Support of Local Refugee Designers” will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. July 21 at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. Featured: cross-cultural designs, the design process, music, a silent auction, boutique items, plus drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres from across the globe. General admission starts at $50, tickets at: eventbrite.com/e/designing-women-a-cross-cultural-design-celebration-and-fundraiser-tickets-34557595699?aff=es2 or at 303-399-4500, ext. 346 (or at the door).

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