Above: Liliane and her refugee apprentice sewing masks. Image from the video by Stellar Image Studios.

Liliane, the woman in the video below by Stellar Image Studios, has recently started sewing masks as a way to keep her business, African Designs, running during the COVID-19 Crisis. She had just signed a lease on a new storefront and workspace for her business a few weeks prior to stay-at-home orders went into effect. This unfortunate timing had Liliane very stressed, having to dip into her savings to keep her business expenses paid. She worried about her employees, and how she would be able to keep paying them if she did not have enough customers ordering custom dresses.

As a newly enrolled St. Rita’s participant, Liliane is receiving assistance in budgeting, applications for business grants and relief funding, and case management. Her case manager has helped connect her to resources, funding and even helped her pivot her business to marketing her skills and putting her equipment to use to make masks. A simple post on social media resulted in orders for over 200 masks, and Catholic Charities even purchased 100 for staff as well.

When her case manager picked up masks from Liliane’s new shop on Central Ave., Liliane was excited to tell her that business has been so good that she has decided to hire a new apprentice. She is training another refugee woman to sew masks, dresses and other accessories to fulfill the increasing amount of orders that she has recently received. As of 5/4/20, Liliane had already made over 2,100 masks and had a new contract from Goodwill to make 500 more to be sold in their thrift stores.

Though the demand for masks may not stay at this level for too long, it is a true hope story to see the ways Liliane was able to adapt to the market in order to keep her business thriving in a time when many businesses are struggling. St. Rita’s was able to help with some of the overhead through DFA, but the real work has been done by Liliane herself. The ripples of her tenacity have influenced the lives of several other refugee families through the employment opportunities that she provides.