They started with two seamstresses and they now have seven, with an eighth in the starting blocks. And there is certainly enough interest. For one thing, the women themselves are recruiting through word-of-mouth. And for another, the workshop is also working with the national employment agency, the local job centre and with Berami, an advice centre for workforce integration in Frankfurt.

Dressmaking with German lessons

It is just after 9am. In the back room of the atelier is Nicole von Alvensleben's desk and a kitchen unit. There are seven coffee cups on the counter, each with a brightly coloured letter printed on it. They are the seamstresses' initials, von Alvensleben explains. Each of them has their own cup. A small gesture that adds to the family atmosphere of the atelier.

You sense at once that the mood on the shop floor is relaxed and familiar. Laughter rings out above the rattle of the sewing machines and the noise of the steam irons. "Coffee's ready!" the boss calls out into the work room.  The dressmakers fetch their cups and have a brief chat before going back to work.

Seamstress at work in the Frankfurt ″Stitch for Stitch″ atelier (photo: Nicole von Alvensleben)
Sewing, a global language: the seamstresses have excellent skills, say Frick and von Alvensleben – and unlike many German colleagues, many of them have also been trained in embroidery

Of course it would be easier for the women to talk in their native languages, in Dari, Farsi or Arabic. But Frick and von Alvensleben emphasise the need to speak as much German as possible at work. They don't just want their colleagues to sew well; they want them to learn the language at the same time. "That's a really important point for us," says Nicole von Alvensleben. "We have a college lecturer and a retired teacher who come in twice a week, on a voluntary basis, to give German lessons."

The language of fashion

Communication is actually very good, the company's founders tell me. Even if the women have only just arrived in Germany and can hardly speak a word of German. "The craft of dressmaking is like a universal language," says von Alvensleben. "You sew a blouse exactly the same way whether you're in Afghanistan, Syria or Germany. When Claudia's standing round the table with the women, they don't need many words."

It's only when it comes to the details that misunderstandings sometimes arise because of the language barrier, Frick adds. "But the great advantage of our work lies in the fact that we all love what we do. It doesn't matter what country or culture we come from. We are doing what we love, making things and we like doing it as a team. That's something that brings us together."

Reyhane, for example, enjoys cutting patterns. "But I like sewing too. I like everything here, actually: working with fabrics, the colours, the clothes." She speaks a little shyly into the microphone as she tells her story. She is 25 and was born in Afghanistan. But shortly after her birth, her family fled from Herat in Western Afghanistan to neighbouring Iran. That was where she grew up and went to school for nine years. Reyhane has always been familiar with the sound of sewing machines. Her father was a tailor, too and she started teaching herself the craft at the age of seven. Later, she even had her own customers.

Escape is a taboo subject

Reyhane has been in Germany for two years, having arrived with her husband and parents. She doesn't talk about the reasons they fled, or what happened during their journey. Claudia Frick and Nicole von Alvensleben don't ask questions, either. That's a conscious choice. They don't know what their employees went through in the Syrian war, or what might have happened to them on their way to Germany.

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