"Before we opened the workshop, a trauma expert urged us not to ask about their stories," von Alvensleben explains. "He said 'you never know what it might trigger'. And we're not the right people to deal with what might come out. You need trained therapists for that."

At some point the women might open up and want to talk of their own accord, she says. But only they can decide when the time is right. The company's founders believe their most important job is to provide their employees with a space where they can feel safe and look forward. "Everyone has their own past. But now we're building a future together. That's important."

When they first arrived, you could see these women felt insecure and had a lot on their minds, von Alvensleben tells me. "But our community here just takes these women in. I get the impression that after a while, they are able to leave their troubles at the door."

A popular service

Nicole von Alvensleben's phone keeps ringing: one call is a conversation with the job centre about a potential new employee and her residence permit. And then there are enquiries and orders from clients. Von Alvensleben tells me that "Stitch by Stitch" now has between 20 and 25 regular customers. They are start-up labels from Frankfurt and the surrounding area, who commission the workshop to produce small ranges for them. Designers bring in their patterns and fabric samples and the women use them to produce the required number of items, sometimes five, sometimes 100 pieces of clothing.

Seamstresses in the Frankfurt ″Stitch for Stitch″ atelier (photo: Nicole von Alvensleben)
A model for the successful integration of refugees: The little business has developed rapidly in the short time since it was set up. Just nine months passed between the initial idea and the opening of the atelier in August 2016. They started with two seamstresses and they now have seven, with an eighth in the starting blocks. And there is certainly enough interest

The women at "Stitch by Stitch" earn nine euros an hour – the wage is slightly lower for inexperienced employees at the start of their training. Money to build themselves a future.

But something else is at least as important: "We offer a classic apprenticeship here: the women go to technical college as well. Our seamstresses are really very talented. But none of them has any official training or a certificate from their homeland," says von Alvensleben. "And in Germany it's very important to be able to show qualifications and papers. Our seamstresses know that, too. That's why many of them were also interested in doing an apprenticeship."

On the way to creating their own brand

The young women are still purely service providers, sewing things that other people have designed. But it won't be that way forever. Claudia Frick and Nicole von Alvensleben already have more plans for the future. They want to grow the dressmaking workshop – perhaps to double its current size. They also want to do more to bring out their workers' creative potential. One day, the dressmakers will be designing clothes themselves, bringing in influences from their homeland.

Claudia Frick's eyes light up when she talks about it.  "As a fashion designer I keep seeing things that excite me. The way the women make Western fashions their own, for example. They don't like to show a lot of skin, so they just wear layers, like a low-cut s dress with a shirt underneath."

These influences are very modern right now, she says. Frick wants to create cross-cultural fashion with her dressmakers. "We want to make fashion that everyone can wear. It shouldn't be purely western or specifically Islamic."

Reyhane also dreams of designing things herself. In any case, she wants to stay in Germany once she has finished her training and carry on working for "Stitch by Stitch". Frankfurt is home for her now. The place where she was given the chance of a future, working in her dream job.  

Esther Felden

© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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