BIZ BUZZ • BY SARAH KRAUT
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In the basement of an unassuming Latino-owned cyber store on University Boulevard lies a hidden gem. At first glance, one would walk downstairs see a few women sitting together and sewing in a nondescript warehouse. But a closer investigation would reveal an organization of strong, self-motivated women creating an opportunity for themselves to build a better future.
El Rosal, Spanish for “rose bush,” is a sewing cooperative largely made possible by IMPACT Silver Spring. The goals of the organization are to create a support network for a group of Latina women who otherwise have very few reasons to leave their small apartments, and to create a source of income for the women.
The idea was born from a collaborative effort on the part of Sebastian Brown, Long Branch Project Manager for IMPACT and a few local Latina women. It all began a few years back when Brown met Alicia Lopez at a bus station. He wanted to create a circle of people to learn how to build home-based businesses, and she had the experience and desire to teach the workshop herself.
“Alicia wanted to create a group of women to come together and provide support because so many women in the community are so isolated,” said Brown. “They don’t have anything pulling them out of the house, any kind of activities, and so she wanted to create a space for women to feel comfortable and support each other.”
One day, after a two-year relationship between Lopez and IMPACT, she and Brown were door-knocking together, and fortune brought them upon a woman who would be the driving impetus for El Rosal.
“Door knocking is mostly around connecting people to emergency services in the area, but also to meet people and see what they can offer,” said Brown. “And so we met a professional seamstress from Guatemala, and they talked and got some other women together and started to put a plan together where be providing mutual support.”
Edelsa Estrada was the key ingredient needed to really solidify a group of women. She brought a definitive trade to the table that she was capable of teaching to others. Upon meeting her, Lopez thought to combine the idea of a mutual support group with a skill-building component that could unify the cohort of women.
To see El Rosal come to fruition, they applied for and were awarded a $2,000 grant from the Takoma Foundation.
“This project was a great fit for what we were trying to do,” said Franca Brilliant, president of the Takoma Foundation. “It was a group of women drawing on their own resources, knowledge and capabilities to move themselves forward.”
A drop-in course was started, where 20 to 25 women would come sporadically to practice sewing and meet each other. Then, at some point it just felt too diffuse, and the women could track of they were making any real progress since there was no way to track it. The core women decided to tighten the circle to include just the five regulars. Unfortunately, Estrada’s schedule didn’t provide for the kind of time that was necessary to help the circle.
Things fell apart until last November when the Flower Market started up. Brown invited the women to sell anything they had a table in the market. After a couple of weeks of unsuccessful sales, the women decided to make some reusable shopping bag in anticipation of the Jan. 1 bag tax, “and they brought those out the following week to the market, and they sold like hot cakes,” according to Brown.
From there, the women gained a new vigor and decided to press forward with the circle. Estrada rejoined the group, and beginning in December the women worked every day, 10 to 5.
After overcoming the various obstacles, trials and tribulations finally brought the organization to a successful culmination of all their hard work in the form of an open house event on Feb. 18. More than 100 customers attended, more than $400 worth of merchandise was sold and many signed up for courses and placed custom orders for bags and clothes.
“The women are super pumped,” said Brown.
“I am so grateful for the amazing amount of support you’ve shown us today,” said Estrada at the open house. “This will encourage lots of women in our community to rally around us and unite in our efforts to develop and utilize all of the amazing gifts and talents of the women in this community.
“I thank God for this day,” said Lopez. “Today he has reminded us that no matter our circumstance we all have the power to overcome and achieve a fulfilling life.”
To sign up for courses or to order products from El Rosal, contact Sebastian Brown at Sebastian@ImpactSilverSpring.org.