Hire Calling: Sewing and Reaping

Meet the second in a series of innovators who’ve been brilliant at creating jobs for women. Click here to vote by August 31, 2012, for the job genius whose work impresses you most. We’ll give the winner $20,000 for her organization

by the MORE Editors
Photograph: Glenn Glasser

JEANNE STAPLES
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PEACEQUILTS

WHAT SHE DID
Started a nonprofit that’s launched eight quilting cooperatives in Haiti, employing about 100 women. Since 2007, PeaceQuilts has provided training, materials and mentoring to artisans whose quilts are sold in galleries, in museum shops and online (haitipeacequilts.org).

HER BIG IDEA
A friend was trying to raise money for a fish farm in Haiti by selling tablecloths embroidered by local women. “The pieces were beautiful,” Staples recalls, “but Americans don’t buy fancy linens anymore. So I thought about channeling this skill into something marketable. I collect quilts and know how popular they are.” The friend worked with Haitian nuns who run schools that teach women dressmaking. Staples suggested they try quilt making, and the nuns invited her to send a teacher.

FAKE-IT-TILL-YOU-MAKE-IT MOMENT
“I’m not a quilter,” says Staples, 59, a painter who lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband. “I couldn’t find an expert to go with me to Haiti, so I got a crash course from friends and taught the first few classes myself. I was half a step ahead of the students.”

BEST BOOSTER
Maureen Matthews McClintock, a quilter and psychotherapist from Bennington, Vermont. “Within five minutes of hearing about the project, Maureen was checking to see when she could fly to Haiti to teach.” She rallied American quilters to donate fabric and other supplies.

GREATEST COUP
Staples connected with Brandaid and Fairwinds Trading, groups that assist artisans with marketing. “They helped us land Macy’s as a customer. Our first order sold out.” A new line of pot holders and purses (but not quilts) is now in stores and at macys.com/haiti.

HOW SHE CHANGES LIVES
Co-op members earn a daily wage plus commissions (from $95 to $3,000) when their quilts sell. All make more than the national average in Haiti, which even before the devastating earthquake was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “For many, this is their first consistent income,” Staples says. “It allows them to feed their kids and send them to school, support extended family and improve housing.”

WHAT’S NEXT
PeaceQuilts’ annual budget is $30,000, from donors and foundations. The group recently hired its first paid employee, a project coordinator in the U.S. Staples’s wish list: “We need more sewing machines so we can train more women. And it would be great if each woman had her own pair of scissors.”

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First Published October 11, 2011

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