In a bright workspace near Vancouver Harbour, a woman sits at a sewing machine feeding lengths of fabric under the needle. On the table beside her, stacks of colourful street banners lie waiting to be transformed into handsome tote bags.
Welcome to Up to Speed, a unique social enterprise program that enables women to learn skills and earn income by creating environmentally sustainable products. Old street banners in Vancouver are turned into striking and original tote bags by program participants, and sold for profit.
The sewing co-op is run by the Common Thread cooperative, and funded in part by the Canadian Women's Foundation.
Women in this program experience a flexible and empowering environment and see that their work is valued. They are taught to sew in small groups or one-on-one. Many of the women in the program live with mental illness, and benefit greatly from the supportive program.
‘‘I have a mental health challenge. For example, when I am watching TV or reading, I can't concentrate. Before Common Thread, I looked for a job for two or three years. I've been here almost a year. I can work at my own speed without a lot of pressure and the money I earn helps to pay my bills.
— Participant, Up to Speed