year 2, week 25: this week i'm gonna... support refugees
Meet the unflappable Thang Zuali, lead production specialist at Open Arms sewn-goods manufacturing enterprise and former Burmese refugee. Thang oversees the work of up to four other seamstresses at Open Arms, managing customers’ design specifications and ensuring efficient order fulfillment for clients such as IKEA and Newton Supply Company.
Watching Thang confidently trace patterns at the fabric cutting table in the Open Arms studio, it’s easy to understand how she progressed from no sewing experience at all to a supervisory role in just three years since landing in the U.S. from Burma/Myanmar. “My family and I had been in Austin for a year when I took MRC’s sewing training class,” Thang recounts. “I knew when I first learned sewing that this could be the start of my new life. Now I look forward to every new design.” Thang’s leadership inspires those around her every day.
An average of 1,500 refugees arrive in Austin each year. While each family receives several months of support from local resettlement agencies, many refugees do not find rewarding, dignified, fair-wage work in their first U.S. job. They are often placed in low-paying jobs and sometimes years pass before they realize that it’s impossible to support a family on one minimum-wage income.
The Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) and it's social enterprise, Open Arms, help support refugee families in acheiving fare-wage employment. MRC operates not only a sewing social enterprise, but also an interpreter training business, a burgeoning urban agriculture program, and a monthly event which offers specific livelihood-focused community support of refugees’ journeys toward self-sufficiency.
Based in Austin, TX, Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) is dedicated to creating livelihood opportunities for refugees through a unique blending of skills-based education and social entrepreneurship. Open Arms, a primary enterprise of MRC, is a USA-Made sustainable apparel and sewn goods manufacturer that empowers refugee women through fair-wage employment. They offer like-minded socially and environmentally conscious brands the opportunity to make Open Arms part of their story. By becoming a partner, companies can not only add the value of local USA-Made manufacturing to their brand, but simultaneously can help empower refugee women through employment.
Please watch the video below to learn more about Open Arms.
In the past year, MRC has accomplished a lot to support the refugee population. They have initiated a new interpreter training course for refugees and community members; secured several new, long-term contracts for Open Arms sustainable textile manufacturing; expanded their gardening program into a small urban farming enterprise; and attended a White House meeting on public and private partnerships to address the refugee crisis. MRC is proud of the unique fit of its enterprises into City of Austin initiatives on locally grown food, sustainably manufactured sewn goods, and the expansion of language access.
“Every year, tens of thousands of refugee families fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands arrive in America, ready to work and enjoy the freedom for which our country is known,” states an MRC staff member. "These [people] are unseen, unheard, and unrecognizable in our cities. [We need to] address this issue and to engage in positive change for this community of survivors. It’s not just about money, but also giving women their dignity back."
Notes for this week:
this week i'm gonna donate to Open Arms.