Global fashion spurs charity project

Sandy Diaz Hart arranges one of the dresses in her stall at the Downtown Community Market. The colourful clothes are handmade in a Mexican village, with sales at the market going back to support the village. - Steve Kidd/Western News
Sandy Diaz Hart arranges one of the dresses in her stall at the Downtown Community Market. The colourful clothes are handmade in a Mexican village, with sales at the market going back to support the village.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News

Tucked away in the 200 block of the downtown Community Market, there is a stall filled with colourful clothing and a very enthusiastic proprietor.

The bright clothes come from La Flor, a small community in Mexico, which was razed by a hurricane last year. Sandy Diaz-Hart visited the area in January, and seeing some of the handmade clothes and doilies made by the village women, decided to bring back some of the clothes to sell in Penticton as a fundraiser for La Flor.

And she has good reason to be enthusiastic, and to pepper her conversation with plenty of “amazing” and “wonderful.”

The project, started with some seed cash she loaned some of the village women, has been more successful than she expected. Not only has the seed money been paid back, but they have managed to expand the project.

“They already have enough money that they purchased two new sewing machines. They started with one, and now there are three,” said Diaz-Hart, adding that all of the money from sales at her market stall is sent directly to the little town. “Now they have 28 women employed and they started with four.”

Diaz-Hart said she only took the villager’s repayment for the loan because they wanted to pay her back and she felt that would give them dignity, explaining that this is the first time many of the women have had money of their own and been able to help their husbands and families.

The success of the project has made a huge difference in the lives of the villagers, who were also hard hit with a drought that ruined the sugar cane crop.

An embroidered shirt she sells here for $25 translates to 2,500 pesos.

“That is a lot of money. That’s food for two weeks,” said Diaz-Hart, who added the money also meant new shoes as the village children head back to school. “It is providing them with an income. They have school supplies to go to school. It is a very poor area; most of Mexico, if you are not in the big city, is very poor.”

The success of their work came as a bit of a surprise for the villagers, according to Diaz-Hart.

“They didn’t think that their work would ever sell. It didn’t occur to them that people would come here and buy stuff,” she said, adding that sales have been “incredible” with many people even thinking ahead and doing their Christmas shopping at her stall.

“Every stitch, every cut is different because every woman brings what they know to the project.”

But Diaz-Hart denies that the she is actually doing anything. She is only bringing the clothes to Canada and selling them for the community. The villagers are doing all the work, she said, and the rest is up to them and how they have organized.

“We just helped them at the very, very beginning and it took off,” said Diaz-Hart. “We take so much for granted here in Canada, we just don’t realize. When you are down there you see the difference that something like this makes to them. And then, they help better the community themselves, we don’t have to be doing anything. They are doing the work.”

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