Somali Bantu Women Pursue Skills and Dreams in Sewing Class
By KYMELYA SARI
Binti Abdullahi’s biggest dream is to start her own clothing line. She and her peers “don’t want to dress how our grandmother … and mother [are] dressed,” said the 23-year-old Somali Bantu woman.
Outside of her home, she no longer wears a baati, a loose cotton dress with bold prints that’s still popular among women in her community. Nor does she wear the long, billowing head scarves typically favored by older Somali Bantu women. She still remembers the taunts she endured throughout her schooling years for wearing “so much stuff.”
Her clothes would reflect Islamic sensibilities, American fashion and her African heritage, she explained.
“I want to mix things up a little bit, have my own kind of style and also be modest — the way my mother and grandma would be,” Abdullahi said.
On February 3, she took her first step toward fulfilling that dream. Along with eight other Somali Bantu women of varying ages, Abdullahi attended a sewing class at Generator, Burlington’s community maker space.
The women are part of a pilot program comprising six sewing classes underwritten by Generator and the nonprofit Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. Most of the classes will take place at a Riverside Avenue apartment complex in Burlington, where many of the participants live. Each woman will receive a sewing machine and a starter kit.
“I want to be able to make sure [that] when people have the desire to learn something, we’re creating programming for them,” said Rachel Hooper, director of community outreach at Generator.