Refugee designers weave fabric magic on Chicago catwalk

The #WithRefugees World Tour moves into the world of high fashion when artisan-designed fabrics go on show at an event in the windy city.

A model showcasing refugee-made artisan fabrics as part of RefuSHE's Fashion Challenge X.  © UNHCR/Lorey Campese

CHICAGO - Exotic designs and colours were the stars of the show on a Chicago catwalk on Thursday when nine of the city’s fashion designers featured fabrics by refugee artisans in some of their latest creations.

Organized by the Kenyan non-profit organization RefuSHE, the event was the second stop on UNHCR’s #WithRefugees World Tour which began last week in Jordan. It was part of Fashion Challenge X, marking 10 years of RefuSHE programmes.

The fabrics were designed by women refugees as part of the social enterprise programme run by RefuSHE, which provides a safe house in Nairobi for unaccompanied and separated refugee children and young people, especially girls and young women and their children.

Among the designers who collaborated in the project is Chicago-based Lagi Nadeau, who visited the RefuSHE collective. She told UNHCR she was inspired by the creativity and commitment of the women. 

“They are some of the strongest women I have ever met. I feel like I learned a lot more from them than they did from me.”

"I feel like I learned a lot more from them than they did from me.”

In a speech at the event, RefuSHE’s executive director Alisa Roadcup summed up why her organization continued to work for vulnerable women.

Noting that 65 million people around the world had been forced from their homes, she added: “These are not just numbers. They are mothers, sisters, students, and savvy entrepreneurs, with hopes and dreams and longings – just like you and me.”

The #WithRefugees World Tour began a week ago with a day of sports at Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp and will end in Geneva on 1 October.

The tour is designed to support the #WithRefugees Campaign and raise awareness of the plight of people forced to flee conflict, violence or persecution.

It will be a central part of the #WithRefugees Campaign in 2018.  Since its launch in 2016, the campaign has recorded more than 18 million actions for refugees including almost 2 million signatures on a petition calling for refugees to be able to live in safety, have access to education and be able to support their families.