Unlocked: Weaving The Future Together
How female empowerment is shaping the work of Mexican textile artist Sonia Rafful
The saying goes that behind every great man there is a great woman. Well, we prefer to say that behind every great woman there’s another great woman… or several!
“My parents weren’t so happy about me leaving a full-time job and a safe income to start my own brand… And in all honesty, I was pretty nervous too! I definitely doubted myself at the beginning, but then I thought: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’”
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Around the same time, she learned of an amazing foundation called La Cana through a mutual acquaintance. La Cana is a social enterprise that seeks to create job opportunities for women in prison, through the implementation of programs and workshops aimed at their personal development, as well as the development of vocational skills that help to keep women safe and in employment once they get out of prison. By promoting a positive reintegration of women inmates, who are often victims of prejudice and discrimination once back in free society, La Cana contributes to reducing rates of recidivism and delinquency across Mexico.
Inspired by La Cana's mission, Sonia contacted the foundation with the intent of hiring a female ex-prisoner. She was put in touch with Isabel*, who served time in the Nezahualcóyotl Sur jail in the State of Mexico. While in prison, Isabel had trained with the foundation in textile weaving and embroidery and was eager to learn more.
“At the beginning, it was a bit strange to tell Isabel what to do because she could be my mom!” Sonia laughs, before adding: “But from the outset, our relationship was incredibly natural and easy. I absolutely don’t see her as an employee, most days we spend eight hours at the studio, working together on new designs, refining techniques, preparing the materials. It’s amazing to know that I can leave the studio in safe hands if I need to.”
Although Isabel has to travel three hours each way to get to the studio, collaborating with Sonia has brought a breath of fresh air - and more importantly a legal full-time salary - into her life. Since working with La Cana first, and with Sonia after, Isabel has a newfound belief in herself and her abilities. She’s been able to support her children with her job and feels more empowered as an independent woman able to stand on her own two feet.
“When you get out of prison your job prospects are close to zero. People in society are scared of those who served time, there is an assumption that we are all bad people and not worthy of help or trust. The truth is that we are even more scared of going back into society and we need all the support we can get.”
For the last six months, Sonia and Isabel have been working together in the studio creating beautiful textile art and both have high hopes to continue doing so in the future. Sonia hopes to upscale her production as much as possible, to hire more women like Isabel and help them reboot their lives after jail.
“Isabel's story could be a real motivation for women inmates,” Sonia said, “And I do hope that once life gets back to normal I will be able to do training with inmates, to show women that they can and must believe in themselves and their own strength, that there is real hope for a better future after prison.”
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