Living in Richmond, Melbourne, I often find myself strolling down Bridge Road, each time thinking I really must engage with the shop that displays Work Empowers Women signage on the window. A magazine feature provided the perfect opportunity to connect with this worthy, charitable organisation.
Behind SisterWorks is a remarkable woman. Luz Restrepo arrived in Australia in 2010 seeking political asylum. Luz was 45 years old, a medical doctor and communication expert. She did not speak English, felt isolated, frightened, and disempowered.
Uniting with a group of 25 other women who were in a similar situation, Luz began to make and sell handcrafts in Melbourne. Understanding the difference that working and earning money makes to personal development, Luz was instrumental in founding this wonderful program.
SisterWorks Inc is a not-for-profit social enterprise. It was formalised in May 2013 when a committee of volunteers joined Luz with legal, fund-raising, marketing, and administrative skills. Together they gave support and structure to the project.
The shopfront and retail section displays a wide range of items for sale including toys, jewellery, clothing and accessories, homewares, and even preserved foods.
The rear and upstairs rooms are set up as a space for various workshops. This is a child-friendly space that provides a supportive environment to empower women. SisterWorks brings women together to learn, experience, share, support, and grow through face-to-face and safe digital platform education.
Their Empowerment Hub has Four Pillars supported by an integrated program of social, design, and business mentors:
Design Lab – a workshop program run by professional volunteers designed to help women learn the skills to develop their high-quality products.
Cooking Lab – a commercial kitchen provides women with end-to-end food production knowledge, transferable business skills, and mentoring support.
Work Lab – helps women learn the fundamentals of retail sales and supply chain distribution channels. Business Hub – assisting women with the navigation of pathways to education, productive employment, entrepreneurship, and leadership in Australia.
Interview with Maria Chindris Community Relations Leader
How has founder Luz Restrepo inspired or influenced you as an employee?
Luz Restrepo has inspired the work ethic of all involved in SisterWorks through her model of ‘learning by doing.’ When she was recently migrated into Australia, she grew a community of women around her in which they all shared and taught each other craft skills. Through this support network, they started selling the products they made in markets. This is where the idea for SisterWorks was born.
This is how we all work at SisterWorks. We lean on and support each other through the goals and achievements that need to be fulfilled. Each team is interconnected and always learning from each other.
What are the biggest hurdles or challenges Sisterworks currently faces?
The biggest need that SisterWorks has is maintaining constant engagement from partners, donors, and the wider community. Having broad networks and connections are essential to maintain sales of our products and developing the entrepreneurial skills of the women we support. These relationships are also crucial for our wider goal of expanding SisterWorks all around Victoria and interstate. This is in the best interest of our migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker sisters, so instead of them coming to us, we can come to them.
Of the vacant volunteer roles, which are most critical to fill?
All of our volunteer positions are important for the functioning of SisterWorks as the teams are interconnected. When a volunteer begins a position, they can change and rotate around depending on their interests, passions, and skills base. We have positions that cater to a diverse range of skills including our retail team that works in our store, engagement team that rosters our skills development workshops for the sisters and communicates with them about their personal needs, marketing team, donors team, and volunteering to support our skill development workshops whether that is supervising or teaching creative skills like knitting, sewing, and crochet.
What impact do you think “creativity” has on your clients, or can you make some comment on the relevance of creativity in your role or department?
Creativity is important across the board in our organisation. It is needed in the production of the items we sell. Our products inspire clients and customers in their fashionable design and the ethical and sustainable way that they are made. We value creativity and arts as we hone these skills in the women we support to bolster and develop these talents into sellable products with which they can launch their entrepreneurial careers.
Creativity is also needed in our marketing and donors team to engage with our networks, communicating the essence of SisterWorks while sustaining their interest in our organisation.