Flared pants, colorful skirts and tiny onesies hung on racks Sunday evening at the First Presbyterian Church as shoppers milled around, contemplating their purchases. It looked like a regular launch party for a new children's clothing line -- with one big difference.
The clothes were all part of the Chin Collection, a custom children's clothing line handcrafted by Burmese refugee women living in Midland.
The four seamstresses who produced the collection escaped from their native Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, in the face of religious and ethnic persecution and came to the U.S. as refugees, moving to Midland because of the abundance of jobs. But once they settled in Midland, depression and isolation often set in, said Carrie McKean, founder of Scarlet Threads, the organization that houses the Chin Collection. The refugees received little or no support to help them process their painful memories of Myanmar and assimilate to the U.S. They worked long hours in stores such as H-E-B and Wal-Mart, thrust into a new country where many didn't even know the language.
The women needed a supplemental income and marketable skills, but most of all, they needed a way to belong to the community, McKean said. Thus launched the Chin Collection, a custom children's clothing line designed by Midlander Mellie Jordan and handmade by Du, Aye, Tum and Dawt -- four women belonging to the Chin ethnic group of Myanmar. The four seamstresses produced the entire collection in the past three months, McKean said. Two of them had been seamstresses in Myanmar, but on old, foot-powered sewing machines, because of the lack of electricity in their villages. Midlander Lori Blong taught them how to use electric sewing machines -- and taught the other two to sew for the first time. Dawt, who came to the U.S. in 2011, said she didn't know how to sew, but Blong made it easy to learn. "When I start, I feel very hard," she said. "But after one day, I feel very easy."
Blong said communication was rough at first, but the sewing gave the women a break between their jobs at H-E-B and Wal-Mart, helping them build relationships with Midlanders and assimilate to the community. The collection includes clothes for newborns to size 6, ranging from $20-$30 per piece. Jordan said they hope to employ more Burmese seamstresses and release a new collection every season. More than making clothes, however, McKean said Scarlet Threads' purpose is to help the Burmese adjust to life in Midland.
The Chin ethnic group is predominantly Christian and faced religious persecution from the Buddhist government in addition to the ongoing political turmoil in Myanmar. Though the situation in Myanmar has now improved, there are plenty of refugees in Midland who still need help, McKean said. When Dawt first came to Midland, she said she felt it was "boring," but after becoming involved with the Chin Collection, she said she feels "very happy."
Those interested in the Chin Collection or helping the Burmese refugees can email firstname.lastname@example.org.