Margaret Burton is an artisan.
She’s a clothing designer (for Buffalo Jackson) and an emerging brand changing our relationship with clothes. At the same time, she’s making important inroads with young refugees and inner-city students by using sewing as a tool for transformation. She’s doing all of this through Project 658, a nonprofit ministry that serves at-risk families and refugee communities.
“We believe by teaching these new skill sets, [students] can use fashion and creativity to write a new story for themselves and their community,” she says.
With a flair for design, a heart for teaching and a passion for sustainable practices, Margaret is a thriving creative. Her namesake clothing brand and nonprofit — Margaret Burton Inc. — is all about repurposing, environmental sustainability and education. Her collections are created from donated, unwanted apparel.
Originally from Ohio, Margaret studied fashion in New York, taught sewing in India and worked in Los Angeles before landing in the Queen City to teach a series of successful classes at Project 658’s sewing facility. Six of Margaret’s three-hour classes in 2019 were made possible by the HUG Micro-Grant program.
“I want to give these kids a positive place to be after school and equip them to make garments that speak to their own individual style and voice,” said Margaret.
Her classes provide students the opportunity to develop a skill they can use to build a career and earn money. But, they also enable them to express themselves creatively, produce something “cool” of their own making while having lots of FUN in the process. That joy of creating cannot be undervalued.
Stitching the community together
After learning the basics of sewing, one student wanted to know how to embroider durags to promote ending gun violence. Soon after he learned how, he purchased his own serge machine and set up a sewing room at his house.
Another student sold a pair of shorts for $175 online to a stylist in San Francisco. Another developed leadership skills by teaching new students how to use the machines and cut patterns.
Last week, after a 3-hour session, three girls proudly wore the brightly-colored knit dresses they made from repurposed T-shirts.
The mentor/mentee relationships that are forming between Margaret and her students are fueling a broadening list of life choices. Through mentorship and one-on-one conversations, students are starting to envision and discover exciting options for creating sustainable income – beyond factory work or army enlistment, both of which are common paths for her students. For example, with years of practical experience preparing meals for her family, one mentee began to realize that becoming a chef was well within reach. With help and encouragement, she is now registered in CPCC’s culinary program.
As a newcomer to Charlotte, Margaret is quick to point out that “the sense of collaboration in Charlotte has been a blessing.” In her opinon, the emerging nature of Charlotte’s art community is still developing; creatives here are more apt to work together and help each other.
For refugee and at-risk students, the sewing classes provide an after-school alternative where they can further acclimate to American culture, work through language barriers and address challenges that many 14-19 year-olds typically face.
Through shared experiences, they learn from each other and from Margaret’s mentoring. Margaret sums it up nicely: “I am my students. I learn along with them!”
Interested in helping Margaret? Here’s how.
Volunteers can help with cutting fabric, preparing lessons, providing transportation to/from class; and donations for materials, gas, and field trips would be much appreciated. For more information about classes and volunteering or to donate, click here.
A Video about Margaret by the Pratt Institute
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