Profiles of Innovation
Entrepreneurship in Houston takes all on sorts of dimensions. At The Community Cloth, a nonprofit micro-enterprise program, refugees from Burma, Sudan, Iraq and other countries strive to become self-supporting by making and selling hand-crafted items.
"I consider myself a social entrepreneur, meaning I'm trying to utilize entrepreneurship skills, concepts and spirit to be able to help the greater community," says co-founder Quynh-Anh McMahan. "So although there's not a profit at the end of the day for pursing work like The Community Cloth, there's definitely a social profit."
About two years ago, McMahan and a group of volunteers spearheaded a meeting of refugees and service providers that came up with the idea of the micro-enterprise to help them become self-sufficient.
"The ladies are taught basic business skills as well as product development," says co-founder Roxanne McCauley Paiva. "We do this by taking them shopping to the Galleria where they are able to see the latest trends and styles that are coming up for this season. We invite volunteers who know how to knit and crochet to teach different techniques. We have a year-and-a-half worth of sales under our belt to see what the market is looking for."
Handmade indigenous items like woven bags, knitted scarves and embroidered linens are sold at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Kuhl-Linscomb, Brazos Bookstore and at in-home Tupperware-style parties where the artisans tell their stories, which has a special resonance to McMahan, whose family fled Vietnam and settled in America.
"We personally knew and experienced the struggles of escaping a war, coming to a new land and starting over. That's why I have developed such a heart for working with this community. I like sharing my story with the women that we work with," she says.
In this continuing series, Profiles of Innovation, Paiva and McMahan tell videographers Douglas Newman and John Carrithers about their passion for the work of The Community Cloth and why it is making a difference.