News

    French Firm Labors to Help Immigrants

    Lisa Bryant

    Immigrants do not always have an easy time finding work when they first arrive in the West. Many face daunting language and education barriers in their adopted country, not to mention racism. But in the small, eastern French town of Lure, one female entrepreneur has made it her mission to hire foreign immigrant women to work in her knitwear factory, which makes luxury goods for some of the world's top fashion designers.

    It is a frigid winter's morning in France's hilly, Haute-Saone region, where just about everything outside appears frozen solid until spring.

    But there is plenty of action inside the World Tricot factory, located on the outskirts of the snow blanketed town of Lure. Here, half a dozen workers are hustling to finish an order for blazers from one of the world's top fashion designers.

    Each worker has a specific task, from cutting out the black-and-white-checked fabric, to ironing the finished product - an elegant, ribboned jacket that will soon be on sale at exclusive stores in Paris, Rome or New York.

    Checking their progress is Carmen Colle, founder and head of World Tricot. The tale of the 15-year-old knitwear factory is not ordinary.

    But Mrs. Colle is not an ordinary woman.

    A former social worker, Mrs. Colle launched World Tricot in 1990 with the idea of offering employment to disadvantaged women and immigrants living in the region. She dreamed about creating a niche business producing painstakingly made sweaters, scarves and jackets for some of the world's most exclusive designers.

    There was only one hitch. Mrs. Colle did not have a clue about the textile business or about starting a company.

    But Mrs. Colle said she believed everything is possible in life. And there were people around willing to help.

    Mrs. Colle and her employees learned from scratch. They attended training sessions on weaving and sewing. She scouted around for start up funds to buy equipment and rent space. Finally, she opened her first office - in a tiny apartment in a low-income housing development in Lure.

    Mrs. Colle still remembers her first order - to make 100 sweaters for a local company. Her tired workers were unable to complete the sleeves before the first batch was due. Mrs. Colle sold the batch as sleeveless vests instead.

    World Tricot has about 40 full-time employees. Others work part time, from their homes. Almost all Mrs. Colle's employees are immigrant women like Khadija Zanout, who arrived in France from her native Morocco 25 years ago.

    Mrs. Zanout says she enjoys working with fabrics. She learned everything about sewing and weaving at World Tricot. And she says there are not many French businesses that make a point of hiring female foreigners.

    Labor experts estimate that unemployment rates in France for young immigrant women are four times the national average of 10 percent.

    In the industrial Saone region around Lure, unemployment rates are slightly lower. But town officials say the ethnic North Africans, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, who account for more than 10 percent of Lure's 10,000 residents, have a hard time finding jobs.

    Mrs. Colle, 53, is no stranger to the hardships facing first generation immigrants. Her parents arrived to France from Italy, shortly after the World War II. Her father worked as a wood cutter. Mrs. Colle dropped out of school as a teenager, and began working in a factory to help boost the family income.

    Now, she not only offers employment to immigrants in Lure, but also to women living in impoverished regions of eastern Europe. That includes war-torn Kosovo, four years ago.

    Mrs. Colle pushed a wheelbarrow piled high with luxury materials across the border from Macedonia, so she could bring work to local women. She has since visited the Kosovar women several times.

    Mrs. Colle said it was difficult doing work in Kosovo, particularly during the frigid days of winter. But the women thanked her, and told me they would been able to buy blankets and clothes for their children with their salaries.

    Besides helping disadvantaged women, Mrs. Colle is also trying to the regions traditional weaving industry. She buys her material from people like 53-year-old Rolland Pouilley, who runs a family weaving business about 25 kilometers from Lure.

    Mr. Pouilley said all the old weaving businesses in France are closing. They can not compete with cheaper rivals in Taiwan, Italy and elsewhere.

    Not surprisingly, Mrs. Colle has received kudos for successfully mixing business and philanthropy. The government is due to award her the coveted Legion of Honor.

    In Paris, top designers like Popy Moreni praise Colle's professionalism as well.

    Ms. Moreni says that what is impossible for many people is never impossible for Mrs. Colle. She says time and technique are not a problem with Mrs. Cole.

    Mrs. Colle recently launched her own designer label, Angele Batist. The lacy tops, in luxurious wools and cottons, are being sold in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and the United States.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.