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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs