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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs