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.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs