Bespoke shoe-makers addressing waste and underemployment
One-size doesn’t fit all
Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are twice as likely to be unemployed than the London average and face additional challenges of poverty, racism, sexism, ageism and Islamophobia, which are difficult to overcome without a sustainable income and opportunities for social integration. Immigrant women in east London face numerous barriers to employment. Lack of education means that gaining work experience is challenging and lack of work opportunities can lead to isolation.
The welfare system in the UK requires job-seekers to go on employability skills courses that are challenging for those who lack confidence in speaking English and are therefore demotivating and unhelpful. This ‘one-size fits all’ approach doesn’t provide employment opportunities that take advantage or give value to the existing skills and knowledge of these women, or fit with their lifestyle and culture.
Sabeha and Joanna came together to address this social problem, as well as the environmental issues that come with fast fashion and unethical supply chains. They combined their experience of helping immigrant women overcome barriers to employment, social enterprise, design, marketing and reducing textile waste and founded Juta Shoes.
Footwear that tells a story
Born out of St. Hilda’s East Community Centre in Tower Hamlets, the Juta Shoes studio works with and trains local unemployed women. The women hand-make the signature Juta espadrilles and the tote bags the shoes are shipped in, whilst taking part in any internal aspect of the business they would like to gain experience in, whether that’s design, accounting, order fulfilment, relationship management, marketing, sales or customer service.
Juta’s environmental and ethical shoes are made out of upcycled materials and off-cuts from leather factories in London, that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. The soles are made from environmentally-friendly jute in a family-owned factory in Spain.
Juta Shoes play a proud part of the slow fashion movement, fighting textile waste whilst providing meaningful and empowering work for disadvantaged people. They produce shoes that tell a story so that consumers know who made their clothes and that they were treated well and paid fairly.
The women who work with the project benefit by acquiring employability skills training and employment opportunities that are tailored to their skill set while meeting their personal needs through flexible and fair work.
The community benefits from having a locally-focused company that provides new avenues of communication and interaction between diverse populations.
The leather factories benefit from not having to pay someone to take away their waste. Juta Shoes also have a modest but important environmental impact by not creating any new demand for textiles.
They plan to work with ten women in their first year and they hope to work with the Job Centre to provide recognised employability skills training that works for individuals so that they can acquire useful skills to get the jobs they want. They also aim to provide supported self-employment opportunities and aspire to being able to offer support in finding employment elsewhere when employees feel ready to move on.
All of the profits go back to the people in the business, initially as a community fund that workers can choose to spend on activities and events of their choice, like English language classes.