No matter what happens in the competitive worlds of retail and runway, the fashion industry has had a long history of supporting social justice causes.
Swimwear designer Rebecca Cahua is continuing this long legacy of giving back to underserved communities through new workshops offered by her apparel nonprofit, Designing a Difference.
With the new services Designing a Difference will start offering this July, Cahua plans to create jobs for people with employment barriers, such as discharged female inmates, the homeless, veterans and people with physical and mental disabilities, by preparing them to work in retail and the apparel manufacturing industry. Through workshops in sewing and merchandising, Cahua plans to give new career opportunities to these often-overlooked populations.
While the 30-year-old Executive Director may be new to the world of nonprofits, she is no rookie when it comes to being an agent of change. Cahua is a long-time philanthropist and the curator of #HashTagLunchBagSF -- a charity movement that has been feeding the homeless in San Francisco for the last two years -- and has received support from the NFL Alumni Association, Golden State Warriors, and Citibank.
"Once I realized my ability to make things happen, I decided to make things happen! I realized I had the power to make change by bringing people together to help others, so why wouldn't I do just that?" Cahua said.
Joining Cahua, as the Assistant Director of Designing a Difference, is fashion producer and 25-year-old San Francisco resident Eduardo Aguire.
“Getting the training center situated in order to create the best learning environment for the upcoming class is our first initiative,” Aguire said.
The first cohort of 15 students being put through the workshops this month are a mix of homeless youth and teens with disabilities. Aguire shares that finding the inaugural group was not an easy task, and that it took a lot of research from their network of staff and volunteers to recruit the hopeful class. Aguire promises the assembly of fashion enthusiasts will enjoy the curriculum.
“The program has been very thought out and developed to be interactive, fun and insightful,” he said.
In addition to improving job prospects for disenfranchised demographics, Designing a Difference also aims to advance the fashion apparel business in San Francisco. “The city faces significant barriers, such as the high prices to manufacture, leasing cost of facilities and a lack of resources,” Aguire said.
The nonprofit hopes that by creating a polished fleet of apparel workers, the fashion industry will expand in San Francisco.
Designing a Difference has partnered with Linda Hannawalt of QuiltWorks Collaborative, who generously donated a facility and the equipment to start the first training program. They have also received support from Jeremy Taylor (aka DJ PNUT), who has previously helped with the production of fashion shows, and will continue to work with event production in the future.
To become a volunteer, or to learn more about Designing a Difference, you can check out their website at DesigningADifference.org, and follow them on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He’s a disability advocate, the spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind and the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine — a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com.