The organization employs and empowers immigrant and refugee women


It gives them new skills and gainful employment, as they weave their own lives in the United States.

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis agency is making an impact by employing and empowering immigrant and refugee women.

The hybrid nonprofit with a small batch manufacturing facility is called The collective thread and it’s in the historic Garment District on Washington Avenue.

“There are very few organizations like ours,” said Terri Stipanovich, CEO and Founder. “I have five daughters and have always had women’s issues at heart. I really had a burning desire to do something.”

Stipanovich has always been involved in volunteerism and even worked with an organization that worked to end sex trafficking.

She then went overseas to Africa for three weeks.

“It changed my life. I saw these young girls in the red light district and I was talking to them. I kept seeing my girls in these girls,” Stipanovich said. “My daughters grew up in the United States and had all the advantages. It felt unfair to me and I knew when I saw this and needed help.”

The journey started with a sewing program in East Africa and eventually it started in St. Louis.

The goal was to help women facing multiple adversities.

Stipanovich was able to build a space for learning and growing for a tight-knit group.

“We have a sewing school, it’s a non-profit, and we have free classes. We also have on-the-job training,” she said. “We have brought refugees and immigrants into these classes and teach women sewing and design skills.”

From there, those who qualify can be employed in its factory or product development team.

Stipanovich aims to empower other women, especially refugee and immigrant women.

About 75% of their sewers are refugees.

It gives them new skills and gainful employment, as they weave their own lives in the United States.

“I know our wives, some of them, come from horrible circumstances,” Stipanovich said.

Currently, efforts are needed more than ever.

“We have two women who are Afghan refugees and we’re helping them right now, they’re going through a tough time,” Stipanovich said.

She explained that the husbands of these women came on special immigrant visas and worked with the US government. This is why, she shares, they were targeted by the Taliban.

Their lives were in danger and they fled here about five years ago.

“What we’re really seeing now is that their families are in danger,” Stipanovich said. “We do all the legal work to get their visas submitted and paid for and find sponsors for the family members. We help them apply for humanitarian parole visas for the family members because they’re in hiding.”

Additionally, the agency works side-by-side with the International Institute, which works with the influx of Afghan refugees.

Le Fil Collectif is recruiting and ready to provide them with work. Currently it has 11 sewers and they want to expand to 20.

The agency releases around 100 pieces a day. The average purchase order is 300 to 500.

Collective Thread even makes products for several St. Louis clothing brands.

This includes a company called VocalEase, which creates acoustically transparent masks for speech and vocals.

Stipanovich is proud of the culture they have created as well.

The 7,000 square foot site even has a prayer room for women and is flexible with working hours as some have children.

“It’s a place where they can feel loved and loved,” she said.

But to keep running, it needs donations to keep growing.

“It costs $9,000 to train one person on the job. We can have one of our women in the factory train them, which is a loss of productivity for that woman,” Stipanovich said.

This allows more women to step in the door to start a new journey.


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