South Barrington teen's fashion nonprofit helps refugee women
From a young age, Nurayn Khan had an interest in fashion and designing her own line of modest and organic clothing.
The 16-year-old Barrington High School senior began researching how fast fashion is produced and realized a lot of clothing brands and companies outsourced their labor overseas to factories in China, Taiwan, India, Bangladesh and other countries with low labor standards.
"It was honestly appalling to me," Nurayn said. "It was very emotional and heartbreaking."
Nurayn decided she wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem created by the commercial fast-fashion industry. She channeled her passion, and compassion, into launching a nonprofit clothing company -- with the help of her mother, Shazia -- that educates and employs refugee Muslim women as seamstresses. Producing clothing in a socially responsible way became her focus rather than making money.
The South Barrington mother-daughter duo started All Sorts Organic in 2019. It aims to empower refugee women and girls "one stitch at a time," helping them gain financial independence through a sewing training program. The women create modest fashionable clothing for teen girls "incorporating a business model dedicated to fair trade and sustainable practices," the company's website reads.
Nurayn had been volunteering at a refugee relief center and food pantry in downtown Chicago when she realized how many of those women needed employment because they had become the family's primary breadwinner.
"As I started really getting to know the women and hearing their really emotional stories about how they left everything they knew, everything they had back at home just for a fresh start in America and a better future for their children, I realized that I wanted to focus more on helping the women than I did on my fashion designs," Nurayn said.
The refugee women she works with come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Myanmar, Syria and other countries. They are taught to crochet and sew at Glendale Heights-based ICNA Relief's center in Chicago and make a variety of products, including hats, blankets, pillow cases, tunics, aprons, potholders, masks and decorative place mats. Community members and local businesses donated bolts of fabric for the products and the Khans raised money to purchase sewing machines for the women to be able to work from home.
"It's an important way to support the hard work that refugee women are putting in (for) their path toward independence in a new country," said Shazia Khan, an Indian American primary care physician with Loyola Medical Center in Oak Brook. "We train about six to 10 women at a time. We've already had two graduated classes and now we have a third round (of students)."
At present, 20 women are participating in sewing classes every Saturday. Several women who have graduated from the program have found jobs sewing for Chicago-area companies. Six women regularly sew products for All Sorts.
"All of them have been offered some type of gainful employment," Khan said. "The ones who were proficient, we actually were able to partner with another Muslim woman who lives in Kildeer. She started selling medical caps when the pandemic happened (and) hired eight of our ladies to sew her caps at their own homes. She was sending (caps) to different hospitals."
Throughout the summer, Khan and Nurayn have been selling All Sorts products at farmers markets in Barrington and Batavia and through their Etsy site. The duo will be selling items at Batavia's MainStreet Winterfest Art Market in downtown, Dec. 10-12.
"We are always looking for local markets to sell at," Khan said. "We are getting such an influx of people coming and donating money, buying items. We are trying to reach out to the Muslim community so they can see what (these) Muslim women have been doing."
All proceeds from sales go directly toward training and supporting the women.
Nurayn said she hopes to continue running the nonprofit even after she graduates from high school and heads to college. She plans to major in sustainability, focusing on sustainable fashion, environmental studies and public policy.
"We've actually been hiring sewing instructors ... I still plan on designing and ... keeping in touch with the women, as well," she said.
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