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LOOMS Workshops Singapore is a place where social enterprise, women’s empowerment and craftsmanship come together to a sweet spot. They sell textiles and artwork, made bespoke to unique designs. All artisans are from lower-income families. They support themselves and their families through their craft with LOOMS.

The LOOMS business model is to recruit workers through a work placement test. The selected artisans undergo a training programme. They learn craftsmanship, design skills, art together with life skills. After finishing training, they can work as home-based contractors or as LOOMS staff.

What LOOMS does

LOOMS sells eco and painted felt craftwork made by their empowered artisans. In addition, it offers bespoke corporate gift packs and art workshops as well. As a social enterprise, they are conscious of environmental impact. They use zero-waste production processes and repurposed material for their craftwork.

In this interview with Offbeat, LOOMS founder Nasyitah Tan Wah Ling and three other artisans share their stories. They talk about their journey and how LOOMS is empowering women through its social enterprise.

Founder’s vision

Nasytiah explains that she wants all her artisans at LOOMS to find what change they want to be in the world as part of their empowerment. “I don’t know the cause of it, but we tend to sell ourselves short. We tend to not think that we do can do things. Maybe we are so busy in our lives that we don’t think of what more we can do. Therefore, as a company, we empower our people. By doing it, an indirect effect I’m hoping for is for everybody to identify what is that bigger thing you can be capable of.”

“When I look at people busy with kids, what I say to them is not to take the easy way out. It’s about looking at what things you can do that will make the world a better place. If I took the easier route, the message I send to the kids is not the message I tell them in words. I’m not walking the talk.”

“Of course, the different people will have different levels of readiness and this might not be what they see for themselves. I always tell them it is fine.”

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LOOMS painted felt card cases (image credit : LOOMS Facebook page)

“I tell them I think this is the next step because you are ready. Even though you say you’re not ready to saw, you’re able to saw all those things. You have developed to this point. This is the next step to take. And I’m mindful of all the dreams and aspirations of people. It’s just a message not to settle.”

“When I say not settle, I am not suggesting that people lose balance and go to extremes. I am suggesting a communal effort, like the one at LOOMS – a socially conscious process where we all have something to contribute and engage with.”

Nasytiah says that empowering her female artisans is in turn empowering herself and the social enterprise. “There is no way I could do everything by myself at LOOMS. Empowering my artisans and letting them take up responsibility helps me manage LOOMS better.”

Offbeat spoke with three LOOMS artisans; Mei, Lia and Camilla. All three of them have empowered themselves in different ways with their work. They have gained not just income, but self-confidence and support of their family members through their work at LOOMS. The following are their tales.

Self-confidence through sewing

Women are often told and taught not to be “too confident”. At LOOMS, they’re told and taught to believe in their own dreams.

Mei was recovering from depression when she came to LOOMS. Now she feels ready to take on corporate world again.

“I was recovering from depression and sewing is therapeutic to me. I wanted to go back to the corporate world but I wasn’t ready for the stress. When I was speaking to someone, she said, ‘oh there’s this Looms workshop’. Then I came here.”

“The main challenges I have faced during my time at LOOMS is overcoming my nervousness. I always had confidence issues when meeting people or emailing people. But LOOMS has a very supportive and empowering environment. Working at LOOMS helped me regain my confidence after depression. I am moving to a full-time job in July and I’m sure I could do well.”

Lia joined when she was taking care of her late father-in-law. She says working at LOOMS given her confidence about her skills.

“At first, I just produced and fulfilled orders. Now I plan and design things, which allows me to think more and be creative. I also got a chance to train other artisans. That helped me develop my listening skill and communication skills. Training others also made me more attentive to the needs of others”

Support and appreciation

Lack of support systems is one reason why women empowering themselves have a hard time succeeding. When Lia joined LOOMS, Her family didn’t support her work at first. Now they’re her biggest fans.

 “Working at LOOMS has made me more confident about myself.  My husband and extended family have become more supportive and proud of what I do. They’re especially happy when they see my work online or published in the newspaper.”

Camilla finds that even her daughter is finding work at LOOMS interesting. “My 16–years-old daughter loves to do miniatures. During LOOMS’ outreach/pop up programme, she showcased her artworks as well.”

Helping the family financially

Camilla is proud that she can help her husband and family with her earnings at LOOMS. “At first I didn’t like sewing. But Nasytiah pushed me during the training” she says.  “I am now comfortable using a sewing machine. I love the craft now. LOOMS allows me to design the way I want using available materials.”

“So far work at LOOMS has been stable and I am happy to my family financially. As my children become more independent, I hope to contribute more to LOOMS and develop myself.”

Lia has a dream of taking financial stability a step more and creating her own business. “I want to continue working at LOOMS. But I have plans of opening my own modest sportswear line in the future.”

Potential needs belief

Nasytiah wants to empower each person who comes to LOOMS by believing in them. “Sometimes you have children who show so much potential but end up not living up to expectations. You ask ‘what happened?’ Likewise, there are women who have devoted half, sometimes all their lives for homemaking or raising children.”

“Sometimes they have moved to those roles just after finishing education. So they’re limited in exposure and don’t know their capabilities. If there is one person who believes you have skills, you have the potential, and then you start to see the possibilities. I want to be that person and empower women who come to LOOMS.”

LOOMS is a place where social enterprise joins hands with environmental consciousness and women’s empowerment. And they’re doing all three well, empowering lives and growing in a socially responsible way. CHANGEMAKR ASIA wishes all the best for the LOOMS vision!

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