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June 13, 2017

Flowfold teams with nonprofit to support training of immigrant women

Courtesy / Flowfold
Courtesy / Flowfold
Adele Masengo Ngoy, second from right, founder and president of Women United Around the World, leads a training session of women learning how to make one-of-a-kind handbags in a unique fundraising/training venture with Flowfold, the Scarborough company that sells gear for outdoor adventures.

About Women United Around The World

Women United Around the World is a nonprofit organization in Portland that helps female immigrants acclimate into a new environment. It promotes skills training and leadership development programs and reaches out to women globally to provide them with the necessary support and education.

Its founder and president, Adele Masengo Ngoy, is a fashion designer who moved to Portland in 2000 as a result of an ethnic-based civil war that broke out in 1996 in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her journey to the U.S. began with her residing at United Nations-sponsored refugee camp in Cameroon. She left behind a successful life as college professor and couturier to the elite.

After eight months in the refugee camp, she and her children were resettled to Portland. At that time, she spoke no English and had no resources.

Since arriving in Portland and creating her nonprofit, Ngoy aspires to facilitate integration for migrant women and hopes that her work and partnership with Women United Around the World will act as a vehicle for this dream.

For more information about her life and the nonprofit go here.

Flowfold, an expanding outdoor brand focused on minimalist gear for everyday adventures, partnered with Women United Around The World to sell one-of-a-kind handbags to raise awareness and money for skills training and leadership development for Maine-based immigrant women.

Founded in 2010 and based in Scarborough, Flowfold is showcasing the work of Portland-based WUAW students on its website and has already sold out the first batch of 50 handbags at $40 apiece.

All proceeds were donated by Flowfold to the nonprofit for future programs that will empower more female immigrants to pursue better educational and professional opportunities.

Hands-on work experience

Women United Around the World is a nonprofit founded by Adele Masengo Ngoy in 2009 ​with the mission to celebrate, advocate for and assist women locally and globally to achieve independence through vocational training and community connection. Ngoy was a college professor in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fled the country's civil war, eventually resettling in Portland. .

"We will sell as many handbags as they make during their training," said James Morin, a co-owner and COO of Flowfold. "The original intent was always to support the training process. We donated the scrap material and gave them design patterns so they could get real-world experience. Selling the bags to raise money was a secondary benefit. The original goal was 50 units but we sold out of our first batch so fast that Adele and her students may want to make more, time permitting."

Each of the students already has full-time work lined up when their training ends — which, Morin said, " is perhap the best news out of everything."

Courtesy / Flowfold
Courtesy / Flowfold
Adele Masengo Ngoy, president of Women United Around the World, discusses a handbag pattern with James Morin, a co-owner and COO of Flowfold, on their joint fundraising and workforce training project.

Ngoy, who serves as president of WUAW, walked her students through the hands-on experience of designing and producing the bags. The students have complete creative freedom to choose the colors and materials making each bag completely unique — an important part of the process, she said.

"Our goal here is to promote independence for female immigrants to allow them to recognize and develop their potential," she said. "We want them to have fun, believe in themselves, and see their imaginations come to life."

The 'Flowfold Way'

Morin said supporting Ngoy and her efforts with WUAW was an easy decision for Flowfold which, coincidentally, just launched a social commitment called "The FlowfoldWay."

"At its core, we've made a promise to our customers, community and the outdoor industry," he said. "We celebrate everyday adventure here at Flowfold, and that applies to everyone, regardless of where they are from or what language they speak."

Courtesy / Flowfold
Courtesy / Flowfold
Closeup showing a seamstress sewing the Flowfold nametag on material that will be made into a handbag.

The WUAW handbags, like many of Flowfold's products, were made from mostly scrap and recycled materials, reflecting the company's philosophy of supporting local and sustainable manufacturing.

"We always try to repurpose and recycle whenever possible and are passionate about limiting our environmental impact as a manufacturer," Morin said. "This really is a win-win. The work they are being trained to do is a lost art right now and supporting the program is indirectly helping build a workforce of skilled labor that can provide gainful employment to amazing and hardworking women in Maine. Flowfold is proud to support that, even if it's in a small way."

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