Visit the Venture Centre on a Thursday morning and you’ll be greeted by quite a sight. Various pieces of material sit on tables, piled high and waiting to be used. A seamstress dummy has a colourful shawl draped over it, pinned and marked where the cuts and seams need to be made. Women sit at sewing machines, working away at their own personal projects, while others bustle back and forth seeking advice and chatting as they go. This is the North Kensington Women’s Textile Group.
In the middle of it all sits Esther, the main tutor of the group and a constant presence for nearly 20 years. If anyone has a question, it’s Esther that they ask for help. “It was friend who first brought me here, when I had moved to the UK from Cameroon,” she says, “and was looking to meet people and make friends. I had been a fashion teacher in Cameroon, something that the group’s members quickly found out and started asking me questions!”
The group had been started in 1986 by a woman named Angela Brown and has now been going non-stop for 30 years. By helping women of North Kensington learn new skills – indeed, some go on to use their skills to earn an income – as well as providing a regular place to socialise and meet new people, the group has become an important part of the local community. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the group hosted a fashion show on July 9th to showcase their work and attract new members; Esther has been central to the show’s organisation, a role she is uniquely well-qualified for.
“I really wanted to pursue a career in fashion, so I went to Kent Institute of Art & Design to do a Higher National Diploma in Fashion Design & Technology, and then I studied for a BA in Fashion Design at the University of Surrey, and then a PGCE. I started volunteering at the group while I was working towards my HND, but once I completed my studies my professional work has also been in fashion.”
“I’ve done design work for a whole range of organisations, notably Maxilla Children’s Centre in North Kensington, and I tend to be brought in to oversee a project before moving on to the next challenge when it’s completed.”
Given Esther’s own academic achievements and teaching background, it is when she’s talking about the students she has helped in their own studies that she becomes most animated. “We’ve had girls come along with their mums, take up sewing and are now making their own way into the fashion world. I help out where I can, offering these people advice on how best to enter a career in fashion, as well as giving them some practical tips and my thoughts on the work they produce while studying.”
So, what does the future hold for Esther? “I’m aiming to launch my own fashion brand, one that will focus on evening wear for those on a budget. I know where to find the fabrics, I know how clothes need to be cut to fit a person’s shape, and there’s a real demand from people who want to wear something special but don’t want to pay over the odds for it. It will take a couple of years, but I’m very excited by this new project.” Few people who meet the irrepressible Esther would doubt her ability to make a success of her new venture.
North Kensington Women’s Textile Group meets every Thursday during school term time at the Venture Centre from 9.30 am onwards. If you would like to join the group, or just find out a bit more about it, drop in one Thursday morning.