Crafting with a purpose

Gillian Gandy has been selling scarves she learned to make in Africa to raise money for an eight-week trip over the summer. | Photo by Ali Renckens

In answer to the question “where are you from?” Gillian Gandy pulled out an index card with four points on it: 1) Born, Memphis, TN in 1996 2) Moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 2005 3) Moved again to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2014 4) Started at Union in the fall of 2015.

“It’s a lot,” the sophomore business major explained.

As a third culture kid, Gandy spent most of her life in Kenya, a fact that is reflected in the African jewelry she wears and the African decorations and pictures sprinkled around her dorm room. There’s a wooden rocking chair that sits close to the floor with an elephant chiseled on the back, and a banner in her common room that says “karibu” (which, roughly translated, means “welcome”).

While living in Kenya, Gandy discovered a love of handmade crafts and colorful fabrics. When her family moved to South Africa, she learned to sew.

“I made pants at first, like these pants,” she said, gesturing to the boldly colored and patterned pants she wore. “When it’s warm I wear them every day.”

While thinking of ways to raise money for a an eight-week trip over the summer, Gandy had the idea to sell handmade scarves. She thought that by making scarves, she could still use the fabric and patterns that she liked, but it wouldn’t be as overwhelming for people, comparing to the scarves to a fun hat “as opposed to crazy, crazy pants.”

The popularity of the scarves surprised her. Already, she has raised more than $1,000 of the $5,000 she needs.

Gandy uses fabrics with vivid, African patterns. After buying the fabric, she washes and dries the fabric so that it doesn’t shrink. Then, she irons the fabric out and sews them together. She guesses the process of making a single scarf takes an hour and a half to two hours. But she has had help making them.

She went back to South Africa over the break and a couple friends helped her make scarves. She said that both of them pay rent to live in a modest, one-room home in an underprivileged part of town. They went to the same church as Gandy.

The three of them worked together in an assembly line, pinning, ironing and sewing. Gandy gave them a part of the profits from her first batch of scarves.

“America is very much like, everyone needs to be on their own two feet,” she said. “In Kenya and South Africa, you lean on each other a lot more and so a lot of the time you will do what’s best for your people group, the tribe you’re in, your family.”

One of her friends worked in a factory repairing chairs.

“He said he really wanted to learn how to sew, so I was able to teach him,” she said. “I’ve had two breaks I’ve been able to come back home and the first break, I taught him how to sew.”

Someone gave the man an old machine and he has been learning how to make more clothes.

“He thought he was going to be working at his current job his whole life, but now it’s really exciting because he is able to look more forward,” Gandy said. “I’m just really exciting because it’s helping him climb out of that.”

In the future, Gandy hopes to help more people like that. She is thinking about working with Fair Trade or a similar organization to transform people’s lives through crafts.

If interested in buying a scarf, Gandy can be reached through Facebook. One scarf costs $20.

About Ali Renckens 39 Articles
Ali, a member of the Union University class of 2018, is double-majoring in English and journalism. She serves as Managing Editor for the Cardinal & Cream. Her three life goals are to write, travel and live in a beach house.