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Stitch Buffalo Creates Social Justice Pins

Autumn is here and that means it’s coat weather. Few things can add flair as simply as putting a pin on the lapel of your jacket. This form of wearable art has been worn for centuries but still maintains a modern feel when pinned to a garment, hat, or bag. Pins can be used to express your personality or support a candidate or cause. In the case of the Stitch Buffalo’s Social Justice Pins, they also support the Refugee women who make them.

Stitch Buffalo is a nonprofit organization located at 1215 Niagara Street where a group of Refugee women come together to create. Stitch Buffalo founder and textile arts teacher, Dawne Hoeg, recognized that Refugee women bring with them a rich variety of handworks skills. Hoeg brought the women together with supplies, a production space, and a vision of sharing culture, skills, and economic empowerment.

I stopped in Stitch Buffalo to pick up some yarn the other day and Dawne encouraged me to join the women at the work table to complete my project. There was a sense of community, productivity, and joy in the room. The women were working and chatting while Dawne circulated to check in with them and their projects. Supplies could be found on the shelves that lined the walls of the light-filled room.

When a project is finished, it is displayed in the store at the front of the building. The colorful array of handcrafted items includes tunics, bags, ornaments, home decorations and of course, pins. Products are also available in their online store. After a product is sold, the maker is paid for her work. For some of the women, they experience their first paycheck and the thrill that goes with it.

It is social justice in action. When George Floyd’s death triggered protests, Stitch Buffalo recognized their mission was aligned with the activists and they decided to support other social justice groups. That is when the idea of the social justice pins was born. This pin is smaller than their standard peace pins and so easy to wear.

With all the projects, there is a basic template that the makers use; for the social justice pins, the background is black and white like the logo for the Black Lives Matter movement. On that background, the women use a rainbow of colors to stitch a unifying, internationally recognized symbol, the peace sign. Fifty-three percent of the $15 cost of the pins supports social justice organizations.

Artist Hkawng Lung (originally from Burma) shares a peace sign next to a peace pin she stitched. Hkawng received her first-ever paycheck from Stitch Buffalo, at the age of 70 | Photo courtesy Stitch Buffalo

Stitch Buffalo has forged a partnership with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. Their upcoming events include selling pins to support the International Institute of Buffalo and the Western New York Peace Center. There is also interest in partnering with other local/regional or even national nonprofit social justice organizations to help them raise funds.

According to Michelle Perkins, Stitch Buffalo’s Communications and Sustainability Manager,

As BIPOC, our artists face all the same challenges of other non-white people when seeking access to jobs, healthcare, affordable housing, and education—and, in most cases, the added challenge of being new learners of English. Additionally, many of the women in the Refugee Women’s Workshop are currently separated from loved ones who had also hoped to emigrate to the United States but are now blocked.”

When you visit the store, there are panels near the doorway, depicting the women’s lives before they came to Buffalo. They show peaceful village life before it was disturbed by genocide and war. By coming together to create beautiful artwork in Buffalo, they hope to reclaim some of the peace and beauty they once knew.

It is inspirational!  In a time when we cannot travel outside of our country, a visit to Stitch Buffalo is an opportunity to experience other cultures, support social justice, and purchase items to gift, wear, or decorate our homes.

I encourage everyone to stop in the shop. Check out the social justice pins. Buy one and wear it to show your support for peace and social justice.

Get connected: Social Justice Pins

Written by Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen is the founder of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center and author of Words for Parents, Words for Teachers and Caregivers and Unpacking Guilt, a Mother's Journey to Freedom. Books and blogposts are on her website at judithfrizlen.com. She is a fan of early childhood, urban architecture and the revitalization of Buffalo.

View All Articles by Judith Frizlen
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