Lisa Woolfork 0:00
[Background music] Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast, with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together. [Music swells and fades]
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork, and I am talking today with the creative genius behind, "Sew Much Soul." And that is Cecily Habimana, who is a designer, a creative, and a small business owner, who owns and operates the Sew Creative Lounge in Mount Rainier. And we are very glad to have her on this program. She is here with us on the heels of a phenomenally successful conference. And so one of the things I wanted to talk about--this is for our 'Blacktober' episode, where I like--Blacktober is, like, the month of October. I call it Blacktober, because I just think it's clever. But all my months are Black, like all the months are equally Black on the pot is Black April, Black May, Black June. But you know, Blacktober has kind of become something that every--I've been doing for the last couple years and allows me to kind of highlight folks in the community on doing something really special and interesting. And you are clearly of that caliber. So welcome, and thank you so much for being here today, Cecily.
Cecily Habimana 0:49
Thank you for having me.
Lisa Woolfork 0:55
I'm so glad, and I know you must be exhausted, but I wanted to talk with you while the conference was still fresh in your mind. Tell me a bit about what made you decide to host a conference.
Cecily Habimana 2:02
I mean, I think the idea came from expanding on our membership programs, we started our membership program in May. And that stemmed from us moving back from, or as a result of the pandemic, right. So we used to have a lot of classes, and as you know, our most famous classes are Sip and Sew DC. And when the pandemic take all of that basically had to go away. From that, we started--our community just started growing virtually, like bigger and bigger and bigger, and I just wanted to provide or do something that was virtual with no, like, limitations. You could do it in your home and do it in just, like, a fun way.
Lisa Woolfork 2:40
But a lot of people think of this, a lot of people say, 'Oh, it'll be nice to, like, virtually sew with other people and all this.' It's one thing to have the idea.
Cecily Habimana 2:48
Lisa Woolfork 2:49
It's another thing to tell other people about the idea, and then you start doing all the work to make the idea come true. So how many folks did you have enrolled when it was all said and done, how many folks was enrolled for the conference?
Cecily Habimana 3:05
It was a little over 10,000 that registered for the conference. When I just looked at the numbers yesterday, there was about 1,000 people that logged in on Saturday and a little under 1,000 on Sunday. It was definitely a good number of people to turn out. And I was excited to be able to host it and have that meaning people enjoy it, the work.
Lisa Woolfork 3:25
The program was really beautiful. And I wasn't able to attend all of the events. But for the parts that I saw, I mean your own history, the way that you talked about the scholarship program, the way that Erica was talking about this certain, like, tips and all these things to kind of help you level up your sewing and Monica with the Sew Your View. There was so much, it was so much to sit back, I thought that--it was so much good stuff. And what I appreciate was how you were able to not just have it be like a regular old, sewing conference you might have heard of or seen about, but you made it distinctly about community and how you define community. And also from your experience as an alum of a historically black college of Howard University and that that also shaped. I saw the slideshow presentation that you did...
Cecily Habimana 4:16
Lisa Woolfork 4:16
...about all the famous--not all of the famous--but you mentioned some and how they were related to questions of the arts, etc. It was just really very beautiful. Can you talk a bit about anything that might have surprised you?
Cecily Habimana 4:27
I think it is the impact in my mind. I thought about you know, this is an important event. I think people would enjoy it. But people really saw even past my vision of what I wanted for the conference. It meant a lot to me. But when people can see, like--and it's not just, you know, what's happening on a surface level--but the spirit that brought it together. 'Cause there was a lot of things that I didn't necessarily feel like I thought on my own. I felt like it was--it came through me. People felt that and people felt it even through my own mother, Mama Afia, who did the presentation on the meaning of African print fabrics. People were in the chat like, this feels like church. And I'm like, 'Yeah, because this is the true story that needs to be heard in terms of, you know, where this fabric comes from, why we're using it, and what it means.'
Lisa Woolfork 5:17
So let's talk a bit about some of the projects you had people doing. People had a chance to choose from a variety of projects they might have worked on. I think on Friday night, Nikki Griffin did a bralette workshop. And then [Cecily reaches for item]--I mean, of course, you might have to consult your notes. I mean, I...
Cecily Habimana 5:33
...No, no, no, I was just going to show it 'cause I have the bralette that I made right here [Cecily shows bralette]...
Lisa Woolfork 5:34
...Oooh, look at that! Good [indiscernible], ta-da! I like the shoulder on that.
Cecily Habimana 5:43
And then, you know, in the back...
Lisa Woolfork 5:45
Yes, yes. Very nice.
Cecily Habimana 5:48
Mm-hmm. That's the one I made with her own pattern that I encouraged Nikki to do, because she wanted to use somebody else's pattern. And I was like, 'I'm not interested.' Why wouldn't you...
Lisa Woolfork 6:00
There's nothing wrong with saying, like, 'We get to choose.'
Cecily Habimana 6:03
Lisa Woolfork 6:03
You get to this. There's a reason my organization is called Black Women Stitch.
Cecily Habimana 6:07
Yeah, that's true. That's true.
Lisa Woolfork 6:09
There's nothing wrong with saying, 'This is who I am.'
Cecily Habimana 6:13
Lisa Woolfork 6:14
So you very kindly told Nikki that she might consider developing...
Cecily Habimana 6:19
...her own pattern so that we can support her business and not someone else's. And that's what she did. She got it together, and the pattern was great. I followed the size chart, made it exactly. It did fit perfectly. And yeah. And so she's planning to launch it, I think October is like 'bra something.' So she's...
Lisa Woolfork 6:39
Cecily Habimana 6:39
Okay, Bratober, Blacktober, it was everything. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 6:44
I know, Bratober--It's so many 'Tobers.'
Cecily Habimana 6:45
Right. Right. So she's planning to launch that next month and her new bra pattern. So she pre-launched it with us, of course, and then she will officially launch it next month.
Lisa Woolfork 6:55
'Cause it's like a wonderful workshop. It gives her a chance to, like, troubleshoot. It fit straight, size great for you. But what about someone else was is something needs to be tweaked...
Cecily Habimana 7:03
Lisa Woolfork 7:03
...in an environment of love and care.
Cecily Habimana 7:06
Lisa Woolfork 7:07
...And not just kind of throwing it out there. And I wanted to mention some--I wanted to ask you about something, because this is--we talked earlier, we did a live prior to the conference. You were saying that--and you don't have to give names--but you were saying that you were approaching some other sponsors. And then, like, something happened, and you were like, 'I just don't know, I want to make sure that this is more about us.' Can you talk a little bit more about that decision process, and how challenging it can be at times, for Black small business owners to receive and give support to other Black business owners?
Cecily Habimana 7:35
We spent a good amount of money on marketing the conference. And when you're doing and allowing people to be sponsors of your event, you're allowing them to piggyback off of what you've done. Right? So then that becomes one of the focuses. So who you're highlighting in there. And when we were choosing our sponsors, and I only asked particular companies and particular businesses to be sponsors...
Lisa Woolfork 8:00
Cecily Habimana 8:00
...I thought about you know, who's been there along the way for me. African ancestry is one of those companies that she started wearing my clothes back when I first started my clothing line. And that's Gina Paige, the owner of that company. I just go by, 'Hey, Gina, you know, I got all these Black people, I'm sure they'd, you know, be interested in your business as well. Are you interested?' [channeling Gina] 'Yeah, sure, I'll donate a kit.' And I did the same thing for Nubian Hueman, which is the boutique that I had basically carried my clothing line for a number of years before I turned to Sew Creative Lounge. She was like, 'Yeah, I'll put something together.' And then I asked all the instructors, I was like, 'Is there anything that you want to highlight for your business during the conference?' And Monica and her 15 businesses...
Lisa Woolfork 8:41
...I know, right? She was like, 'Which business should I pick for this event?'...
Cecily Habimana 8:46
Lisa Woolfork 8:48
...[indiscernible]...that's gonna be for you. [laughter]
Cecily Habimana 8:50
Exactly. So she highlighted her business, two of her businesses. And then I had Nikki, she gave something for hers.
Lisa Woolfork 8:56
What I was loving about what you were doing is making the deliberate decision to invest in yourself to also extend that opportunity to other folks, to other Black makers, to other Black creatives. And something I'm convinced of, is that you really, it's--I find it very challenging for someone to become what they've never seen. It's hard to do something you've never seen done before. And what I appreciate so much, not just I mean, not just about the conference, but since the very first time we met, like, back in, I think it was 2018 that I came up for a class.
Cecily Habimana 8:56
Lisa Woolfork 9:33
And it was wonderful. And that was the first time I had ever heard anyone mention that ethical dimensions of African fabrics. And I had been sewing for 20 years, and that's because people I'd been going to classes with and who were teaching, had no information about it. And less interest, but you cared about both things. And I will never forget that, that was very significant for me, because I was like, 'See, we do it different, because we think about the supply chain.' We think about all of these things. And because we are making decisions that are not--they are financial, but they're also in some ways, ethical. And so I love the love ethic that was at work in the conference. I feel like you can see it throughout the day, all the little reminders that would go along the little bottom of the screen, you know, like, 'Oh, don't forget the discount code.' And then the DJ, tell us about the DJ, the DJ--y'all. For those of y'all who missed this conference, I'm so sad for you. But there was a DJ who was banging during the breaks...
Cecily Habimana 10:34
Lisa Woolfork 10:35
So that was like, can you say a bit more about that, again, because how do you make Zoom new? 'Cause we have been Zoomed out? We've been Zooming for school and Zooming for work, and Zooming for church, and Zooming for all these things. How do you make it new? And that seemed like one of the ways that you did that.
Cecily Habimana 10:50
Well, I mean, the whole conference called Sew Much Soul and when we're talking about soul the first thing is, like, music, right?
Lisa Woolfork 10:56
Cecily Habimana 10:56
So I wanted to make sure that this was, continued to be a fun environment. And the DJ is DJ iFlavz, who's also my brother-in-law, he's just really good at what he does. So I picked the genres. I was like, you know, making sure that we stayed in who I thought would be like, you know, the genres that my following or the people that were there would be interested in...
Lisa Woolfork 11:19
Cecily Habimana 11:19
...And he just came up with this playlist and brought it to us. And I'm like, 'Yeah, this bit this bit.' [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 11:25
Exactly. And you know, actually it reminded me of--I'm not sure if you had a chance to see it, I think that you did--Bisa Butler's exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago?
Cecily Habimana 11:33
Lisa Woolfork 11:34
She has a soundtrack for every piece.
Cecily Habimana 11:36
Lisa Woolfork 11:38
...I'll tell you what that soundtrack really enhanced my experience, so deeply. My sister had seen the exhibit before. And when I came, we played the music. And she was like, 'I feel like I'm seeing everything again for the first time. Because I'm playing the music that goes with'--you know, 'cause her husband's a DJ, and he did the list for it. And it was just so amazing. And so that's one of the things I was reminded of, when I was at listening. I was like, 'Of course,' because this is, at least for me, growing up. This was a soundtrack of my life, like all the major events, every Saturday morning for cleaning. All of that was, it was always music...
Cecily Habimana 11:43
Lisa Woolfork 11:55
...It was always music. If I'm going to go down and sew, I'm popping on the music, because I'm about to do something. I really appreciated that so much.
[Jazzy Background music] Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast are happy to announce that we have another way to connect with our community. In addition to the IG lives that we do every Thursday at 3pm. We also now have a club on Clubhouse. That's right friends, they done messed up and given me the chance to have a club. [Trumpet fanfare] Follow Black Women Stitch on Instagram and now on Clubhouse Thursdays at 3pm on Instagram, and 3:45pm on Clubhouse, Eastern Standard Time. And we'll help you get your stitch together. [Music swells and fades]
Let's talk a little bit about some of the technical aspects of doing this. How much learning or unlearning, did you have to do in order to take this conference to be as big as it was?
Cecily Habimana 13:20
My husband took on the--he was like the zoo manager and head of, like, the technology part. And my brother-in-law, who was also the DJ, he has a production company. So he works in predominantly sound and videography and such. Of course, we assisted in like, 'Hey, we need a up top camera, we need one to show this angle.' We told him what we needed. But they were the ones that were able to pull all of that together and wires going everywhere. And the monitor, they had like four monitors up so they could see what was going on. It was a lot technic, and they were still trying to talk to me, like real specific about what this thing was doing. I was like, 'Y'all, that's just too much.'
Lisa Woolfork 14:01
I trust you. And I don't need to know everything.
Cecily Habimana 14:05
Exactly, exactly. But they were really trying, they were like, 'This camera's gonna do this.' And I'm like, 'Go.' But the Ecamm and the Stream Deck and I was like, 'Okay, what do I need to put all the stuff in my Amazon cart that I need to purchase?'
Lisa Woolfork 14:18
Exactly [laughter]. If you think it's the right thing, it's the right thing.
Cecily Habimana 14:23
Yes. And I will push the button to buy it and then when it comes I will turn it over to you.
Lisa Woolfork 14:29
I can actually even just put in your address and it'll come right to your house. You can see the magic there. And what I love about your story, again, it's going back to community and family. Right?
Cecily Habimana 14:40
Lisa Woolfork 14:40
...You are able to kind of put this together. What I think something that people tend to miss when we think about, like, it takes a village to raise a child, or whatever, is that as one single, individual person, you have limitations, right? You are excellent at sewing, you're excellent at design, you're excellent at teaching, but videography is not your bag, that's not what you are good at, right? And the videographer doesn't know how to sew that well, as you know, I'm saying. So it's wonderful to be able to rely on your community to help bring in the things that you need. And that's another thing, I believe, that the conference really modeled, by kind of showing that we're here, we're out there. And this is something I always say is like, 'This is our ancestral craft, this is something that we have inherited this.' And so that's one of the things I really appreciated about your conference as a whole. But also your ethos, like your behavior, like going into it, the things that you were thinking about what you wanted the outcomes to be...
Cecily Habimana 15:38
Lisa Woolfork 15:38
...And the kind of feeling you wanted to generate, the feeling you wanted to give to the community. I think that that is just very beautiful. And I thought really effectively done, I really did, I thought that was just a very strong and necessary contribution.
Cecily Habimana 15:53
I hear a lot of the same stories with the students that come through. And they generally have two stories. And one is, 'My mother, my grandmother sewed, but I didn't learn, or you know, I wasn't interested.' And then I get another story where 'I learned how to sew 20, 30 years at Home-ec., and then I haven't done it since then.' For me, I kind of feel like we're like that-- what you're talking about--like the culture keeper type of thing. I feel like that our organization is here so that we can continue like that, the next generation so they can get that too. My most recent thoughts, as I was preparing for this conference, is it's not about sewing, sewing isn't an essential part of life. Like, you can go through your entire life without learning how to sew.
Lisa Woolfork 15:59
It'd be a very sad life. [laughter] You totally could. Apparently, that is true.
Cecily Habimana 16:27
It is true. But what you can't go out without life, you can't go without community, you can't go without culture, you can't go without creativity, you can't go without confidence. And all these things can happen as an offshoot of just learning, spending the time with a needle and thread, and learning how to create. And so that's what the real basis of what the work that we do is about.
Lisa Woolfork 17:05
I saw that this morning in the newsletter, where you identified three pillars of not just the Sew Much Soul conference or Sew Thread, but the entire enterprise that you were engaged in, is based on, you said the three pillars of--I remember creativity, confidence, and...
Cecily Habimana 17:23
Lisa Woolfork 17:23
Community. We talked about the community: 10,000 people with interest in, actual, you know, work. People, you know, 1,000 people like on--which is huge, it's wonderful, right? That's beautiful community, and then the creativity, all the different beautiful sessions that were going from, like, one of the good interfacings and one of the--I know I was definitely involved in that conversation. I was all up in the chat telling people best bracketing. 'Don't use that, use this instead, I'm trying to help you.' So we saw that creativity there. But tell us about the confidence...
Cecily Habimana 17:56
Lisa Woolfork 17:57
...the confidence piece is important. Can you say more about why confidence is an important feature for the conference and for your project overall?
Cecily Habimana 18:06
So people come in with these thoughts--they can't do it, like they can't make anything or they get locked up if they make a mistake, and then they, like, withdraw, like, they're not able to do something. But I always push 'em like, 'Yo, just sew that line straight.' And then I'm like, 'Don't think about the whole big picture beyond it. If you just sew that one little line, we're going to get to the next step.' And then when they finally release that, and actually just do the things, the steps that I'm doing, and they see the final product, it's like their whole face, it lights up. And that's the piece, that's the confidence that I'm talking about. And it doesn't matter--and I say this all the time--it doesn't matter whether it's a child, six, seven years old, or a woman of, like, 70 years old, it's the same look, it's the same look, the same response. And that confidence, especially for our younger children exudes over into other parts of life. So they feel like, 'Yeah, if I sit down and concentrate and work on this,' they could do it in the sewing studio, but they can also do it in the classroom. They could do it in a swimming pool, they could do it on the soccer field, or whatever else they're working on. Once you got confidence you can do anything.
Lisa Woolfork 19:16
Amen. And one of the things that I love about confidence, and having confidence as one of the strategies, is that it also is an important counternarrative to these stories that want to tell and limit Black kids and Black folks or that limit folks, in general, about certain things that you can't do. You're too old. You're too old to do this. You can't learn to sew now. You're an adult, if you really wanted to learn you should have learned when you were a baby, or something like that, right? That's not true. That is a lie that someone is either, has been told, or has told themselves to undermine their confidence before they even begin. So I really appreciate the idea of confidence as a form of, almost like a therapeutic practice that allows people to claim something powerful and innate within their cells, that's a light that will never be extinguished. And that's something that I really appreciate that you've kind of, you know, picked up on in such a really, really beautiful way. I think that's fantastic. Really fantastic. I was wondering about your own role as an entrepreneur. And as someone who has had to weather, the storms of struggles at the brick and mortar shop when COVID hit and things are shutting down. And it looks like--I'm wondering if the Cecily from March of 2020 would have imagined that in September of 2021, 10,000 people would sign up to find out more information on what she was doing. And then 1,000 of them would come through, see what she was up to. Tell me a bit--can you remember, can you go back to what March 2020 was like and it was like, 'What do you mean, all my stuff is canceled? What do you mean, people can't be? What?' Tell me a bit about that distance.
Cecily Habimana 20:57
March 2020, exactly on my birthday, March 16, we closed our studio. And the few days before I had a couple interns come in, I say, 'Can you just take pictures of all the fabric we have because we need to close for about two weeks. Okay? And I need to make sure that we can pay our rent April 1. So let's open this online store.' They went, 'Okay, Cecily.' And took the pictures, and we put it up on the website. That Monday, March 16, I opened the online store, right? By the end of the week, I started making a few masks, because we weren't doing much, you know, kids were home or whatever. And the Washington Post called me and they said, 'Can we come take a picture of you making some masks?' I said, 'Okay, I mean come take a picture. Meet me at my studio, it's three minutes away, I'll go take a picture.' The next day, someone calls the studio number and says, 'Hey, I saw your picture in the paper. Are you making masks for sale?' I say, 'Give me five minutes, I'm gonna put it on my website.' [laughter] So I put it up on the website. Over the next course of maybe three, four days, the administration said, 'You now need to wear masks, regardless if you were sick or not. Everybody should wear masks.' And so everybody scrambled, and overnight, we had orders for, like, 2,000 masks. I think it was like 2-3,000 masks. So from there, you know, we just started doing this mask making production, ya-da-da. So that was the beginning of like, okay, I didn't get too much in that, 'Woe is me,' point, because as soon as, like, the studio closed, the mask making started, so it was fine. I did not imagine even a few weeks, like a month ago, I didn't imagine 10,000 people, my goal was like, let's try to get 2,000 people to register for the conference. And we can get a couple-hundred people to actually participate. That was the goal. And when it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I was like, 'Oh my gosh,' like, so much to the point where I was like, 'Maddie,'--that's my husband--I said, 'We have to call Zoom, because a Zoom Room only holds 1,000 people. And there's a chance we may go over that.' And you know, it's terms of concurrent people in the room. So no, I didn't imagine it being that big. From March of last year to now our community started changing, because of our online store, we started reaching a lot more people and having the online classes. But it wasn't until maybe a few weeks ago, I was like, 'Oh, this is real out here.'
Lisa Woolfork 23:20
Like yes, you designed a logo. And yes, you had shirts and swag. And yes, you had--but then it took, you're like, 'Oh wait, this is actually going to happen now.' [laughter] It's like, 'I prepared for success and it's happening.'
Cecily Habimana 23:32
Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Lisa Woolfork 23:34
Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about the scholarship. That was the thing that really just touched my heart so much just thinking about it gives me shivers. I don't know why, I think it's because I know that higher education is expensive. I thought how it was $50,000 a year, because that's how--up at Columbia it's $78,000 a year. Like, school is expensive. Private school, and how is private, private school is expensive. And so I was like, 'Wow, that she's kind of like--this is someone who has benefited and who loves and supports her institution, who got so much out of it. And she wants to provide that for someone else.' I mean, just, you know, really...
Cecily Habimana 24:13
Lisa Woolfork 24:14
Very, do one, teach one. Just like, 'Hey, y'all, we can help, we can really help change someone's life.' Talk a little bit more about that, about what made you start in that path?
Cecily Habimana 24:22
Yeah, so I think that the biggest thing, especially with the interns is that they come through to me, they have really good design skills. Their sewing is kind of like, 'Ah, you know.' They're learning. So when they come to us, we try to make sure that they get their confidence up in terms of actually being able to sew properly, right?
Lisa Woolfork 24:42
Cecily Habimana 24:42
But then they leave me and then I'm looking at the field of where are these kids going to work? In DC there's really not a lot of opportunities for a fashion designer, unless you're trying to build it on your own. And so I was happy that one of my interns, when I opened my position for my first full time person, I looked at one of my past interns as like, 'You are the one that I want to bring in here.' And so really I'm like, as I'm building Sew Creative, and hopefully hiring more people, I want us to be a place where they say, 'Hey, if you are in this fashion design, this is a place that an avenue that you can go to.' So part of that is the internship. And then the other part is helping in supporting them while they're at school. So those are the major things that brought us to doing the scholarship fund.
Lisa Woolfork 25:29
So before I let you go, what do you have next up?
Cecily Habimana 25:32
Tisha and I have some thoughts of what we would do. We are planning another event in the spring, but we still got to work out the logistics and all that before we announce it. But you can expect another version of this in the spring.
Lisa Woolfork 25:45
Oh, that's fun, well that's wonderful. Okay, y’all listen up. We get ready to get ready for another event in the spring just like the very, very successful Sew Much Soul conference. I've been talking today with Cecily Habimana from the Sew Creative Lounge and the creative genius behind this fantastic Sew Much Soul conference. Thank you so much, Cecily, [background music] this has been really wonderful. Thank you.
Cecily Habimana 26:08
Thank you, I appreciate it.
Lisa Woolfork 26:09
[Jazzy music] You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at email@example.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, p-a-t-r-e-o-n, and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have, like, a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together. [Music fades]