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Refugees from Myanmar unite to braid silk necklaces, make connections

  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)

    One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.

    (Courtesy)

  • Some of the artists at work. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)

    Some of the artists at work. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.

    (Courtesy)

  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)

    One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.

    (Courtesy)

  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)

    One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.

    (Courtesy)

  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)
  • Some of the artists at work. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)
  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)
  • One of A Woven Thread's necklaces made using recycled sari silk made by cooperatives of women in Nepal and India. A Woven Thread is a community of women that use their handcrafting skills from their home countries to create fair trade products with reclaimed material.<br/><br/>(Courtesy)

Socially-conscious shoppers will find plenty of gift options this holiday season, including a new line of silk necklaces that are helping refugee women from Myanmar build new lives in New Hampshire.

The women are members of an artists’ collective called A Woven Thread, which was founded by Beth Seremet and Katie Berube, social workers who wanted to help their female clients form friendships and learn basic business skills. Since launching in May, the collective has gained popularity for both its wares and its mission of empowerment through entrepreneurship.

“We saw the need,” said Berube, who, like Seremet, works at Lutheran Social Services. “A Woven Thread was designed to bring the women together, to get them to leave the house and to talk with each other.”

More than 7,500 refugees have settled in New Hampshire since the early 1980s, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and most of them spent years in camps before coming to the United States. That’s true of the members of A Woven Thread, but what’s unusual is that those camps were in Malaysian cities where it was unsafe for the women to leave their homes. As a result, they had limited experience with shopping, decision making and building social ties.

Berube and Seremet hope A Woven Thread will provide an environment for the women to practice all of those things. Members of the collective meet regularly in the evenings to braid necklaces from recycled silk yarn. These meetings provide opportunities for the women to socialize outside their families and day jobs and give Seremet and Berube a chance to teach them about inventory, marketing and sales.

The first artists’ circle launched in Nashua with 13 members; an addition 15 women in Concord are preparing to launch a circle early next year. Berube and Seremet hope that model can be replicated in other refugee communities in New Hampshire and beyond.

Necklaces come in a variety of colors and resemble looping nests of braids that drape like the chunky jewelry and infinity scarves that were plentiful on fashion runways this fall. Each necklace also comes with a tag introducing the artist and explaining a bit about her life before New Hampshire.

“We want them to have a product that they can be proud of and that people will see and say ‘I want to buy that,’ ” said Seremet.

The necklaces retail for about $40, with 50 percent going to the artist. About 40 percent goes toward yarn, which the collective buys from a group of women in Nepal who make textiles from recycled saris. The remaining 10 percent is divided between a communal savings account and a charity fund. Members of the collective use the money in the savings account to help offset the cost of substantial purchases like baby strollers. The charity fund will be donated to an organization of the women’s choosing.

(A Woven Thread sells products online at a-woven-thread.myshopify.com. Members of the collective will also sell items at a number of local shopping events this holiday season. For a full listing, visit the group’s Facebook page.)

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