After working in the corporate space for over 10 years, Suraya Williams (41) experienced an epiphany when she made a dress for her niece’s 21st birthday party – with no experience at all – and therefore giving birth to her brain child, Design Twenty Six.
“My mother was a dress maker and she always wanted me to pursue a career in fashion, but I was set on a different career. After my mom passed, I was left with the machinery. My cousin asked me to make a dress for my niece and left me with the fabric. Weeks went by and one day I decided to try and put something together. I tried to visualise what my mom used to do, took the measurements and made a pumpkin dress – they were trendy at the time. After finishing that first dress, the experience I had was like an outer body experience.” she says.
Design 26 was founded in 2013 where Suraya manufactures ready to wear clothing and matric-ball dresses. Over the years, upon interacting with young girls who are in matric at the time, Suraya learned that many of them often have no plans after completing matric and regrettably, some fall pregnant. Resolving to redirect the course of those girls’ lives for the better, Suraya established Design 26 Foundation in March this year where she teaches young girls (ages 15-21) how to sew.
With the Design 26 Foundation, the aim is not only to teach young girls in Mitchell’s Plain skills that will enhance their financial situation, but it is also to equip them mentally and emotionally for womanhood and motherhood. Suraya saw it necessary to partner with the Department of Social Development in order to help her students deal with the trauma of being excluded by their family and friends due to unplanned pregnancy and or unemployment
“Having a baby at a young age and the changes you’d have to go through is a very big thing. You need that self-confidence again and believing in yourself and telling yourself that you don’t have to turn to drugs or alcohol or go for another unplanned pregnancy. The department assists should there be anybody that is in need of counseling on a one-on-one basis.” Suraya explains.
The sewing programme runs over a period of 6 months, after which there will be a graduation ceremony for the students where they are awarded a certificate of completing as well as an industrial sewing machine to get them started on their fashion designing journey.
“The development that I’ve seen in these girls is incredible. When they arrived they were quiet , they were drawn, now they are comfortable to speak up. For me there is no giving up. These girls that I am training, I will leave a legacy for them and the future generation and their children.” she adds.
Suraya funds the foundation out of her own pocket and amoungst some of her expenses include buying material, having enough sewing equipment as well as transportation because she transports the her students to and from classes with her own vehicle. In order to cover some of these expenses, Suraya has classes, for a fee on Saturdays for women over the age of 21 who are employed.
In spite of these challenges, Suraya still wants to do more for young girls in her area and its surroundings.
“There were a few orphanages that reached out and said that they have girls in that age group and when it comes to school holidays they don’t really have activities. So I want to have a programme for the holidays and it is free, even if you’re not disadvantaged, even if you’re not a teenage mother.” she says.
Design 26 Foundation will host their Open Day on the 1st of December 2018 for girls who are interested in registering for their course which will start in January 2019.
For more details visit their Facebook and Instagram accounts, Design 26 Foundation or call Suraya on +27 72 459 4297