Our Year in Review

It's been an incredible year at S H E. (Well, it's been more like 7 months, but who's counting?) As you may well know, we opened our doors in Togo in July, 2017, and we've been gaining momentum ever since! Now, we're taking the time to celebrate our successes, reflecting on what we've learned from the people who made this year possible, and carrying every lesson into what we're dreaming up for the future! 

Before we get started, here's a look back through some of our favorite memories this year. 

 
 

Our Top 3 Lessons Learned

1. It doesn't stop at simply getting girls in school

Girls' education and empowerment are tremendously complex issues. The more we learn about girls' education around the world, the more need we uncover. So, we find ourselves in a constant balancing act of maintaining focus on our goals and addressing the many challenges girls face.

We can't simply pay tuition, give new school uniforms, and sign off. If it were that easy, this would no longer be an issue. Girls around the world face tremendous challenges even after they've crossed the threshold of the classroom door. Overcrowding, teacher truancy, lack of relevant curriculum, malnutrition, lack of feminine hygiene products and sexual health education, sexual violence, harassment and exploitation are just a few of the daily battles girls fight. Because teachers may often be truant, and girls might miss a week of school during menstruation each month, a girls' education is inconsistent at best. 

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2. Togo has shown commitment to GIRLS' education 

We chose Togo for the tremendous potential we see. The government in Togo has shown commitment to girls' education and achieved great progress. After eliminating school fees for girls nationwide, enrollment rates among boys and girls in elementary school are almost equivalent, a tremendous accomplishment in the developing world. The community partners we work with are also committed to the long-term, sustainable development of Togo. Skills training, business classes, and empowerment workshops are just a few of the things we were able to accomplish this year with the help of our incredible partners. Still, we know there is a great amount of work to be done, but we remain 'irrationally committed' to the development of Togo through education.


3. The shared story is immensely powerful

S H E started by sharing the harrowing story of Elolo, the first girl we met in Togo, and we have continued on the principle that we are more empowered together. We are using our platform to share the stories of people walking the path to empowerment and empowering others in their own lives. You've met some of our biggest S H E R O E S, and we'll continue to introduce you to the many people who have inspired our movement. 


We're dreaming big for 2018!

 

Here's what to expect

First and foremost, we're committed to eliminating the financial barriers that keep girls out of school. And secondly, we're developing after-school programs that supplement school learning with high-quality, forward thinking curriculum and empowering skills training. We're partnering with the Open Learning Exchange (OLE) out of MIT to implement our equitable, affordable, and scalable education goals.

Using mobile devices, our students will now be able to access high-quality, relevant education materials anywhere, off-line, at any time. This greatly increases the accessibility of information, and the curriculum will all be in their native language, French, and developed specifically for the Togolese culture. Interested in learning about the connected learning initiatives at OLE? Read more here.


How does this affect your sponsorship?

It doesn't. For $50, you still provide a girl with a new school uniform, full tuition scholarship, and exam fees, preparation materials, and school supplies for one year! To support our growing after-school program and OLE partnership, we will now be seeking additional donations from individuals and partners to help us reach our goals of empowering girls with deeply meaningful interactions and engagement.


You've spoken, we've listened!

 
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We've heard your voices, and we've seen that inspiring others and being inspired has a snowball effect. So that's why we're creating Sip for S H E: the BEST reason to gather with uplifting people over a glass (or cup, or mug, or pint) of your favorite beverage, all while supporting your favorite cause! We'll be sharing inspiring stories from women around the world, introducing you to empowering individuals and organizations, and keeping you up to date on all things S H E. Most importantly, we've seen the incredible effects of getting empowered people in a room, and we're excited to come together with you.

This is also a chance to see a small contribution create large-scale, collective impact.

Here's how it will work: We'll be following a collective giving model and encouraging groups of people to get together in their homes once a month. Instead of spending money on going out, we encourage you to save the money you would have spent at a restaurant and put it towards a small, monthly donation to S H E. Together, for the cost of a glass of wine a month, we can create long-term, sustainable impact in women's lives. So cheers to you!

Want to make a difference? We're looking for chapter leaders, so email us at StyleHerEmpowered@gmail.com and we'll talk about more of the fun! We can't wait to hear from you!


All in all, it's been an amazing year.

And we couldn't have done it without you. We're looking forward to what 2018 has in store as we aim to increase our impact on girls' lives in Togo. We've walked alongside incredible young women, seen progress happen in a matter of months, and experienced the setbacks that come with development work, but overall, we are more inspired than ever.

You've empowered us to continue pushing for girls' education in Togo and use our platform to empower women around the world, and now, we hope you'll continue walking alongside us on our journey to Style. Her. Empowered. 

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Designing Uniforms that Grow

School uniforms are required in most schools throughout Africa, but they can represent huge barriers to entry for many girls.

If she can't afford a uniform, she'll be turned away from school. If her uniform is ripped or torn, she'll be asked to leave. And perhaps most disheartening of all, if her uniform is dirty because she only has 1 and cannot afford to wash it frequently, she'll be sent home. And we're not having it anymore.

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So we've enlisted the help of Fashion Design major, Royce Grassl, of the University of Idaho to design and prototype school uniforms that fit the needs of girls in Togo!

What are those needs you ask?

1. DURABILITY:  Girls often own just one uniform, and they wear it every single day to school. Togo is near the equator, so it's excessively hot and humid throughout most of the year, and access to water is extremely limited, so the uniforms have to withstand multiple days of use without washing.

2. FLEXIBILITY: We define flexibility in two ways. 1. Girls have to walk several miles to and from school, do all of their daytime activities in their uniforms, and sit in class for hours, so the uniforms need to accommodate the variety of their day. and 2. We're committed to sustainable fashion, and we plan to limit our carbon footprint by manufacturing school uniforms that can grow up to 3 sizes! Meaning girls won't grow out of their uniforms as quickly and can continue to wear them for multiple years. 

3. PERIOD-PROOF: Girls are sent home from school if they bleed on their uniform during their periods, and in some cases, they aren't even allowed to go to school while they are menstruating. Feminine hygiene products are rarely available and highly expensive, so most girls are forced to use old fabric cloths that are unhygienic and don't get the job done. Our goal was to develop undergarments that far exceeded the current options available for girls in Togo. 

4. AFFORDABLE: While every member of S H E receives a free uniform, we will be selling uniforms in other communities to support our organization with earned-revenue. Most rural families in Togo live on less than $1.90 a day, so increasing the affordability of school uniforms will increase access to them, and get more children in school! 

4. FASHIONABLE: Girls deserve a modern uniform that reflects their fashion tastes. The public schools in our village only require that the top is white and the skirt is khaki. For elementary school girls, they have to wear a khaki dress. Within these requirements, there is room for customization, so we've enlisted the help of Fashion Designer, Royce Grassl, to tackle this challenge. And we can't wait to share his work with you!

The garments were thoughtfully named to reflect the attributes girls develop while getting their educations. We hope that when girls put on their well-tailored, custom uniforms, that they feel confident and able to take on the world. 

Every inch of these garments has been thoughtfully designed to allow girls to customize and adjust them to best fit their needs and style. 

Knowledge and Wisdom Blouses

Girls will be able to choose from these two blouse styles. The Wisdom Blouse features a Peter Pan collar and Petal Sleeve while the Knowledge Blouse has a more traditional collar and a roll-able sleeve. Both blouses have adjustable ties that create a custom fit. 

Independence Dress

Similar to the blouses, the Independence Dress has a Peter Pan Collar and adjustable ties. This dress is worn in elementary school, so the Poly-Cotton blend was chosen to increase flexibility, comfort, and durability. 

Success Skirt

This wrap skirt has a size range of 3 FULL SIZES, with small elastic on the waist that fits everything in between! Extra fabric can be built into the bottom, so as girls grow taller they can let out the hem. 

Determination and Resilience Underwear

Perhaps our most favorite, are the Determination and Resilience underwear. As you know by now, girls are shamed out of school for menstruating. Another issue we talk about frequently are the millions of pounds of clothing that are donated from the US and Europe and shipped to Africa where they eventually end up in landfill. These underwear, while still in development, are designed to tackle both problems at once! Excited yet? You're not alone.

Girls at S H E - Togo reviewing the original underwear prototypes. 

Girls at S H E - Togo reviewing the original underwear prototypes. 

At the market in our village, Notse. The second-hand clothing section spans several field lengths and is packet full with mounds of clothing.

At the market in our village, Notse. The second-hand clothing section spans several field lengths and is packet full with mounds of clothing.

Our prototypes are made with recycled t-shirts and shredded denim (You read that right), and both textiles are in abundance in second-hand clothing piles. They are also GREAT materials for absorbency, anti-odor and comfort, and we're putting them to use! 

Because most schools lack the infrastructure for separate bathrooms where girls can change or dispose of their hygiene products, these underwear are designed to be worn all day and absorb multiple tampons-worth of blood each! We're not reinventing the wheel here, we're just re-engineering it out of blue jeans and t-shirts. 


Moving Forward

We are continuing our partnership with the University of Idaho design program. During Spring, 2018 they will develop patterns and other training materials to take to our seamstresses in Togo! As part of our sustainable approach, we focus on skills training for every girl in the program. We will be bringing trainers to help guide our seamstresses in advanced construction and pattern making, and each girl in our program learns to sew her own uniform!

We plan to implement these designs in 2018 after continued testing and collaboration with our seamstresses in Togo. For now, we are focusing our attention on prototyping the underwear to improve their performance. 

 
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And you can help! We are raising funds to support the continued research and distribution of our undergarments to girls in need. When you donate to S H E, you are supporting our continued work to equip girls with the necessary resources, skill set, and confidence to determine her own future. And it starts with keeping girls in school. 


Final Thoughts

This week, we got the chance to sit down with the busy designer, Royce Grassl, to hear his thoughts about fashion's ability to impact people's lives. 

First, a little background.

Royce grew up in the small towns of Uniontown and Colton, Washington and went to High School in Nezperce, Idaho. He graduated from the University of Idaho with a Major in Apparel, Textiles and Design, and he now works at Cloud Nine Bridal in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He got involved in the project when his professor and advisor to S H E, Lori Wahl, approached him to participate. 

 
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What was your biggest focus during the design process?

Designing the underwear. They are the most technical garment and there are a lot of meticulous steps in the construction process. It required a lot of research on my end; being a male designer. I had to understand all of the functions of the female body and understand how to design for a young woman entering puberty. 

I learned so much in this process, and I was challenged to be super creative in the textile selection process, in designing for pure functionality, and overcoming more strict design constraints than I'm typically faced with in my Couture background. I have made over 4 different prototypes in the last month, and we we are now starting our wear testing with the girls in Togo. 

This project is unlike anything I've done before, but the challenge was well worth it. 
 

What was the most meaningful part of your work?

After I finished the first round of prototypes, we were able to send them to the S H E members in Togo for wear testing and general feedback.There were a few minor adjustments, but overall, the girls were very excited about all of the garments. They talked about how the underwear would impact their lives, and I was so touched to hear that. We don't always get the opportunity to see the direct impact of our work as designers, so this was very meaningful for me. 

 

What was something that you learned about girls in Togo that surprised you most?

I was most surprised by just how many challenges girls face. If the schools find out that they are menstruating, the girls are asked to leave school until they’re done. So that means these girls are missing out on one week of school every month at least. That was so heartbreaking to hear.    

 

What were you most excited about in your designs?

The thing I was really excited to design had to be the skirt. The skirt was the most fundamental design, but I love how functional it is, and we know it is going to have a big impact.

 

Do you think fashion has the ability to empower people? How so?

I absolutely think fashion has the ability to empower people. I know it is a cliché, but I honestly believe that when you look good, you feel good. I think that people who are dressed professionally are taken more seriously. It only takes a few seconds for a person to have a first impression, and it starts off with how you are dressed.

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When you close your eyes and imagine an empowered woman, what do you see?

When I think of an empowered woman I think of confidence. A woman that holds their heads up high as she walks and is perfectly comfortable in her own skin. A person that doesn’t care what other people think because she has her eyes set on achieving her goals.

 

What is your hope for the girls who wear your designs?

I hope that when these girls feel confident and feel like they are ready to concur the world. I hope that they are taken more seriously so their voices will be heard, and most of all, I hope they are able to get a proper education.  

 

What is your hope for women on the planet?

I just visualize women as strong, confident and beautiful. An empowered woman is a person first and foremost, and she is a person that has strong morals, is constantly learning, and driven to her goals. They have open hearts, and they never give up on others or themselves.

Women are as beautiful on the inside as much as they are on the outside. This is my vision for women and this is my hope for women. I hope women feel the way I envision them as, because that is what I see as true beauty and grace.

 

What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself?

The main question I ask myself is “How can I make this my own?”

When I am designing, I see images from my favorite designers and I wonder if I were to make that how would I put my own spin on it. Then I take elements from that design and then make my own garment. That is how I come up with some of my designs.

 

Students of the Week!

Our first Students of the Week: Tchelalo and Tikeba!


We're excited to kick off our new practice of recognizing some of our members each week. 

The Students of the Week are recognized for being outstanding students, excellent representatives of S H E, and role models for all girls in Togo. We think they're pretty special. Read their incredible stories below. 

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The first student of the week is Tchelalo!

Tchelalo was born in a small village in the northern part of Togo. She's the youngest in her family, but she's the most advanced in her education. She is in the first year of High School, though her older brothers and sisters only made it to the last year of Junior High.  

Her father died in 2010 from a very serious illness, so her mother has been left to care for Tchelalo and her 5 siblings. 

To help make things easier for her mother, she gets up early in the morning to clean the house and her compound, fetch water from the well, and clean the dishes. Before going to school she has to also make herself a small meal or she goes hungry all day because her mother cannot afford to send her with money for lunch. 

Her mother works in the fields so she can have something for her children to eat, but she has to work until late at night. Tchelalo rushes home after to school to prepare dinner for her siblings. 

On the weekends, she helps a local beverage server where she earns a total of $2 USD. She saves this money to afford her school documents, and sometimes is able to save enough for a treat! She's stunning, and we couldn't be more proud that she's in the program. 

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Our second incredible student is Tikeba.

I'm 12 years old, and have one younger sister who is 6 years old. I'm in the first year of Junior High, and my little sister just started school. My mother sells dry fish at the market, and my father is a motorcycle taxi driver.

Since I'm so young, does mother does almost all of the work at home to allow us the freedom to be children and continue our studies. I have to be up early on the weekends to help with house chores, and after school I go with my mother to work in the field to gather wood for our kitchen. 

My father comes back very late because he has another wife in the village with whom he has 4 children, so most of our finances and responsibilities fall on my mother. 

On Saturdays, my mom and I sell tomatoes and chilis in the market after we've worked in the fields. It is hard for my mother to provide for our needs alone, so she has a small garden where she grows vegetables to sell, to feed us, provide our clothing and our textbooks. 

My mother is a strong and courageous mother. She is my role model. 

SHE sends 65 girls to school

It's been a busy few months at S H E. Since our incorporation in June, 2017, we've opened our office in Togo, hired 2 full-time employees, and SPONSORED 65 NEW MEMBERS IN THE PROGRAM. And we could not be more excited!

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Over the next school year, our girls will be meeting multiple times a week to learn to sew and discuss issues surrounding girls' education. We believe mentoring is key to girls' success in the classroom and beyond, so we are focusing our attention on building quality curriculum and engagement programs. 


We know we couldn't do this work without the amazing sponsors who have supported S H E since day one. Each time someone sponsors a girl, they get to leave her an inspiring message. 

This month's quote comes from Rebecca who has now sponsored 15 girls in the program. 

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Dreams are achievable, dream big!

School Uniforms: An Avenue to Empowerment

School Uniforms: An Avenue to Empowerment

School uniforms are required in most schools in Africa, but it's difficult for many families to afford school uniforms each year. "By introducing an after-school program where girls learn sewing and entrepreneurial skills in an environment where they are encouraged to explore their potential, and by establishing a connection point to a global support system, we hope to open their eyes to a world of possibilities far beyond our imagination."