Bethnal Green shoemakers up for £20,000 FedEx grant
- Credit: Kanahaya Alam
A business based in Bethnal Green that helps women overcome barriers to work has been shortlisted for a £20,000 FedEx grant.
Juta Shoes employs disadvantaged women above the London living wage to make handmade footwear from offcuts and up-cycled materials.
The social enterprise was chosen by the shipping giant in December. The winner will be announced January 24 and awarded £20,000.
Joanna Hamer cofounded the business in 2016: “We wanted to create a company that provided work that was flexible, supportive, really well-paid, creative and came with the community.”
The Bermuda native, 28, was on a social enterprise fellowship and about to start at a Boston University Medical School when she decided to stay and grow the business.
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She said, laughing: “A couple of months before I was supposed to start, I was like, ‘Oh no, I’d rather stay here and make shoes instead of becoming a doctor.’”
Her partner, Sabeha Miah, 44, has been working in the community for 12 years as the women’s project coordinator at St Hilda’s East Community Centre.
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The women Juta Shoes helps come from mostly Bengali backgrounds and often face obstacles to getting into work.
Many of them are migrants or refugees and can face issues from a lack of English to little education.
The skills offered to them include lessons on the tax and benefits systems, as well as how to make shoes and give shoemaking workshops to customers.
But the strong crafts background that many of the women bring to the job means making the shoes hasn’t been the problem, it’s getting the word out.
“We had an amazing December, where we were featured in The Guardian as the best sustainable Christmas present and in that week we had a 400 per cent increase in sales.
“We were sitting there, being like: ‘Ah, okay so the problem is just that we are not very good at reaching a lot of people who want to buy from us.’
If they win the £20,000 grant, Joanna and Sabeha are going to put it towards hiring someone to make sure that everyone who wants Juta Shoes, knows about it.