“Ohlala Michaela, what are you inventing again…”
~ Seida, a Sarajevo based knitter.
Michaela Buerger was one of the few brands to work with the idea of #whomademyclothes and #womenempowerment years before it was a hashtag. In association with a Bosnian Collective they produce together several thousand handmade pieces a year, proving that a philanthropic approach can be a healthy business. The collective seeks to give women the opportunity to re-engage in their communities through knitting, and aims to protect, promote and preserve the handcrafts of female knitters. In addition, it attempts to transfer traditional skills to younger generations, as well as to create advantageous economical and psychological conditions for women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
“The aim of this association is to convert knitting into a profession”
Many women in Bosnia have basic knitting skills, but their skill levels did not meet the standards of the fashion industry. The need for training and development of these skills was a priority.. In 2011, there were 15 women who were part of the organization. Since then, the organization has trained more than 200 women, and currently 150 of them are working. Knitting is a tradition in Bosnia; it holds an intimate association for most women, many who were taught as young girls as it was passed from previous generations through their grandmothers, mothers and aunts. It was therefore natural to continue to knit even in times of great suffering and grief. Knitting became therapeutic for them, allowing them to forget the past, even if momentarily.
It was a time when they didn’t think about lost homes, the dead and unrecovered bodies of husbands and sons, or perhaps their own experiences with sexual violence and abuse. With knitting came temporary relief. The collective provides a platform for women who have been affected by war, or have little or no income to make a living through knitting. It’s also a way for them to connect to the rest of the region and world, and to feel like they are contributing in some way. And this is precisely what these women have done. Regardless of their background, religion or ethnicity, they create new friendships, learn different skills, and attain a sense of freedom and autonomy that was often lacking in their lives beforehand.
“All women are welcome here”
The collective places a great emphasis on diversity, integration and acceptance. Women are often the most vulnerable victims of war. In some cases, they become defined by their trauma, are split into various categories, and become identified by their suffering. While in the beginning the majority of women were victims of sexual violence, today, there is a wide range of women from various backgrounds knitting together, including those with little or no income.
Aside from financial freedom, meeting new people and connecting with other women, knitting has given them a support system they didn’t have before.