Who would have thought that a process that was used to mend, patch, tailor and reinforce cloth would lead to the art of hand embroidery for what we now consider haute couture? Definitely not me. My earliest memory of hand embroidery was learning the art from my mum as she and my aunts would sit around with their wooden hoops and colored threads, drinking tea and engaging in everyday conversations. Day after day I would see those beautiful threads take shapes of intricate flowers and birds showcasing exquisite color combinations that would blow my mind. At home, every bed sheet, table cover, placement mat, and hand towel was embroidered and the familiarity of the designs and the women who made them was what made home, home.

Unfortunately, at the age of six, I was sent to boarding school so these memories grew even more vivid than what they would have been otherwise. Every year at the start of school I had to bring in a set number of sheets, pillowcases, towels, and clothes. Every item had to have my name on it which, again, was hand embroidered by my aunts for me before the start of school in a bright red. I always noticed how even after the sheets and clothes may have faded over the years, the embroidery still looked good as new.

I have always believed that fashion has a very loud voice that impacts and drives change. So when I was conceptualizing Neococo, I knew I wanted it to be a brand that could change lives. I remember embroidering my first samples and feeling a sense of joy and purpose fill me up with each stitch. There was something extremely reassuring about watching that needle add color to a plain white tee.

I chose hand embroidery as a tool that will help women transform their lives because of that picture in my mind of my mom and aunts working through the stress of their lives, sharing their joys one stitch at a time. Like painting, hand embroidery is meditative, transformative work that can help them process and even heal those emotional wounds they carry. Secondly, I knew that just like me, this was an art that these women — even escaping from war and strife-torn countries — were familiar with. It was something they had to have seen growing up and learned as a life skill of sorts.

I work with 8 refugee women currently and they are nearing 50. Getting a job, commuting to and from work...these are hurdles that seem like insurmountable mountains to them. Yet, when I meet them every week to hand a new batch of tees to be embroidered, and when they give me a bunch of tees they've embroidered in the past week, there's a twinkle in all our eyes. We are bound together by a thread of loving memories. It makes me think: we are different and yet so alike.
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