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Fashion Design Students Break Barriers with Sue Banman Selici and Victoria Batista


Our Regional Coordinator in Sao Paulo along with a recent University graduate recount how the Fashion Design Students at Anhembi Morumbi University adopted purse making for Sew Powerful as a campus-wide project. Sue Banman Sileci and Victoria Batista give us a bilingual perspective on the project that started in 2017 and has since generated nearly 200 purses for schoolgirls in Zambia.


fashion, San Paulo, Anhembi Morumbi.University in Sau Paulo, Sew Powerful, purses, quilting in Brazil, what is Patchee Work in Brazil, English language textbooks, language spoken in Brazil, fashion design students


We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.


The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.


Host: Jan Cancila

Guest 1: Sue Banman Selici

Guest 2: Victoria Batista


Jan Cancila, Host 00:04

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.


Jan 00:20

Our guests on today's podcast are coming to us from Sau Paulo, Brazil. This will be our first podcast featuring the connection Sew Powerful has in South America. While it is the middle of a hot sunny summer in North America, it's winter in Sau Paulo, where they are experiencing cool cloudy conditions today. But that didn't deter Sue Banman Sileci and Victoria Batista. They are here and we are excited to explore what is going on with Sew Powerful in Brazil. Sue serves as the Regional Coordinator for Sew Powerful, and Victoria is a recent university graduate who organized a very productive Sew Powerful project. Welcome, Sue.


Sue Banman Selici, Guest 01:04

Thank you.


Jan 01:05

And bienvenida, Victoria.


Victoria Batista, Guest 01:08



Jan 01:10

Sue let's begin with you. What is your role with Sew Powerful? I mentioned that you're the Regional Coordinator. But for any of our listeners who are on Facebook on Sundays, they'll recognize another very important role that you have with Sew Powerful. So, tell us all about that.


Sue 01:27

Well I organize the weekly challenges, just a way for us to think about making purses in a different way. To get up off our couches, maybe a little bit of a push or an inspiration or a new way to look at our stash so that we get up and make a purse based on the theme for the week. You don't have to do it. But if you want to do it, it can be a lot of fun and a different way of thinking about some of the ways that we make purses.


Jan 01:56

And what are some of the recent challenges that we've had.


Sue 01:59

Right now we're having the mechanical machinery challenge, which is if you have fabric or, or embellishments. I'm going to put little washers as and buttons as part of the embellishments, anything mechanical looking. Computers, stuff like that. It could be anything like that.


Jan 02:18



Sue 02:19

And recently we've had one for in honor of one of our members, Shirley, likes elephants and butterflies and other things like that. And what else have we done recently? Remember?


Jan 02:21



Sue 02:23



Jan 02:27

And New York.


Sue 02:33

New York. And we've done so do something that relates to New York or to different patterns, different colors, different sizes of flowers, different plants. Biomes. Oh, TV shows, movies, anything. We do we just do whatever.


Jan 02:49

Yeah, they're, they're so much fun. Tell us a little bit about where you live and your career. It's just so interesting.


Sue 02:58

I live in Sau Paulo, Brazil, it's a city of 20 million people. It's probably the largest city in South America. I work as an author and an editor of English language textbooks. And so, like you think about your high school Spanish book, you never think, "Who wrote this stuff?" Well, I write this stuff for people all over the world learning English. I write that kind of material, English language learning material. So I edit the material for other people, and I work part of a big project that teaches English in poor communities using volunteer teachers also.  


Jan 03:29

And what brought you to Brazil originally?


Sue 03:32

I came down to Brazil to teach English as a foreign language. And then while I was down here on a six-month trip, I met this very nice guy and we got married and we had children. And now we have grandchildren together, and dogs, and that's why I've just stayed in Brazil since 1987.


Jan 03:51

Wow. Oh my goodness. Now you had a very happy occasion. And you spent some time in the US because of that earlier this year. Tell us about that.


Sue 04:00

My husband Ricardo, we have two daughters and one of them had a daughter in California just in March right now. And so I am now a grandmother and I spent two and a half months in California helping out and trying to get everybody up on their feet and running. It was really fun.


Jan 04:16

We're interviewing you and Victoria because the story that Victoria wrote and she co-authored that with, how do you pronounce her co-author's name?


Victoria 04:27

Ketsia Prado.  


Jan 04:28

And Ketsia cannot be with us today. But Victoria co-authored an article called, "Fashion Design Students Break Barriers", and it was about the work they did at the university. Tell us about the university.


Sue 04:41

I know about the university because I go to the dog park here in the neighborhood and I met a woman who was a coordinator in the fashion design college there. And we started talking about what I do in my free time, that I like to sew and that by the way, I'm working on purses that I make, and that kind of thing. She said, that sounds like a great project because this university tries to focus not just on fashion, but on how fashion can make a difference in the world. And this seemed like a perfect connection between making a difference and a bunch of young people who are learning to, to design products and to sew products and to produce products, not just for the catwalk but to make a difference.


Jan 05:25

And what is the name of the university again?


Victoria 05:27

Anhembi Morumbi.


Jan 05:30

Okay, easy for you to say. Okay, so this connection happened in a dog park. So, for our listeners, if you want to engage people with Sew Powerful, apparently you can do it anytime, anyplace, anywhere, as Sue has just proven. Were you involved with the students in 2017 when they were working on this project?


Sue 05:51

This person in the dog park asked me to go and do a presentation about Sew Powerful and talk to a group of the students. And so, I went and I prepared a PowerPoint presentation about the project. And by the time we were done after a 20-minute project, we had people in tears, which is good when you're trying to be effective. And what I saw was that they had big boxes of fabric, scraps of all kinds of fabric and then room after room after room of industrial sewing machines. And so, I saw this perfect connection of reusing things, of having people who are beginning or basics sewers some of them, some of these sewers were actually quite, quite good. And of course, they had access to these wonderful machines. So, I basically went back another day and taught them how to cut fabric and how to put it together. And they started producing purses and did an amazing amount in those first couple of years.


Jan 06:51

Wow. And is that project still going on to your knowledge?


Sue 06:57

Well, right now we're having COVID.


Jan 06:59

Well, true.


Sue 07:00

So let me just go and ask Victoria.


Victoria 07:04

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 07:06

What she said was because of the COVID right now, all of the extra projects have stopped. But when things start up again, she plans to go back and talk to the professors and talk to the students and get it going again.


Jan 07:19

Oh, wow. Well, that's wonderful. Well, so why don't we transition over? And I have a lot of questions for Victoria. For our listeners I hope this is going to work out well. We're going to try and do some translation on the fly here. So let's see let's see how this works. Victoria, what did you study at the university? When did you graduate?


Sue 07:41

She started at the university in 2015. And she graduated in 2018 with a degree in Fashion Design.


Jan 07:51

Okay, and why, why did you choose fashion design as your course of study?


Victoria 07:59

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 08:08

Ever since she was very little she has liked sewing and she actually learned with her grandmother who motivated her a lot to learn to sew. And so that's why she decided to join the Fashion Design program.


Jan 08:21

What kind of items were you making initially? What What did you start out making?


Victoria 08:26

[Speaking in Portuguese.]


Sue 08:29

She began by learning how to hem clothes. And she also made a lot of doll clothes.


Jan 08:34

Huh, we all start out with doll clothes. And Victoria how did you hear about Sew Powerful?


Victoria 08:44

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 08:46

She became involved with the program after Ketsia Prado, another student at the University had a thesis that she was trying to prove which was that fashion isn't just fashion that it can be an agent for social change. And so she was working with Ketsia just a little bit and two of the professors at the University found out about Sew Powerful through me and then came to talk to them about starting a project there.


Jan 09:11

What was it about Sew Powerful that appealed to you, Victoria and maybe to the other students as well?


Victoria 09:21

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 09:29

She says that she really liked the entire project, but that it was interesting because they had so many bits and scraps of fabric at the university that it was fun to be able to separate it, to organize it, to see how it fit into purses together, all of these separate bits would fit into purses, and that the students separated themselves into different sort of skill sets. Some of them like to get the fabric out of the boxes and start straightening out the pieces and sorting them. Others would separate them by color and make sure that they worked as a purse, others would cut. And Victoria's job herself was to be one of the seamstresses. She likes to sew.


Jan 10:07

All right. What did you do on the campus and in social media, to raise awareness for your project, to get other people to help and to volunteer along with you?


Victoria 10:18

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 10:24

They started off with a banner, a kind of poster that they made that they put up on the campus. And then they started advertising in Facebook and Instagram. And then they spread the word all over the campus, and anybody who was interested in participating in any part of the project could get in touch with them at the Fashion Design section of the university. Then they had a specific workshop to learn how to sew the purses. And that's what really got a lot of the students involved.


Jan 10:50

And how many students participated?


Victoria 10:52

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 10:54

In the beginning, they had about 40 students.


Jan 10:56

Oh, wow, that's a lot. And how many purses did you make that first year?


Victoria 11:04

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Jan 11:06

In the first year she remembers that we made 88 purses. And I brought them with me in my suitcase to the United States and mailed them from there. And in the second year, they made over 100 purses.


Jan 11:18

Wow, is this like a semester-long project? How long did it take to make 88 purses?


Victoria 11:26

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 11:29

They had two bimesters, in which they did the first 88 purses, which meant that it started in February and ended in August, roughly. And it took the longest time for them to separate the fabrics, find the appropriate fabrics, get everything ready in that way. And then they had to learn to sew the purses. And that was the part that separating and learning to sew the purses took the longest. Once they got it they managed to do most of the 88 purses in about a month.


Jan 11:59

Oh, wow. Wow, that's amazing. That is amazing. Why don't we take a quick break here and when we come back, we're going to continue our conversation with Sue Banman Sileci and with Victoria Batista, who are coming to us from Sau Paulo, Brazil.


Jan 12:18

Have you gotten the second edition of the "We are Sew Powerful" book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful cofounders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty, through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget when you place your order if you use and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful.


Jan 13:23

Welcome back. Our guests today are coming to us from Sau Paulo, Brazil, and they're talking to us about the Sew Powerful connection that we have in South America. Victoria, if we could continue with you. In your story, you say that fashion design has a fundamental role in society. And that includes social, economic, and political responsibilities. Can you talk a little bit about that? And then I'm going to ask you a follow up question about how you relate that to the goals of Sew Powerful. This is like an essay question at university. I can tell this is going to be a good answer.


Sue 14:07

Okay, it is actually.


Victoria 14:12

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 14:21

The fundamental role of in society with the social, economic and political impact comes from the idea that people always think of fashion and fashion design as the catwalk and glamour and just money. And actually, they like to think about about fashion design as a way of impacting other people, of making a difference to other people. And so, the Zambia project worked out really well because it fits exactly that. They're using what others might consider waste, our scraps, little pieces, lots of waste, and they're using that to think of other people and to use fashion for, for these other goals.


Jan 15:07

Alright. That is an A-Plus answer. That's excellent. So how do you relate what you studied in fashion design school? How does that relate to the goals of Sew Powerful?


Victoria 15:20

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 15:24

She felt that everything about the project about the Sew Powerful project was meaningful to them and impactful to them because they had absolutely no idea what life in Zambia was like. And so it really they've really opened up their minds. And it opened up their minds to how waste and how what someone else might throw away can be used to impact the lives of other people.


Jan 15:47

Very good answer. And how has what you studied as a fashion design student affected you personally and how you might live your day-to-day life.


Victoria 16:00

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 16:05

She says when she started, she also thought about fashion design as a glamorous option for a career. But she very quickly learned that it creates a lot of waste. And so one of her goals was to even now one of her goals is to focus on avoiding waste, creating things that do not waste and if she does make some waste to try to use it up in a constructive way.


Jan 16:31

I like that, that's that's very interesting. I have a question for both of you. And maybe so you can answer first and let Victoria know that we'll ask her the same question in just a moment. Is there anything you'd like to say to people who might be considering sewing purses for Sew Powerful, but they just haven't started doing it yet?


Sue 16:53

What I would say is to just go ahead and do it. If you have any questions about how it's done, we have a Facebook community that is extremely supportive, extremely helpful, extremely active, and very, very kind. So if you have any question of any kind, anything that's tripping you up, ask in the group and someone's going to have an answer, there's, there's no reason to be afraid of the pattern, there's no reason to be worried about it. And we, we never find that a purse is ugly. Every single purse that anybody makes contributes to the cause. Some girl will love it. And we get very excited to see pretty much everything.


Jan 17:34

Okay, and, Victoria?


Victoria 17:40

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 17:42

Victoria says to just go ahead and dive right in. It's really gratifying and really fun to be able to help someone else. And to find out that with a small amount of effort, a small amount of time, we're able to help girls somewhere else to proceed with their lives. It's a simple act, but it really helps somebody else.


Jan 18:03

And do either one of you have ideas about how we can get more people, particularly in Brazil to join in and help us out outside of the university?


Sue 18:13

I can tell you the truth, Jan, if you want to know the truth.


Jan 18:16

Sure, let's hear it.


Sue 18:17

The truth is that the economic reality of Brazil is that many people cannot just sew as a hobby, or to sew to help other people, they sew often, because they need to use it as a source of income. And so to say to them, go ahead and sew this thing and donate it and give it to someone else, it isn't always as easy as it is in the United States, because it isn't a hobby, it's a real way of staying alive, or making ends meet within a family. So that's why the the view of sewing is just a little bit different in Brazil.


Jan 18:53

I think that's really important for people to understand that circumstances are different in different places. And the way that we should approach it is going to have to be different.


Sue 19:03

But quilting is on the rise. They call it "Patchee work" in Brazil, and it's on the rise and it's growing fast. So there are some conferences that I would like to be able to go to as soon as my life still settles down just enough to be able to kind of do what we were doing in the United States. We're just going to quilt conferences and meeting these people that have a little extra income that have a little bit of extra fabric and get them to sew the purses. It just hasn't happened yet.


Jan 19:30

Right. Well, as you may know, we were scheduled I think to go to about 20 different quilt shows in the US this year, and the first three and a half happened, and the third one was cancelled about halfway through and the rest have all been canceled this year. But of course, we're hopeful for next year. Does Victoria have any ideas?


Victoria 19:48

[Speaking in Portuguese]


Sue 19:52

So her idea is to offer workshops because there are a lot of people who would love to learn how to sew but do not know how to sew or know where to get instruction. So, we offer instruction. And then we also say at the same time, why don't you make a purse for Sew Powerful, and that will be, you know, your payment for this instruction.


Jan 20:13

That sounds like a great idea, Victoria. Thank you. We're going to wrap it up. And thank you both very much for your time, Sue and Victoria. It's been so interesting to talk to you and hear your perspective and hear the background of the story called, "Fashion Design Students Break Barriers", that is published in the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful books. So, congratulations, Victoria on being published. And thank you so much for your time today, both of you. Bye, bye.


Sue 20:48

Bye bye. Thank you.


Victoria 20:49

Bye bye.


Jan 20:50

If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG.   The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.


Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at