On International Women's Day 2024, Cabana speaks to female-owned businesses providing disadvantaged women with meaningful skills and employment. Read on to discover how Malaga4 is training incarcerated women in textile manufacturing, how Malaika Linens is empowering Egyptian women to take charge of their economic futures, and how Colombia Collective is providing Amazonian communities with an opportunity to revive their ancestral crafts.



Malaga4 founder, Monica Dolfini © Lupo Gelsi 


Malaga4: limited edition bags with ethical principles 

Malaga4 was born almost by accident. With a magpie-like eye and passion for fashion, founder Monica Dolfini had for years been collecting interesting fabrics, patterns and trimmings, without realising how useful they would later become.

Malaga4, which she founded after many years in the fashion industry, produces beautiful, limited edition bags crafted from tapestries and embellished with trims and cords. Some pieces are made from leftover upholstery fabric, while the trims and cords are often never-before-used vintage elements, making every bag completely unique.

Monica also credits her "hippie aesthetic, if we can call it that". "It has belonged to me since I was young, when I had only three pairs of shoes: clogs, espadrilles for the summer and canvas shoes for the winter. [Italian fashion designer], Gianfranco Ferrè, used to tease me about this style, he used to call me his little witch...."

Monica laughs remembering her beginnings. "Before Malaga4, I had taken up making nightwear and pajamas for babies. The most anti-commercial business existent, because it catered exclusively to babies only a few months old! It gave me great satisfaction though, because I had them embroidered in Vietnam, where the art of embroidery is French style, so very elegant, but it is also seriously regulated, with working hours and conditions bound by strict laws."

The prototype for the beautiful bags Malaga4 produces came from a bag found by chance in Pantelleria, the family home; instead of shoulder straps, it had simple knotted threads. "After I found it, I used it all summer," Monica says. 

Back in Milan, she involved a friend with sewing skills and found a workshop, which belonged to an upholsterer who was selling off all his fabrics. "We assembled our first bags and sent our friends a few pictures; the idea was to give them as gifts. But word spread and we found ourselves seriously selling them all over the world!"

Today, part of the manufacturing is completed by incarcerated women, involved via the Alice Cooperative, a Milan-based organisation that supports sustainable development through craftsmanship and ethical supply chains. It is very touching, Monica says, to see the rehabilitation of vulnerable women - some of whom are serving long sentences - through meaningful skills. Malaga4 often works with women in the final phase of their imprisonment, before readmission to society.

"After years and years in prison, getting out and having a job is crucial. Even before Malaga4 I happened to do projects in prisons...I used to teach sophrology classes. I think it's important to believe in the possibility of redemption".



Malaika Linens: high quality linens and embroidery training

Founded in 2004 by Margarita Andrade and Goya Gallagher, Egypt-based Malaika Linens focuses on teaching hand-embroidery to local women, giving them a chance to learn a valuable skill and improve their economic standing. The model grew from a simple idea: many women, regardless of age, background or literacy, can learn to sew.

The business grew after Margarita and Goya, both from Ecuador, found themselves living in Egypt and decided to produce high quality linens. “I was living in Egypt as a single mother and needed to start a business in order to support myself," says Margarita. "Egyptian cotton is world famous, yet there were no high-quality bedsheets available for purchase inside of Egypt. In starting a business I also saw an opportunity to help many other women who are in need of employment."

Today, dozens of underprivileged Egyptian women and refugees, travel to the brand's self-funded embroidery school to learn embroidery techniques. Once proficient, the women leave the school and return to work from home, making way for more women to be trained there. Most have never held a needle before.

This model empowers women to take charge of their economic futures without breaking social norms. Because many work from home, they can generate an income without disrupting traditional family patterns and cultural expectations.

Egypt is a "very special" location for Malaika, Margarita says. "Being a crossroads of different cultures, people are very inclusive and it is normal for neighborhood life to become an extension of your own life. “There is a lot of conviviality”.

As the company has grown, their headquarters have moved from Cairo to an oasis in the desert: sandy plains surrounded by a flourishing garden and wonderful agaves. “The basic idea is to provide a beautiful, relaxing, eye-satisfying work space," says Margarita. "This seems importance to me because most [of the women we work with] come from extremely stressful environments."



Colombia Collective, traditional Colombian homewares

The town of San Jancinto, Colombia, produces traditional hammocks and bags, while the town of Usiacuri is known for its woven iraca palms. In between these two craft-rich locations, scattered across the Amazon forest, are countless tiny shops where makers patiently work objects with their hands in the back room.

These rich craft traditions so enchanted Kate Wrigley - then living and working in the country as an architect - that she decided to establish the Colombia Collective, a homewares brand safeguarding the techniques of indigenous craftsmanship.


Far from seeing a break in her path, Kate feels her work with Colombia Collective encapsulates all the skills she learnt and practised as an architect: “From doing measured drawings of new product designs, to dealing with accounting issues (which brings out the engineering side), to the graphic design of the website and marketing. I really feel that the architect in me is still at work every single day." 

Although Kate is now based in the UK, she travels to Colombia regularly and has been influenced by the Amazon in more ways than one. “We have just moved to a small cottage in the Cotswolds and I can absolutely say that the Colombian color has made its way in with me. The kitchen has been painted bright yellow, so that you can’t notice when it's grey outside, the entrance hall turquoise, the sitting room pink… It's definitely a dose of dopamine through the walls."

When she started Colombia Collective, Kate's main aim was to provide Amazonian communities with an opportunity, and a source of profit, to revive their ancestral craft, with a view to sustainable economic growth. “That was almost five years ago now, and every single artisan group that we work with has grown unbelievably.”

How does the magic happen? Often there is “a simple sketch on a scrap of paper, followed by a WhatsApp exchange of pictures between us and the artisans, before settling on a more refined drawing with dimensions and specifications to begin making a sample. We never send anything back or refuse pieces from the artisans and always pay full price for our samples, so my collection of unused samples is growing rapidly. That is something I am very excited about”.


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