Top Brazilian designers led a workshop earlier this year to teach victims of slave labor a new and more dignified career in fashion. The workshop is part of the "Slave Labour Never Again" project: a collaboration among the Public Ministry for Employment, the  International Labour Organization (ILO) and the University of Campinas (Unicamp). 

One of the participants in the project was Venezuelan Sara Mathias, 29, a former cleaning woman. “I had to spend 10 hours every day cleaning 12 apartments. I was very mistreated,” said Sara. An immigrant living in Brazil for two years, she decided to learn to sew after quitting a job that both exploited and humiliated her.

Workshop participant Sara Mathias. Photo courtesy OIT/MPT/UNICAMP

“I was excited and nervous because the course was very advanced for me. I had to make a pocket four times! But I loved feeling that I am capable and that I can learn. A new world opened up for me with this training and I will continue to seek improvement,” said Sara.

Sara was joined by 19 other victims of slave labour who were immigrants from Bolivia, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Teaching them were two of Brazil’s top fashion designers: Reinaldo Lourenço and Yan Acioli. The workshop took place at Reinaldo’s factory in São Paulo.

Participants produced 40 designs with the help of noted professionals. Participants exhibited their work at a closed fashion show at the São Paulo State Immigration Museum that was streamed online by Elle Brasil.

Ecstatic about their new opportunities, the students are now making plans to enter in the fashion industry. “This fashion workshop made it possible for me to dream again. I want to make a career of this and earn my own money, without suffering humiliation,” Sara beamed.

The project seeks to end slave labour practices and promote decent work and the inclusion of socioeconomically vulnerable groups. Between 1995 and 2020, more than 55,000 people in Brazil were rescued from working conditions that constituted forced labour.