Sew TO Women's Collective

Threading a Sustainable Future: Sewing TO Women’s Collective

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TNO-The Neighbourhood Organization has, for the last few years, been working to kick off a sewing collective. We had been thinking, preparing, and planning. The COVID19 crisis galvanized us into action.

On April 1, 2020, TNO – The Neighbourhood Organization, in collaboration with the Thorncliffe Flemingdon Sustainable Sewing Group, Flemingdon Community Support Services, Cathy Richards Foundation, Impakt Foundation and Green Neighbours Network has launched the Sew TO Collective Community Mask Making Project. The objective was to respond to the challenge by Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) for East Toronto sewists to make 1,000 masks per week. These face masks were intended to go to folks across Toronto to help communities stay healthy

TNO has undertaken some sewing-related initiatives in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon in the past few years. When TNO put out a call on Twitter for the MGH Challenge, TNO’s Community Development staff members were overwhelmed with responses and took just the first 25 applicants.

TNO’s Sewing TO Collective made an initial commitment to donate 2,000 masks to MGH within four weeks. As of May 5, 2020, the group made and delivered over 3,000 masks to Michael Garron Hospital! TNO also received fabric donations from textile stores, businesses and various individuals and groups.  TNO staff delivered the donated materials to the sewers, along with a list of safety tips, and then pick up the finished products. Online related materials were uploaded on the TNO website and widely shared in the community.

 TNO also received cash donation from two private foundations. The first donation was made by Cathy Richards Foundation and then followed by another donation from Impakt Foundation. The group decided that the bulk of the money should go directly to the sewers.  In the process, the project was able to provide employment for 28 people during the crisis, diverted material from landfill, and supported the health of the community. As one of the women in our collective said, the project allowed her “to be busy during this social distances time and have less mental pressure about this epidemic.”  The group needed sewing machines, and the City of Toronto Solid Waste Management Services donated six brand new machines. Even large corporations chipped in. Air Canada donated old banners to reuse in masks.

The initial project has had such amazing results. The sewers wanted to keep going. They could not stop! Just doing this project has brought great comfort to the sewers who are glad to be part of something bigger and brighter they wanted to continue to make a difference. The group agreed to start an employment social enterprise and have adopted a new set of objectives, which include the following:

  1. Empower and support local women in the community who can work from home and earn money;
  2. Enhance their entrepreneurial and English language and other skills
  3. Support mental health in the community.


The group use the design recommended by Michael Garron Hospital in producing the washable cloth masks that the sewers are now selling. Sewers use upcycled two layer materials, which were previously loved and generously donated fabrics.

TNO and other partners who were involved with the initial phase are now comprise the Sew TO Collective Advisory Committee. The committee regularly meets to help the sewers with marketing, capacity training and in streamlining the ordering and delivery system. The group also aims to connect the sewers with advisors who can help them to get ready to launch, review or provide feedback on their plans, and/or work with them to identify sources of capital.

In July the Sew TO Collective group sold over 1, 500 masks. The group is also currently been working with a sewing company in Quebec. A few of the sewers with advanced sewing skills were trained to make these masks. To date, they made 400 masks for this company and are currently working in completing 1,500 masks. The sewing company in Quebec is planning to ask them to make thousands of masks.

The group is now in the process of developing quality control processes before planning to expand their operations. They hired a project support staff to help them provide administrative and logistical support and also a trainer to provide Advanced Sewing Skills for the sewers. The group members will also be provided with other life skills training including English language training

The group have accomplished so much in over three months. None of this would have been possible without the amazing and hardworking sewers and support staff delivering or gathering materials and supplies. TNO would also like to thank everyone who has donated money, materials, supplies and their time 

There are lot of things to be undertaken to continue to move In terms of next steps, the Sew TO Collective plans to review of current legislation and determine legal structures and seek legal counsel regarding permits and licenses that we need.  We will also secure the technical assistance or consulting services that will help us create and establish a solid business plan and the employment social enterprise model in consultation with the local sewers.

TNO is proud and excited to continue working with local sewers with this amazing community initiative and seeing its beneficial impact in the community

Using your fabric face mask safely 

Safety Information for the SewTO Collective