Threads by Nomad celebrates diversity through design

Atia, a refugee from Afghanistan, and other artisans with Threads by Nomad use scraps of fabric to create Christmas gifts and decorations. (Photo courtesy of Threads by Nomad)

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HOUSTON—Atia was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she learned to embroider and crochet. To escape violence in her homeland, she relocated to the United States as a refugee in 2015.

Today, she works as an artisan with Threads by Nomad, a Houston-based ministry that celebrates diversity through design, providing refugees who are skilled seamstresses and fiber artists both an avenue for cultural expression and a livelihood.

Passion for responding to needs of refugees

Nell Green

“We have a passion for responding to the plight of refugees and addressing human trafficking and its victims,” said Nell Green, co-founder of Threads by Nomad with her daughter, Christen Kinard. “Faith drives what we do.”

They launched Threads by Nomad in 2016, weaving together their love for Jesus and their love for the beauty of global diversity as expressed in fabric and needlework.

Green has years of personal experience as a seamstress. At age 9, Green’s mother taught her to sew. By the time she was in the ninth grade, she was making her own clothes. Later, she made clothes for her daughter.

As a minister, registered nurse and social worker, Green has a passion for responding to the needs of refugees. She and her husband, Butch, have worked cross-culturally for more than 31 years and the last 20 with refugees.

Having served in West Africa and the Middle East, Nell developed Global Runway, a program that raised awareness of women of other cultures. Part of her work now includes helping churches and other non-profit organizations learn how to address the issue of human trafficking and the needs of refugees at a local level. She also spearheaded regional relief efforts around Houston following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

After living and serving in so many countries, the Greens often thought of themselves as “migrants” or “nomads.” And Kinard grew up working with refugees alongside her parents.

Atia, a refugee from Afghanistan, is skilled at crochet and embroidery. (Photo courtesy of Threads by Nomad)

Collaborative effort

“A key component of the production is the hiring of refugees stateside and the enlisting of creators from various countries providing micro-enterprise opportunities,” Green said.

“In our work to develop the collections, we have collaborated with refugee artisans living in the United States from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, as well as craftsmen from West Africa and East Asia.”

All the refugees come into the United States through the United Nations. They are legally vetted and then given a Social Security Number and a work permit. They receive three months financial assistance by the government and are fully employable. After the three months is up, they must be employed and be self-sufficient.

Threads by Nomad seeks to build a business that will provide meaningful and fulfilling jobs to refugees at a sustainable wage.

“As with any business, there are challenges,” Green said. “Finding the people with the right skills for the various tasks is one example. Another is training people to work full time to earn a living.”

‘How can my business make a difference?’

Some artisans bring extensive experience to their jobs.

Hayder, from Iraq, is now the chief tailor at Threads by Nomad. (Photo courtesy of Threads by Nomad)

Hayder, the chief tailor at Threads by Nomad, became an apprentice at age 12 in Iraq, learned the trade and had his own shop in his homeland. He resettled in the United States in 2014.

Artisans are not required to be Christians, but since some of the products they produce have religious meaning, questions and discussions about faith are common.

Some artisans, like Akran, are deeply committed to their Christian faith. She and her two daughters were forced to leave Iran as refugees when they became Christians. They relocated to the United States in 2017.

“Americans are really nice. And I love my church. They are my brothers and sisters,” she said.

Narmin was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. She traveled to the United Kingdom for two and a half years before finally arriving in the United States. She speaks three languages, and she often sings at church and accompanies her husband on the guitar. Narmin appreciates the opportunity to share her culture and her faith through art.

“We want American women to support diversity,” Green said.

She also wants everyone involved—suppliers, artisans and customers—to gain a new perspective on vocation.

“We want people to realize a business can support them, as well as serve a purpose to help others,” she said. “We ask, ‘How can my business make a difference?’”

Carolyn Tomlin writes for numerous Christian publications and teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writers.

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