A modern-day cottage industry

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

ARVIAT (Jan 28/98) - Women in Arviat are putting their expert sewing skills to work to become part of the community's newest manufacturing venture.

Six seamstresses are employed at Kiluk Ltd., a subsidiary of the NWT Development Corp. There they make duffel slippers, wall hangings, Christmas stockings and tree skirts that will be sold across Canada.

A training project that started in July ran for six months, and the sewing centre will become an operating business in March.

Gunde Asbjornsen, the company's manager, describes the project as nothing but successful since it was started seven months ago and she attributes this largely to the dedication of the seamstresses.

"The workforce is steady -- they're always here," she said. "They're very talented sewers here. They had little training here. They all enjoy sewing and they're quite willing to learn new things as well."

More than 70 women applied for the six positions, a clear indication of the high rate of unemployment in the community of 1,700.

"We just had interviews and narrowed it down that way," said Asbjornsen. "It was actually a tough decision because everybody was so eager to work. I think it was a big thing to have a job. I think it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride."

Bernadette, one of the seamstresses, said she enjoys her job that has to support her family of 15.

"I'm happy to have a job," she said. "My husband doesn't and my income has to support my whole family."

Agnes Shamee said she, too, likes her job, and added that sewing is one of her favorite pastimes anyway.

"I learn a lot of things -- I like sewing here," she said. "It feels good to get up in the morning and go to work. It's a very good project here in Arviat, where unemployment is so high."

Other seamstresses at the centre include Arlene Andee, Margaret Aulatujut, Donalda Malla, and Agatha Ubluriak.

Asbjornsen said she can feel the community support for the endeavor.

"The community is very happy we're here because of the high unemployment," she said.

Their product, she added, has also been in high demand from the time they started, both in and out of the community.

"It was quite a challenge at first -- starting something from scratch. It's been very rewarding. We can't keep up with (the demand of) what we've made so far."

She said that there is room for expansion in the centre, but cautioned that it all depends on the success of the project.