Kirkuk – A typical morning in the Baba Gurgur Tailoring Factory, in Kirkuk, finds the seamstresses hard at work — moving busily from one machine to another to sew fine clothing for children, men and women.
Kirkuk Governorate has a population of 1.5 million people. It is often referred to as “Mini Iraq” for its ethnically diverse communities. Kirkuk Governorate is also home to more than 100,000 internally displaced peoples (IDPs).
Communities in Kirkuk greatly suffered from the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), so did the local economy. As part of the international community’s efforts to support economic recovery, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) created the Enterprise Development Fund (EDF).
The EDF takes an innovative approach to job creation through support to small and medium enterprises that contributes to economic recovery and private sector development.
Between the stitches and the scissors, here are some stories of hope, perseverance and self-fulfillment.
I’m a tailor and the founder and owner of Baba Gurgur tailoring factory in Kirkuk. I have loved sewing ever since I was a child. My dream was to own a sewing factory, so I worked hard to make my dream come true.
I opened my first tailor shop in 1985 but only sewed a few pieces, all simple, because I was new to the market.
My business flourished during the sanctions against Iraq in 1990. As a result of the international trade embargo imposed on Iraq and the weakness of domestic production, it was hard for Iraqis to buy new clothes. So, we sewed and produced our own.
Many customers would come to my shop and I would sew tailormade clothes for them. To meet the increasing demand, I had to hire workers, and I ended up with 35 employees. The Iraqi government supported domestic industries through tax and customs exemptions, so profits were high and kept increasing.
The economic situation deteriorated in 2005 following political instability and in-fighting. Then, when ISIL took control of areas around Kirkuk in 2014 and the city came under attack, the business took another hit. The government neglected the industrial sector, which heavily affected all local businesses, including mine. Before the crisis, my factory produced uniforms for the army and the police, in addition to medical bedsheets and a wide range of textiles, all for domestic use. But the factories stopped production one after the other, and employees had to search for new jobs, particularly with the government.
On the other hand, because our industry weakened, foreign clothes and products invaded the market at very competitive prices, further impacting my business, to the point where I had to lay off most of my employees and keep only three. I also had to sell my machines to pay the rent and buy simple raw materials to keep work going, but that didn’t help. Eventually, my business collapsed, and I had to close it.
One day, as I despaired, I came across an announcement on social media. It was posted by IOM, about the Enterprise Development Fund (EDF). When I read the conditions, I thought that this was my chance to bring back my business to its golden age, so I rushed to their offices and filled out the application form.
A few days later my phone rang; it was an IOM staff member. They wanted to visit my shop and interview me. A few months [after the interview] I received a grant and used it to move my shop to a new building in Kirkuk’s city centre. I contacted my former employees and asked them whether they would like to return; looked for new employees, especially women; and bought a new embroidery machine as well as other equipment. Business went back to normal, and I began making money again. Shortly afterwards, I started receiving requests for uniforms from various customers, which increased my income and profit, and that of my employees too.
IOM didn’t just help me [restart my business]. The organization has also contributed to the local economy, improved living conditions for my employees’ families and enhanced social cohesion between IDPs and the host community, by creating opportunities for them work together and interact for many hours every day.
I am a very shy and quiet girl. I have three sisters and for a long time my brother was the family’s only breadwinner, after my dad passed away. I graduated from the faculty of agriculture and was looking forward to being employed in the public sector to support my family and help my brother. I looked for jobs for a long time but couldn’t find any, until one day our neighbor visited us and told my mother that a local sewing factory was looking for employees.
At the beginning, my mother was against the idea of me working for the private sector, mainly because I have a degree in agriculture, but she decided to visit the factory and check its situation before making a decision. She was impressed by the friendly and respectful atmosphere of the place, so it didn’t take her long to give me her consent, and I was hired although I knew little about sewing and embroidery.
The factory owner taught me how to use the embroidery machine and I now use it like a professional. This job has provided us with an additional income, and we are now stronger in the face of difficulties. While many of my friends just sit down at home waiting for a government appointment, I have an income and a wonderful job.
I used to sew women’s clothes in Kirkuk’s Qadisiyah neighborhood, I had an old sewing machine. Most of my customers were poor and unable to pay in cash. My husband has a small tea stall in the marketplace, so it was hard for us to pay rent and other expenses.
I heard about the sewing factory, applied and got hired. I thought I knew a lot about sewing, but it became clear to me that there was still a lot to learn, particularly how to handle those big machines and huge scissors. However, I learned fast and made 900 school skirts in two months.
Our daughter was also hired as a clerk; she is making progress and the place has become like our second home. It’s not shameful for a woman to work for the private sector; it’s shameful when a woman is weak and cannot do anything for herself and her community. I am proud of myself and of our daughter.
The Baba Gurgur Tailoring Factory is supported by EDF, an initiative co-funded by The Kingdom of the Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.