Teaching the community to be creative and self-sufficient is the driving force behind Red House, a nonprofit organization and sewing school all combined in a single space at 3733 Midvale Ave. in East Falls.
Red House is run by Dahlia Wigfall and Cyan “Blu” Jeffries. These two women strive to not only express themselves on a daily basis, but to give the community an outlet to do the same.
“People are amazingly creative and they don’t even know it. That gift that I have I feel like others have and I want to bring it out,” Wigfall said.
Red House grew from what was originally a nonprofit organization founded by Wigfall’s mother called Break Free. That organization goes into schools and community centers to teach children how to transform old, unused clothes into fashionable and wearable items. Teaching these skills to children allows them to develop a set of skills that they can build upon, especially generating income for themselves.
The current location of Red House came about because Wigfall needed a place to store all of the material that was donated to Break Free. The boutique section of Red House grew of Break Free’s acquisition of a building to store those donations of old clothing and fabric plus serve as its headquarters.
Wigfall later met Jeffries and the two partnered to create their own design label called Blu Dahlia, which is a mash up of the women’s names. Jeffries is a trained seamstress with other technical abilities while Wigfall brings a creative side to the brand.
“Whatever we can put fabric on, that’s what we do,” Wigfall said.
‘Trying to move a mountain’
Red House features a showroom of the women’s creations. The showroom also serves as a source of inspiration for their students who take sewing classes at the shop. Those classes are offered Wednesday through Friday evenings and cost about $20 a class.
“Sometimes it seems like we are little specs of dust trying to move a mountain. The reason I am passionate about this is, to me, if you help enrich the community around you and help each other evolve, then you are helping your personal community and that is my form of activism,” Jeffries said.
“I know that art really helped me therapeutically. It made me express but it also helped me with money because I wore what I made and I could also go and sell it,” Wigfall said. That is the very reason these ladies do what they do. “Students walk out with bags normally and the next class that they have people saying ‘I want you to make me one,’ so it really is possible for them to make money,” Wigfall added.
“Sewing is a dying trade in America and sewing helps you to be self-sufficient. We have the luxury of going out and buying things that you wouldn’t have to buy if you knew how to sew or reconstruct something you already had,” Jeffries said.
The classes taught at the store attract all ages while the Break Free portion of the business focuses its outreach to children in urban areas.
Although East Falls is not the most desirable location for the store because of its limited foot traffic and retail attractions, Wigfall and Jeffries are making the best of what they have. They are located at the spot they are at now because Wigfall’s mother owns the building so they are able to afford rent until their income increases.
Taking the time to teach
Some months can be discouraging for Wigfall and Jeffries because too few people show up to take the sewing classes, but the women find other ways to attract clients and students.
“I feel like we could do better. We are the only retail store in the area but what we do to compensate for that is we have a lot of events,” Wigfall said. Some of these events include parties and fashion shows put on by the students.
The women have big plans for the future. Their hopes are that the students they are teaching will eventually be able to run the current East Falls store. This will give these young girls a stable source of income and a chance to teach others the same practices they have been learning.
“We want students to eventually run the store that can take our place and follow the system that they have been mastering so we can open up somewhere else because every city has youth that need something to do,” Wigfall said.
The women plan to push for creating more stores and opportunities for young women and men.
“This is work beyond work. Just being consistent, strong and ready for change is the best way to do it. The only way anything is going to happen is to stick to it. The more I teach, the more I realize how important it is to do extra stuff that takes extra time,” Jeffries said.