Fabric of Life co-founder Kaaba Coulibaly meets the Edmonds community at gala reception
Edmonds’ Fabric of Life store was jumping on Saturday evening as it hosted a festive reception for co-founder Kaaba Coulibaly, visiting from Mali, West Africa.
Coulibaly and Fabric of Life owner Carol Schillios go back a long way.
They met in more than 15 years ago while Schillios was in Mali. As a micro finance professional, she had been invited to consult with a Mali-based credit union for which Coulibaly was CEO. The two hit it off from the start.
“We clicked immediately,” said Schillios.
Their discussions soon led them to realize that while micro-finance was a fine way for many to get a start, it did not reach the people who most need it, the poorest of the poor who subsist by begging in the streets. To get a loan, you need a marketable skill, and those without one remain locked in poverty with no way out.
They saw the need, and immediately made the decision to pool their energies to build a bridge out of poverty for young women begging in the streets.
They started with a school. Mali and other West African countries are known for their uniquely dyed fabrics and intricate beadwork, and Coulibaly and Schillios jointly developed a curriculum to teach these skills.
“We totally gave ourselves over to this project,” said Schillios. “We were both still working our regular jobs, and giving evenings and weekends to help run the school.”
And it worked. “The first group of girls completed the course of study, emerged with marketable skills, and all were earning incomes within 18 months,” she added.
The goods turned out by Coulibaly’s and Schillios’ former students were high quality, and Schillios decided to try to sell some here in the States. The first sales were at garage sales and other informal outlets. But that was soon to change.
Five years ago Schillios was presented with the incredible opportunity to open the Fabric of Life store on Main Street in Edmonds. “It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” she said. Today the store is staffed by volunteers, runs as a non-profit, and stocks a wide selection of goods hand-made by artisans from Mali and other countries around the world.
Accompanying Coulibaly on this trip are her two daughters, Hawa and Aicha. But they won’t be leaving with their mother when she returns to Mali next week. Both are staying here as guests of Schillios (whom they call “Mama”) while they attend school at Shoreline Community College. Hawa hopes for a career in environmental law, while Aicha will study filmmaking. Both have yet to experience a Pacific Northwest winter. “Some friends gave us some rice bags to microwave and warm ourselves,” said Aicha.
Both will be helping out at Fabric of Life as time permits, and look forward to getting to know the Edmonds community and the people in it. So drop in and say hello. And while you’re at it, pick up a one-of-a-kind gift for yourself or someone else. Each purchase helps support the work started by Coulibaly and Schillios to bring young women out of poverty and help them become self-sustaining.
– Story and photos by Larry Vogel