Ariela Suster, an El Salvadoran who fled her country during its civil war, told UW-Madison students and community members about her journey from the war-torn country to becoming a fashion editor in New York City during her keynote address for International Education Week Monday evening.
Despite the success she found in the United States, Suster said she returned to El Salvador in order to address the issues of violence in her community. During her visit, she saw a boy creating bracelets on the street and saw this as an opportunity to influence more boys to stay away from gangs.
She eventually combined her knowledge of fashion and her connections in the United States to form a company that would aid these marginalized children. Since 2011, her project, the Sequence Collection, has employed at-risk men in El Salvador.
Sequence hires teens in order to provide them with an outlet, while simultaneously helping them gain real-life skills in fashion and business. Suster said the company aides young men in El Salvador by teaching them
Sequence currently employs 40 men between the ages of 18 and 28. The workshop is located in an area that is directly surrounded by intense gang violence.
In addition to providing people with stable pay and life skills, Suster said the organization supports the men emotionally by bringing life coaches, mediation and group counseling to the workplace. She said that the most effective form of therapy, however, is the time the boys spend collectively discussing their design ideas for each upcoming collection.
“Brainstorming for different collections helps the boys talk about what they are going through,” Suster said. “It allows them to openly express their lives through their work based on color choices, and express the inspiration behind the design of the products.”
Suster said she is working on creating a pilot project to implement a new version of Sequence in Los Angeles that will open in the next couple of months.