Hekima Hapa is the founder of the nonprofit, community organization Black Girls Sew in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Not only is Hapa the founder, but she is a fashion designer and a business owner of Harriet’s by Hekima (HbyH), a Harriet’s Alter Ego company. Hapa is investing her over two decades of experience in fashion styling, fashion merchandising, sewing and designing to teach courses for Black Girls Sew to leave the youth excited about an education in sewing, design and entrepreneurship.
The organization was founded in 2013 and offers a mixture of classes, workshops and camping programs, including their popular Sew Green Fashion Camp, which runs for six weeks during the summer. This camp is available for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Sewing machines are provided and the materials and supplies are free.
Hapa said the first important part of the camp is the actual sewing. Through having the ability to sew, the children are able to make clothes for themselves and their families. “Our three basic necessities are food, clothing and shelter, so being able to produce one of the three helps them leave knowing how to make basic clothes,” she said.
The second part of the camp that Hapa instills into the children is an understanding of sustainability.
A main component of sustainability is avoiding or minimizing the depletion of natural resources, and in fashion that may mean a concern with the production of clothes and the lifespan of products.
“Sustainable fashion is a big buzzword but it comes at a heavy price if you can’t afford organic cotton, etc. That puts many Black and Brown communities out of the equation, when sustainability is really a lifestyle,” Hapa said.
To address environmental concerns in fashion, stretching wardrobe budgets, being able to mend something or turn one item into another are options. These are all things that the children at Black Girls Sew are able to consider or execute.
Participants have the chance to be in a fashion show to showcase their creations and can sell the things they’ve made. For those that are taking entrepreneurship seriously and that have chosen to create their own businesses, their items can be selected to be sold at the retail space.
“Each child leaves with their sewing machine. They are able to continue their sewing journey and really hone their skills.”
Black Girls Sew also runs both children and adult sewing classes every other month on Sunday mornings. In these classes, there is the opportunity to learn and develop skills in areas such as threading techniques, seams, hems and zippers. Private lessons are also offered by request.
Black Girls Sew is open to people of other races and ethnicities, not just Black ones. All Hapa cares about is teaching fundamental skills such as creativity and resourcefulness. She was interested in these aspects of fashion and learned to sew at a young age.
“One of the reasons I was taught to sew as a very young child was to stop some of the costs my parents endured through shopping for clothes,” she said.
Hapa maneuvered through the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, when her retail space closed, Black Girls Sew started making cloth masks. “That was a phenomenal example for the children on how [sewing and creativity] skills could also turn around and teach even in the toughest time.”
Bed-Stuy remains a predominantly Black or African American neighborhood. About 53.8% of the total population of that neighborhood are Black, according to NYC Population FactFinder data from 2020. In addition, about 17.3% of people living in Bed-Stuy are under the age of 18, which translates into approximately 14,663 children.
When asked what her plans for Black Girls Sew are for the future, Hapa said she was looking forward to welcoming more children and receiving copies of “Black Girls Sew,” a book Hapa has been working on with author, designer and blog creator Lesley Ware, which will be published this June.
“Their first book offers the tools, knowledge, and vocabulary to help young people take back their fashion narrative. Black and Brown girls and boys need a space where they do not have to encounter misrepresentation of their culture, and this book provides them with a safe space in which to explore their creativity,” according to publisher Abrams Books’ website.