Fatemeh Fard’s immigration story is at once like countless others, and uniquely her own.
When, in 2007, she left Iran to join her American husband, she gave up her homeland and her architecture career. But once in the U.S., she was forced to move around many times and her relationship came to an end. Ultimately, she ended up in Philly with her three children in tow. Living in a shelter for two years, in July 2018 she found housing in West Philly—and a world of possibility at The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.
Through English classes, The Center helped Fard improve her communication skills; through mental health services, she found support for her depression and PTSD. With her background in architecture, making art and crafts came naturally to her. In the donations people would drop off, she saw possibilities for what they could be used to create—needlepoint, drawings, secondhand furniture, and much more. And she was encouraged by the Welcoming Center to turn her passion into profit through the Global Craft Market.
“My message to everybody in this community is that we should help these communities get better,” she says. “I keep getting better and I want Philadelphia to know that this community helps people like me. And we do get better, and it’s special to then help more people.”
“I see something that you will never see. This is my feeling. I feel everything, not with my eyes, with my heart, and it’s easy for me,” Fard says of her innate artistry.
The Global Craft Market provides support and increases visibility of 10 immigrant entrepreneurs at a time. Some of them are graduates of their business training program, some were referred to them by other vendors, and some, like Fard, were brought into the program when other staff recognized her artistic abilities. Through the program, Fard and others attend workshops on bookkeeping, marketing, phone-based photography, financing, and more. After, The Welcoming Center continues to provide technical support, holds more workshops, and provides support to find new vending spaces in Philly.
Founded in 2003 by Anne O’Callaghan, an immigrant from Ireland, The Welcoming Center has helped more than 17,000 immigrants from over 150 countries settle into new lives in Philadelphia. Global Craft Market is one of several programs intended to help immigrants make their own way financially, including English for Entrepreneurs classes, business technical assistance and small business workshops. That addresses a reality in Philly: PEW reports that nearly one in five workers in Philadelphia is an immigrant, a 69 percent increase since 2000; and Philly is home to nearly 50,000 immigrant entrepreneurs.
These programs and classes allowed Fard to channel her artistry into her own shop, Strong Women Designs, the name a nod to how strong she has had to be. The program enables her to sell her wares each Saturday through October at Reading Terminal Market, and regularly at Cherry Street Pier, and The Oval. Her goods include ceramic and acrylic plates, glass and ceramic jewelry, vases, sculptures, and whatever else Fard dreams up that week. Other vendors include Egyptian Traditions, which partners with craftsmen in Egypt to sell housewares; a Panama hat shop, Yaku Wear from an Ecuadorean immigrant; and Mucho Mache, which sells papier mache crafts.
To Fard, the shop is more than a business proposition; it’s therapeutic. “It takes my depression away and makes me feel better,” she says. She also sees her path as a vehicle for helping others: She hopes to begin visiting shelters and helping people furnish their apartments using her gift of transforming secondhand items into art.
“My message to everybody in this community is that we should help these communities get better,” she says. “I keep getting better and I want Philadelphia to know that this community helps people like me. And we do get better, and it’s special to then help more people.”Photo via Cherry Street Pier