Meet the Barking designer helping local women enter the fashion industry

Alpha Female Academy

Joyce Addai-Davis’ new venture is all about building bridges and giving talented people opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Her project, Alpha Female Academy, draws on her experience in the fashion world and seeks to equip others with the important skills, knowledge and confidence for roles in the industry.

And while Joyce, 32, has been fortunate enough to have a career which has seen her work and study in places like Thailand and Florence, she understands that not all people have the confidence in themselves or the financial means to pursue their dreams.

Joyce demonstrating sewing machine technique

Sewing the seed

Joyce knew that she wanted to work in textiles from an early age, initially getting the bug for fine art as a teenager before moving onto fabric printing and woven textiles. She then studied at St Martin’s College and Chelsea College of Art and Design, and is acutely aware that such a path isn’t always possible for women from low income families, despite the fashion industry crying out for talented, creative, skilled individuals.

Joyce’s approach in her early career was to take advantage of as many social schemes for young people as possible - she sought out projects which allowed her to benefit from mentoring, exposure and tuition. Head for Business helped her open a pop-up shop in Holborn, while a project called Hanging Out, run in collaboration with the V&A, taught her how to replicate clothing designs from the 50s.

These social enterprises played a crucial part in the early part of Joyce’s career. She understands the importance of such support and is now using Alpha Female Academy to help young women get a foot on the ladder.

“I thought there was gap there and I wanted to help,” she says. “I researched the problem and statistics, asking myself ‘am I solving a problem or creating one?’

“But there is a problem out there where women don't have opportunities like I had, or they don't have the confidence. Sometimes they’d come out of education or out of work and had no prospects.”

Sewing training

Business Model

Launched in the summer of 2018, Alpha Female Academy is aimed at helping low-income BAME women, but it is open to everyone with an interest in fashion. It has received funding and support from UnLtd as part of the East End Connect programme, a partnership between UnLtd and UBS, the global financial services firm, which seeks to support social entrepreneurs in Hackney and Barking and Dagenham in East London.

At the Academy, people can take part in workshops in pattern cutting, sewing and fashion illustration, with a percentage of the profits from paid classes subsidising the classes for women to gain skills which will allow them to make a living in sewing and pattern cutting. 

“A lot of these women are interested in fashion, but they don't see themselves in mainstream industry,” says Joyce.

“They don't see themselves as included, or they don't know the routes to get there, or they just can't afford the education because of a fear of getting high student loans. 

“Also they lack confidence, so I thought my platform would firstly empower them to see that someone like them can do what they would like to do and secondly, show them that they can actually make a living.”

How to make money out of a creative talent is a common problem. People may be highly skilled in an artistic or creative field, but all too often turning that skill into a marketable, sellable commodity is a challenge. Sometimes it’s down to the individual’s confidence in their own ability, sometimes it’s a lack of support, information or resources. It’s a challenge which Joyce is now tackling head-on by identifying common problems within the market.

For example, she explains that while many ethnic communities have a strong history of textiles and dress-making, often the women from those groups don’t have the skills to make those designs sellable. They use freehand cutting to make one-off items, but don’t have a catalogue or blueprint of their designs for them to be replicated. By teaching the women not only how to create, but also to accurately record patterns and designs, she’s opening the door to new opportunities.

Early results

The first few months of business at Alpha Female Academy have been encouraging. Joyce is already seeing positive results and feedback from communities. She uses the example of a 14-year-old girl who is desperate to learn about fashion but until now has been unable to find anything for her age range. Another woman, in her early 20s wants to re-train to get into the fashion industry but has always been put off by prohibitive tuition fees. 

“It’s about giving them the skills and the confidence to feel like they can be part of the industry,” Joyce says.

Joyce already has extensive plans for how Alpha Female Academy could better serve BAME women in London. She wants to work directly with fashion houses that are looking for designers with a specific set of skills. She also wants to offer women training in other disciplines which might help them promote their work, such as photography, videography and marketing. 

She plans to take on staff and potentially use vacant shops as showcases for clothing made by the women she works with.

Man working at a sewing machine

Support

Joyce says the support she has received from UnLtd in setting up Alpha Female Academy is much more than merely financial. 

“They equipped me with the skills and tools required to put together a strong social enterprise that will last,” she says. 

She’s been on leadership, marketing and sales courses, as well as working with trainee students in economics who analysed her business structure.

“The support and tools I’ve received have been second to none,” she says.

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Author Info


Ruth Coustick-Deal

UnLtd award winners all have fascinating stories about their ventures and why they do what they do. My role is to ensure these stories are told and seen by the world. I want to make sure all the teams at UnLtd communicate their work effectively, and that they have the best tools to do so. I have a background in political campaigning, spending the last seven years trying to improve human rights in the UK. In my spare time I co-host and produce a podcast about technology and its impact on society, and enjoy drawing and making art

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