Viral photo of Bernie Sanders’ mittens creates job opportunity for newcomer sewers

Mittens similar to those Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wore at last week’s U.S. presidential inauguration are now for sale in Winnipeg, just in time for this week’s extreme cold snap.

Newcomer women in the Cutting Edge program run through the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute are selling the cozy-looking mitts, which they’re making from old sweaters from local thrift stores. 

“It’s a cold week. Winnipeg needs mittens more than ever and so if you’re looking to switch up your fashion as you’re going on the river trail, these are the right gloves to get,” said Anne-Lydie Bolay, operations director of the program, which trains newcomer women to work as sewing machine operators.

Sen. Bernie Sanders sits in the bleachers on Capitol Hill before Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th U.S. president last week in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski AFP via Getty Images)

A photo of Sanders wearing homemade mitts at U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration went viral last week.

Bolay said the mittens are relatively easy to make and bulk production started on Wednesday, with women in the program prepared to sew thousands of pairs. 

A prototype of the mittens newcomer women make in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Tyler Pearce)

“The more we can make or we can produce, the more hours of employment that we can give to newcomer women that are facing barriers to employment.”  

Amina Badamassy will spend the next few days sewing the Bernie mitts before graduating from the program next week. 

“I learned many things. It’s good for me and for my life,” said Badamassy, who spent years in a refugee camp in Chad before coming to Winnipeg in 2018.

The mitts are being sold for $40 through Local Investment Toward Employment, which has an online store that sells goods made by social enterprises.

“It’s always really exciting to really see that something as simple as making mitts could create employment and well-being for people who are new to our community,” said LITE executive director Tyler Pearce. 

“We talk about social impact purchasing and that’s what these mitts are kind of about.”

Badamassy hopes the sewing and English skills she’s learned over the last six months will lead to full-time employment. 

“Now I’m ready to get the job.”   

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