Meet the students: Sustainable fashion entrepreneur Maria Skoyles

Young Black women model brightly patterned Dorcas dresses

Maria Skoyles joined the MA course this academic year. She is the CEO of The Dorcas Dress Project, a Christian UK based registered charity that supports people out of situations of poverty by sharing Jesus’ love, providing skills training, resources and pastoral care. Here, she shares her story…

Maria Skoyles

When I was in my early teens I was given a prophetic word about being Dorcas, this has influenced much of my career in the fashion industry and then in teaching.

Ten years ago God called me to take voluntary redundancy and re-examine this prophetic word. As part of this shift I did a part-time theology course and responded to an assignment focusing on social transformation, writing myself a design brief that integrated kingdom values around creation, justice and transforming people’s lives. The outcome was a size-adjustable dress that could be made to a high standard, even in remote parts of the world where access to electricity and resources were difficult. The dress had the ability to make a prophetic statement against the greed and exploitation that infests our global fashion industry.

The CMS Pioneer MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission covers topics like anthropology, church history and leadership. I pray God will use these to stretch and grow my understanding of his purpose for the Dorcas Dress Project.

Young white women pose in Dorcas dresses on a pile of beer barrels
Making an alternative fashion statement: the Dorcas dress comes in bold prints or plain styles. Photo: Laura Simmons

A few years ago we started a project in sub-Saharan Africa, I judged a situation poorly. I was asked by the matriarchal figure in the community who I wanted to pass leadership responsibilities onto as I returned to the UK. I read the situation wrongly. I thought she wanted me to choose from people she had gathered to participate in the project. She had mentioned how busy she was with all her pastoral responsibilities. I’ve since realised this was not the case, her air of busy-ness was her demonstrating her worthiness for the role. In asking the question she was wanting me to see her value. In not affirming her for the role I was casting her aside. It took a few months to realise this, at which point she had used her influence in the community to disband the group and shut the project down. I realised I was ill-equipped to manage the situation well. I needed training in how to read different cultural settings and respond well to them.

As the Dorcas Dress Project has slowly grown I have reflected on how it doesn’t just help and support our trainees; our volunteers also grow in faith and confidence. In Acts 16 we read about this Asian lady called Lydia and her workforce. They were by the river, it’s nice to imagine them washing yarn that had been dyed an opulent purple. Lydia was a successful business woman, travelling to source and sell the high quality textiles she traded in. She was a disciple and led, it would appear, a predominantly female church. God is growing something church-like in the Dorcas Dress Project.

Back to back detail of Dorcas dresses
One size fits all, multiple ways to style. Photo: Laura Simmons

It was really reassuring to see the seven-year timeline that Jonny presented on our September research day. We’re in year six and we’re still very small. The last six years have been about realising all the things we needed to do to be a worthy charity and responding to it. Now is a really exciting point in our growth. We’re in the process of setting up a new sewing hub in Uganda and a new venture in Leicester which we’ve realised over the last few weeks has the potential to make the project financially self-sustaining, God willing. We’re looking to set up three more UK hubs and up to three more hubs in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 12 months, so do get in touch if the idea of using sewing as a mission tool excites you.

If you’d like to know more about The Dorcas Dress Project then head over to our website dorcasdressproject.org and keep in touch through social media. We also have a WhatsApp prayer group who are vital in digging into God to see things shift as God wills and in his timing. Email me if you’d like to be added to it: maria@dorcasdressproject.org

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