International fashion show raises money for sewing classes

After a four-year hiatus, the Women United Around the World international fashion show and gala returned to the Italian Heritage Center in Portland on March 15 with a fundraiser to support the post-pandemic reboot of the nonprofit’s professional sewing classes.

“They are many things that can divide us – the color of our skin, religion or ethnic or cultural conflicts – but the things that bring us together are far more important,” said Women United Around the World founder Adele Ngoy. “We are all daughters and many of us are sisters, partners and mothers. We are women. We are strong together. … Let’s fight together to give others a chance to succeed.”

Through ticket sales, donations and sponsorships, the gala raised $20,000 for the tuition-free stitching school, which is negotiating a lease for a location on Congress Street.

“I owe Adele and the Women United Around the World so much,” said alum Alba Vinejero, an immigrant from El Salvador who makes clothing and custom window dressings. “I’m doing so well, and she’s an important part of my success.”

Fifty women – most of them immigrants or first-generation Americans – modeled in the international fashion show, representing 30 countries.

The gala included short runway shows from designers Jill McGowan, Roxi Suger and Ngoy (owner of Antoine’s Tailor Shop and Formal Wear) and entertainment by spoken word poet Dorcas Thete, jazz singer Viva, belly dancers and Batimbo United Burundi drummers and dancers.

“Seeing so many races and cultures in one room as one people brings me a lot of joy,” said Toussaint Christel Falangani, a North Yarmouth resident originally from the Congo.

In a short awards presentation, four Maine women were honored for their impacts in social, economic, cultural and political causes:

Maria Cushing, founder and president of Amigos da Mente/Friends of Mind, organizes social and health education events for immigrants from Africa and volunteers on medical missions with Women’s Federation for World Peace.

Parivash Rohani, who grew up in Iran, is active in the Education Is Not a Crime initiative and the international Baha’i community’s campaign to honor the 10 Baha’i women who were executed in Iran in 1983 for their belief in gender equality and justice. Locally, she volunteers with Maine Response Team, Greater Portland Family Promise and Portland Park Conservancy.

Jennifer Roe, executive and artistic director of A Company of Girls, runs afterschool programs that promote self-confidence and resiliency through the arts and create a community where uniqueness and creativity thrive.

And Elizabeth McLellan, founder and chief executive officer of Partners for World Health, leads an organization that collects millions of dollars’ worth of surplus medical equipment and supplies and distributes them to communities in need globally and locally.

“I had this vision that we could all do something significant to help people live healthy lives on a healthy planet,” McLellan said.

Over the past 15 years, Partners for World Health has diverted 3 million pounds of equipment from landfills, sent $42 million worth of supplies to over 60 countries, and helped thousands of people in Maine by making equipment available for free or at low costs.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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