S H E innovates uniforms to support girls’ education in Togo, Africa
In 2017, Payton McGriff founded S H E (Style Her Empowered), a nonprofit which now sponsors 150 girls for full school tuition and after school programs in Togo, Africa.
Through scholarship, mentorship, and meeting basic needs of school-age girls in Togo, S H E works toward their mission to decrease barriers for education and support girls in developing countries to regularly attend school.
One important need that S H E meets is providing a school uniform.
The inspiration for S H E uniforms, Payton says, came in part from the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Sheryll WuDunn. After reading, Payton realized how much a “well-tailored school uniform improves retention rates” for girls in schools in developing countries.
Payton decided to run with this idea of school uniforms in an entrepreneurship class at the University of Idaho. She took her plan to her professor, who was taking students on a spring break trip to Togo, a small country on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.
Ten days later, Payton found herself on a flight to Togo with the group.
While in Notsé, Togo, she interviewed three groups of girls to learn if school uniforms should, in fact, be the central focus for her project. “I didn’t want to assume that uniforms were the largest barrier these girls were facing,” Payton says.
Many of the questions Payton asked the groups received a variety of responses, but when Payton asked if anyone had ever been turned away from school because of a uniform, “every hand in the room shot up, and they were so animated… When we talked about the uniform, every one of them had a story.” If a uniform is dirty, ripped, torn, or bled on during a student’s period, she is not allowed into the classroom.
Realizing the impact that she could make by providing uniforms, Payton bravely turned down her post-grad job and instead went head on to launch S H E that June.
Right away, the new organization received funding from various donors to sponsor 65 girls in school. “The sponsorship included school uniform, full tuition scholarship, and entrance into our after school program, where we offer skills training, like sewing,” Payton explains.
Since then, S H E has expanded the team in Togo with tutors and a nurse who offers general health and menstrual health courses. They employ 14 women year round, including seamstresses who sew the uniforms, make menstrual pads from uniform scraps, and more.
Right now, employees are working in small shared spaces, but S H E hopes to expand to their own campus in Togo to gain ample room to employ more women and support more girls’ education.
This new facility would also host night classes focusing on adult literacy for their seamstresses. Payton says that the fashion industry is “notorious for having low levels of education. By working with these women and employing them, the main benefit we have to offer is adult literacy and the education that they’ve formally aged out of.”
Through working with Because International’s Pursuit Incubator program, Payton and her team have developed a S H E uniform that grows to better support S H E students. This fall, S H E will put into production the final prototype of the growing uniform and distribute them to each student.
Emilie, a 17 year old student in S H E, says, “I never stop thanking S H E for all these things.” She adds, “Today, I benefit from schooling, school uniforms, and advice.”
Thinking back on the past two years of S H E, Payton says, “I think the biggest takeaway, one thing that I would love for our girls to see, is how many people are invested in their future.”
To learn more about Payton’s development of the S H E uniform that grows, check out “The Uniform That Grows: S H E Teams Up with Because International’s Pursuit Incubator.”
Visit styleherempowered.org to learn more about S H E and become part of their story.