Meet Vivian Enchill: A woman designing her path in the Berkshires
ACCENTS: THE VOICES OF OUR IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORS IN THE BERKSHIRES
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PITTSFIELD — Elegant Stitches, the customized embroidery shop now located at 237 First Street, started in Vivian Enchill’s basement in Pittsfield.
Vivian had left Ghana to join her husband Alfred, who had already made the move to the Berkshires. Designing clothes was both her trade and her passion in her home country. So, setting up shop and marketing her clothes in her new country made sense.
In design school in Ghana’s capital Accra she had learned to work with Kente cloth, the colorfully woven fabric traditionally worn in West Africa. Fitted dresses were a specialty of hers, she says in the backroom of the embroidery and screen-printing store her husband now runs.
“We sold at trade shows. Alfred traveled to the garment district in New York City with my designs. Elegant Stitches grew out of that.”
Having studied accounting after high school in Ghana, the former Vivian Mensah was originally destined for a job in banking there.
“I had the job offers,” she says. “But for you to get a job in Ghana you also have to consider some stuff, like, maybe, give yourself to those who are higher in position.”
She pauses, considers her words, then laughs.
“I talk straight, I don’t hide my stuff, that’s how I am,” she says. “They want to sleep with you. And I didn’t want to do that. So that is why I decided to go to clothes designing school.”
A few years later she left for America. Like many immigrants she remembers the exact day of her arrival: March 23rd, 1992.
“I am not good at remembering dates,” she says. “Sometimes I am off by years, remembering things. But I have had to fill in my entry date on so many forms, so many times.”
Enchill became an American citizen some six years ago. Her husband has been a citizen much longer. Their four sons - Alfred Jr., Auric, Adrian and Alexander - were all born in Pittsfield.
Talking straight again, she describes her issues with the immigration authorities, including a door banging visit from agents with guns drawn.
She explains that she wants to tell that story in the newspaper because of the help she received from those same agents in being able to stay with her family, getting her papers in order and becoming American.
“I am grateful for that,” she says. “It may be different now.”
Vivian Evelyn Enchill is now 49 years old. In addition to Elegant Stitches, she and Alfred worked different jobs to make ends meet, she says. She as a nurse, he for the post office.
She talks proudly about the education and accomplishments of their sons. Alfred Jr., 24, and Auric, 21, went to the same boarding school, The Governor’s Academy outside Boston, and then on to Tuft’s University.
Adrian, 19, is at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, and will be attending Brown University next fall. Alexander, 13, is at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield.
The house is more quiet with three of the boys away, she says, “Boring”.
She chose jollof rice, the West African staple dish with just about any meal, as her recipe for Accents. The quantity of ingredients for her personal, Ghanian version is obviously still meant for a houseful of hungry men.
Enchill is not involved at Elegant Stitches the way she used to anymore, she says with some regret in her voice. She has LPN and CNA nursing licenses and works as a rehab and long term care nurse at the Kindred at Laurel Lake assisted living facility in Lee.
“Everything that happens, happens for a reason,” is her life’s motto she says. “Whatever happens, make it a positive."
“Sometimes some circumstances that you go through make you change some stuff, so that is what I am doing right now,” she says.
“I still love my passion, that’s designing. But it’s okay. Life has to move on.”
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