What may look like sludge is actually the beginning of something beautiful. These women are making luxury stationery.
"It's a lot of fun to be able to help make things that actually be able to develop and help make things that you wouldn't be able to do on a day-to-day basis," said Latrina Slue.
The process starts with trash -- shredded office paper donated by businesses and scraps from their own work. It all goes into a machine, which literally beats it to a pulp. Water-based pigments are used for custom color. Botanicals are added to some of the batches when local stores donate flowers that have passed their sale date. Then, the women use special molds to form each sheet by hand. The sheets eventually become note cards, wedding invitations and special event items.
"It's just a lot of fun to be here to make things that are beautiful, Things that we know are going to go out across the country and make people happy," said Irene Cabello.
Though it is meticulous work, they say it is equally rewarding.
"The people send us the thank you notes and whatnots saying I got your invitations and thank you so much they're so beautiful, that does something to me," said Donna Calvin.
Nancy Phillips is the director of Womancraft. While the end result may be admirable, she stresses that the higher goal is to give the women employment and purpose.
"They may be overcoming a criminal conviction in their background, issues around education or literacy or having their GED or high school diploma, chronic unemployment or not having a reference that's current 08 or any kind of job history at all. So for some women, this is their first job or their first job in a long time," said Nancy Phillips, director, WomanCraft.
For the women, there is as much pride in the product as there is in the program.
"It's not only just working. It's more of a family because no matter what you're going through, they're there to help you," said Calvin.
Womancraft will be selling its merchandise this weekend at the Green Festival at Navy Pier.