efe-epaNew York

A group of Salvadoran designers have brought together fashion and culture to show a different image of their violence-wracked homeland while also benefiting poor communities in the Central American nation.

The Women Designers of El Salvador project started three years ago with the goal of creating a collective brand employing local designers, manufacturers and artisans, Marco Castro, director of the Salvadoran trade office in New York - where the initiative was born- told EFE.

Though based in El Salvador, the 15 designers in the group make regular trips abroad promoting their project. This year, they have been to Germany and Panama.

"These are the 'millennials' who left the country," Castro said. "They studied and returned to keep working, because there is where their roots are, and many of them recover a sense of their own culture, which distinguishes them as designers."

Now, offering handmade dresses, pieces of columns that once supported colonial-era homes transformed into beautiful clutches, and discards turned into unique pieces of jewelry, the Salvadoran entrepreneurs are trying to carve out a niche in the New York market.

Jacqueline Suriano, winner last year of New York's Independent Handbag Designer Award, said that her work as designer goes along with her responsibility to keep young Salvadorans out of the gangs.

Part of the group's revenue from sales goes to fund UN World Food Program activities in El Salvador.

"We are educating young people to give them a chance for a better future," Suriano said, adding that she and her colleagues teach apprentices to create small, fashionable accessories that they can sell to get some income, along with other skills such as painting and playing guitar, leading to jobs for some participants.

Suriano's sister, Maria, works with a group of hearing-impaired women who craft jewelry from recycled materials.

"Here we have paper from magazines, electrical wire that we coat with gold so it looks more attractive, newspaper and plastic bottles", she said. "We work with all of it so that it doesn't look like garbage anymore."