I write you from Princeton, West Virginia after many months of silence. In my last post to you in June I wrote on finding joy in a world filled with very difficult life circumstances. At the time, I aspired to write to you through this pandemic, that together we could search for meaning in the darkness. Shortly after I wrote you, a colleague in West Virginia sent Drew and I an email with a home situated on top of a mountain on the outskirts of Princeton, West Virginia. After a year of looking for homes, to move into the community I had been working with since June of 2019, I made the decision to summon all the energy that was not being used for my extremely busy day job with Covid-19 clinical trials, to make the move happen.
Why did we move to Princeton? Several years into my journey with Reid Miller, I realized that the innovations that made-to-measure apparel could bring to U.S. made womenswear could be a major driver of job creation in rural America. If we can create more value for women, by making beautiful, custom sewn garments, perhaps we can pass that value onto sewers in rural places who need jobs they can count on.
Drew and I were craving a slower paced life, more connected to nature. And so the search began. In December of 2018, I had a phone conversation with a woman named Crystal Cook Marshall, who helps small farming businesses create jobs and economic prosperity in Appalachia through the cooperative, Seedh.co. Crystal convinced me to check out the southeastern corner of West Virginia and organized a tour for us with local leaders in the entrepreneurial community. Lori McKinney, director of the Riff Raff Arts Collective, gave us a tour of Princeton where she and her family had built a music venue and music school on a mostly boarded up main street of town.
By the time we were walking down that street together in January of 2019, a new brewery had moved into town, a bee keeping start-up was building a grocer across the street, and a local coffee shop had just opened next door. The feeling of hope and dreams, transformed into deliberate and sustained economic development was enough to convince us to take a closer look at Princeton. As we met more community members we heard a common theme: Princeton has everything except for jobs. There was no need for me to spend any energy convincing people of the worthiness of a business that creates jobs. And so, as we grew to know the community, support for my company grew. In June of 2019, I registered Reid Miller in West Virginia and joined the manufacturing technology incubator CART, Inc., who helped us purchase the necessary technology to do the women’s made to measure blouse testing.
6 months later I write you from Princeton. We arrived in the fog of the second wave of the pandemic. We were exhausted. Moving to the country was and continues to be a big transition for us. One month in and I am beginning to get my sea legs, assess what has changed during the pandemic and find a path forward for my business.
One realization that is so obvious perhaps it is easy to overlook is that the pandemic has impacted every single one of us. There is no one I work with whose work and personal life looks the same as it looked prior to the Spring of 2020. This is important because a business is entirely made up of people. For example, sewers are shouldering extra family obligations with the opening and shutting of schools. Collaborators are restricted from the building where we have equipment stored. People are exhausted from a very long year that drags on with new challenges. Each new week could bring a collaborator sick or coping with a sick family member.
How do we proceed in such an environment? In spite of the wild obstacles to progress right now, the urgency to create jobs is palpable.
Yet the circumstances have pushed me to reprioritize the next steps for Reid Miller. The heavy burden school closures have taken on mothers and grandmothers, has pushed me to reprioritize a professional sewing training programs for community members, to increase the availability of skilled sewers and assist community members with discovering new avenues to earn a living.
As winter approaches, I am laying the ground work to study professional dying techniques shared with me by dye master, Nicole Asselin and getting the previous owner’s art studio set up as dyehouse.
The two tactics I am wielding: contingency planning and resilience. I am determined to keep moving forward, even if the path remains murky. I am grateful for your continued support and patience with this long journey. I am here cheering for you on your journey, wherever you may find yourself in this moment in time.