I hope everyone is off to a good start to the New Year. Thank you for being patient with these updates – which have not been as regular as of late. I needed to take some time to figure out how to proceed with this project. With my mom’s passing, leaving my day job in October and a pause in the Blouse Project work I’ve had a lot of time to step back and get clarity on this work. I am dedicated to the vision that made to measure womenswear has enormous potential for creating jobs in small town America. I still believe that. And yet after more than a year of work on the apprenticeship program I had to own up to the realization that we do not have the resources to shoulder training home sewers to produce top quality blouses at this point in time. We were determined to work where we were – with a local sewing instructor, Lisa Lambert, owner of a thriving full time tailoring workshop, part time, once weekly training for apprentices with other jobs and childcare responsibilities. I took the philosophy that it was better to move with what we had than to wait for more.
We had very promising early results on the fit but after a year of very part time training we were not able to get to the level that we needed to be at to produce the final blouses. With a few months to put the pen down and get some perspective on this project I realize that as impatient as I was to see this work happen in Princeton, WV – we were simultaneously trying to make the case for the business and feasibility of this work AND training people to do it AND build out the workshop. With the clarity that only comes from time and experience, I have realized that it makes way more sense to make the business case for this work with a group of ALREADY trained and equipped, talented apparel manufacturers.
Essentially, we need to convince the powers that be – the State of WV, foundations, etc. to invest in an apparel manufacturing training – a real one – with a full time trainer for industrial manufacturing, industrial grade sewing equipment, and full time students. We can’t do that until we can make the case that this is a promising industry for groups to be investing in, in terms of creating full time, living wage work, which is tricky to do in an age with mostly oversees apparel production at a fraction of the cost of U.S. manufacturing.
[Sew Co. factory floor; photo courtesy of BlueRideHeritage.com]
Thank goodness – Sew Co. the extremely forward thinking B-Corp, soon to be worker owned, top quality apparel manufacturing workshop in Asheville is just the group. So far, the work fitting clients remotely appears to be very promising – but we need to get to the per piece price to manufacture it – which we just couldn’t get to with novice sewers and insufficient equipment. Sew Co. has agreed to take our project and will sew the final blouses for us in two batches. Not only will they be producing beautiful, top-quality, Appalachian-made blouses, but they will give us the numbers we need to finalize the business plan to make the case for this work.
I will share that it is with a heavy heart that I relinquish the apprenticeship program for now. It has meant a lot to work side-by-side with an extremely dedicated group of women who worked together through the challenges, making the most of what we had together. I want to thank Lisa Lambert, Sarah Malone, Tami Vance White and Donna Leippi for their hard work and dedication to this project.
In some ways we are leveling up here. To do a good job with this work, to pull it off – we need more than what we have had to work with, and in the end it was never about Reid Miller the business. It was about demonstrating that it is possible to create living wage jobs in our communities with custom fitted sewn apparel.
This work is a turning point for us. The question of how to manufacture apparel in the U.S. in a financially and environmentally sustainable way is a huge one – one that we cannot solve alone. This past year has gifted me the humility to ask for help from an organization that is seasoned in top quality sewn goods. Together I hope that we can not only make you all lovely blouses, but make the case for this work for Reid Miller and beyond.
Thanks again for all your support.
Go, fight, win.