Today I am reflecting on laboring for labor – laboring to create high quality job opportunities in Princeton, West Virginia. I sat the other weekend and watched the river. The river is my favorite teacher in nature. I was watching this river in this case Bush Creek – flow down the banks. I watched the river with the fatigue of having worked for many months to bring the sewing apprenticeship program to life and still following a winding path to get it started. When I looked closely at the river, the water was swirling, curving back in on itself, making beautiful spirals. There was nothing linear about its flow down the banks and yet flow was its immutable truth. Movement and flow. And that combination – the swirling and the churning, together with the flow brought me so much peace.
Roughly 7 months ago I began the process of creating and seeking funding for an apprenticeship program to train home sewers to make professional womenswear. I set the intension to create this program with the encouragement of Dr. Bruce Mutter at CART Inc. – our manufacturing technology incubator – who shared how important apprenticeships are for manufacturing. I was encouraged to apply for funding with a work force development program. I made flyers, interviewed and identified three excellent candidates. I waited to submit my application to get tax approval, for the new fiscal year, for people to come back from vacation. The months passed and then I was notified that I would get one-third of what I needed to complete the program. I was grateful for the support but stumped as to how to meet the funding shortfall. So I worked and reworked how to deliver the program, different funding sources. Reflecting back on all this – I imagine my diligent work on this akin to the river water spiraling in on itself before continuing downward.
A handful of serious advocates for our larger goal of building the Reid Miller Apparel made to measure sewing workshop went to town looking for more funding, drafting requests. I learned that the smallest funding amounts are the trickiest. They each come with rules you have to navigate forming a patchwork you must stitch together to make use of them and deliver the program. I learned that it would be easier if we needed a million dollars, not a few thousand – just enough to train people to go do it and see if it works.
Despite my frustration, in the end I discovered multiple avenues to get there including one scenario where we receive no additional funding. This process has forced us to route and reroute like the steady flow of the river. To be open to moving and changing in different directions to meet our goal.
And now here I sit on Labor Day with the knowledge that – God willing- we will start the apprenticeship program this month. With that knowledge I feel an intense excitement for the opportunity to bring three incredible women together to build something great. I feel enormous excitement for the opportunity to make custom fitting blouses for friends, family and community members. I feel enormous excitement to take a plan that I have mapped out and test it out. What we learn from that testing is whether we can create a beautiful, high quality, custom product for women that creates awesome jobs in our community. A job where people feel valued, where they work on innovative products, where they contribute beauty and creativity to the community and a more environmentally sustainable manufacturing process to the fashion world. And finally – where they get to live in a beautiful community out in the country and create innovation in fashion.
In the coming weeks we will embark on this next phase. The path has not been easy. It has not been direct. But we are flowing toward a beautiful truth. Reid Miller Apparel’s apprenticeship program is an idea whose time has come. Stay tuned. It is about to get exciting.
Go, fight, win.