Take Action. Speak Up.

Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Image curtesy of
Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Image courtesy of Streets Dept

 

Writer’s Note: Before we can go about the business of social change in our country, we need to know and accept fully that our American society is based on racism.  Racist attitudes and actions by white people against Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous people continue to be systemic in every social structure, and every organization, governmental or private. Racism is present in the full light of day in the actions of many white citizens of our country. And, as much as we hate to admit it, racist thoughts lurk in the minds of the majority of every other white person in America, including myself. Although we know how difficult it will be to actively combat this racism, especially in our own minds, we must be diligent and vigilant. Our efforts will not be perfect. I/we will make mistakes. But, we must learn from those mistakes and then move forward again in faith that our efforts are just.

Race Relations and the Color Divide

About a decade ago, I began thinking of race from the point of view of an artist. Here’s why. Artists often compose with color in their work. They understand that white is a color just like every other color including every version of black, red, brown and yellow. As artists apply it, white isn’t invisible, it’s not a lack of color, it’s not a section in a composition that is unnoticed or forgotten. If we extend this thought, we also notice that, although white is not the same as the other colors, it is not any more or less valued in a composition. It shares in the development of the artwork, sometimes moving to the fore, sometimes into the background, sometimes absent altogether. “White” is not one color, it has many shades: ecru, off white, eggshell, bright white, etc.

Let’s agree that using white is a choice that an artist makes when, in their mind, the composition requires it. White, like any other color, can be symbolic in the hands of an artist. Like any other color, it can be used to convey meaning. But, using white in a composition can also be devoid of symbolism; political or religious opinions, or emotion. Because I’m an artist, I know that sometimes, the choice of using a color in a composition is completely devoid of any extraneous thought altogether. It may simply be a reaction to what I see in front of me or in my mind as being appropriate.

From those thoughts, I arrived at the phrase to describe a human as being, “a color other than white” instead of a “person of color.”

Thoughts of “the Other”

The reason that I have an issue with the phrase, “a person of color,” is that the phrase still reeks of division and the comparisons that have led us to the untenable situation we find ourselves in now. The phrase still perpetuates the concept of the “other.” Looking at and thinking of someone as the “other” is the slippery slope that allows us to add additional attributes to that “other.” Attributes such as, “they aren’t as smart as me, they aren’t as honest as me, they aren’t as successful as me, they don’t deserve to have what I have, I don’t need to respect them as much (or at all!) as people who look like me, they don’t share my values”, and on and on…. All of these false attributes that we stick on the “other” inevitably lead to, “I’m afraid of them.” Thinking of someone as the “other” also allows us to think of our fellow humans as beneath us. It allows us to devalue them. It allows us to not bother learning about them. Worst of all, it gives us an excuse to disrespect them.

A Chance for Change

The point of this phrase, “a color other than white” is to understand that although we may seem different in many ways from someone else, deep down we are all the same. I don’t mean just in our bodily structure and functions. I mean that we all need and want the same things. We want ourselves and our families to be safe which includes living in a safe place and the freedom to move about without fear. We want to feel happy most of the time. This includes being well-fed and in good health. We want the best for those around us including the best education possible and engaging, well-paid work that leaves us feeling good about our contributions.

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United Sewing and Design 2019 Social Enterprise Report

United Sewing and DesignEach year in CT, social enterprises are required to report their progress toward fulfilling their social impact goals for the previous year. (Click on 2018 last year’s report to see how far we’ve come.) This post is the United Sewing and Design report for 2019 about our progress toward meeting our business goals which are:

  • hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment and,
  • diverting materials from the waste stream into our business and preventing materials from our manufacturing processes from entering the waste stream

Goal 1:  Hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment

This year we began to focus on adding formerly incarcerated individuals to our pool of collaborators. We connected directly with the Department of Corrections Correctional Enterprises of Connecticut system that manages commercial enterprises within the Osborn Correctional Institution in Enfield, CT and the York Correctional facility in Niantic. The apparel manufacturing facility at Enfield includes a very well developed system of managing inventory, workflow and output. It includes patterning, plotting, automated cutting, sewing, packaging and shipping. Inmates are also employed in a computerized embroidery shop with the capacity to digitize patterns and render them on patches, apparel and hats. The female inmates at York sew mostly flat goods including sheets, towels and laundry bags using a variety of equipment. These activities greatly enhance the capabilities of the individuals making them highly skilled candidates for employment once they transition into society. Read my blog post about why you should employ formerly incarcerated folks here.

In 2019 our pay to independent contractors M.I. in Middlesex County and J.T. in Hartford County increased by 49% over 2018. Our work at the moment is mostly developing, prototyping and manufacturing small runs of patented products for individual designers including pet products, sporting gear and apparel. These designers also include an exciting group of inspired, urban designers in the Hartford area. We are actively involved in growing a vertically integrated apparel industry in CT along with groups such as Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Our efforts also include creating connections between designers, producers of textiles, trims and yarn and providers of services such as knitting, dyeing and embroidery in the region.

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Where Will You Find Your Next Manufacturing Employee?

Sewing contractors such as myself often complain about the lack of skilled labor in our field. This is a common complaint from many manufacturers, especially in CT. What’s your plan for finding your next workforce resource? Need a suggestion?

I have a source of pre-trained, vetted employees whose current supervisors vouch for their training, abilities, demeanor, and attitude. I know exactly what these potential employees have been working on in their professional lives potentially for years before. I know that their training also included soft skills such as being responsible and respectful. And, on top of all of that, they were recommended to me by their direct supervisors as someone I can trust to get the job done. Are you sold? Imagine the huge load having this source would take off your shoulders! How about if I share my source with you? read more!

Online Tutorials for Sewing Contractors

As a sewing contractor, I am always searching for more information to be able to create the best products I can for my customers. In this 20 minute blog post, I am listing four tutorial resources that I’ve found helpful.

Kathleen Fasanella

I can’t say enough positive things about Kathleen. Her singular devotion to the success of sewing contractors and apparel designers is legendary. I recommend her book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing to many designers I meet. It’s thorough, easy to read, and chock full of useful info. She even includes examples of documents you can use to keep track of your garment production processes. In addition, her website, Fashion-Incubator: Lessons from the Sustainable Factory Floor contains her blog, tweets, class list and great links.

The Rowley Company

The Rowley Company is my wholesale supplier for pillow forms, tools and machine parts. I featured them in my post about suppliers a few months back. They also have a lengthy list of webinars and how-to videos about anything related to manufacturing home decor items. If you want to know how to make a home dec item and find all the necessary parts (except the decorator fabrics) Rowley should be your source.

Sewing Parts Online

I just came across Sewing Parts Online a week or so ago while searching for sewing machine attachments. Most of the blog posts and videos seem to be geared toward home sewists. But I found a few, including this one about types of thread, which can be helpful to designers and manufacturers alike.

YouTube

If you’re considering buying a new machine or attachment for your workroom, you can find great demos on YouTube. In the search bar, type in “Industrial __________Machine Demo.” Fill in the blank with the machine you want to see such as a coverstitch machine. Most of the videos are from manufacturers, so you can do some comparison shopping before purchasing.

Hope you find this post helpful! Be sure to add any tips you have on finding online tutorials in the comments.

 

Five Reasons Why You Should Use Latex Foam

Nancy and Dick Coffey of KTT Enterprises look forward to helping you pick the right Talalay foam for your project.
Nancy and Dick Coffey of KTT Enterprises

Sometimes, you find a product that revolutionizes the way you think about your life. At KTT Enterprises, in Hamden, CT, I found such a product–natural latex foam. If you’re not using natural latex in your own home or in the products you manufacture, here’s five reasons why you need to do so.

I’ll introduce you to the friendly and knowledgeable folks at KTT first. Nancy and Dick Coffey helped me chose the right foam for my customer’s bedding project from among the many types of Talalay latex they stock. All of their foam is made in the U.S.A.. Latex foam is a naturally based rubber material made out of liquid harvested from the Havea brasiliensis tree. These rubber trees have a 25 year productive life.  Nancy, Dick and their employees will cut and modify the latex foam they stock to your specifications. In addition to the sheet foam I purchased, they specialize in making cosmetic “puffs” and packing foam for items such as cameras.  They also make “cricket donuts”, which are foam rings made to help keep crickets alive while they’re being shipped to your favorite pet lizard. Who knew…..

Five Reasons Why You Need Talalay Latex Foam

  •  Latex foam doesn’t give off harmful gasses into your household environment, unlike other foams, including some memory foam. All Talalay Latex products are certified OEKO-TEX Class 100; the healthiest classification in the leading global testing and certification process. This certification ensures textile materials and home furnishing products do not contain harmful substances or pose a health risk to consumers.

  • Talalay latex is made in Shelton, CT with an all natural, renewable resource produced by trees that are helping remove CO2 from our environment.

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The Minimum Wage of $15: A Case Study

 

Industrial sewing machine used in manufacturingThe Minimum Wage Debate

The CT State Legislature finally passed a $15/hour wage after a contentious debate as reported in this article by and of the CT Mirror. The debate was contentious, of course, because of the sharp divide between Republicans who put the concerns of business owners at the top of their agendas and majority Democrats who favor the cause of workers. This debate is essentially about what constitutes a “fair Wage” in CT.

A Case Study

I have closely followed this process because of my commitment to basing the pay of the contractors who work with me at a minimum of $15/hr. I have made this commitment because my business, United Sewing and Design, is a social enterprise which focuses on workers first in addition to customers. However, like any business owner, I have to balance the needs of my workers against the opportunities to earn income. l won’t do anyone any good if I don’t stay in business. For example: as a manufacturer, the work we do is often for resale. Therefore, simply put, there is a limit to what our customers can afford to pay us. Often, our customers allow the retail market in which they compete to determine their price and thus, the amount they can afford to pay for manufacturing. This is not anything new.

So far, in order to reach and sustain my pledge to pay a $15 an hour wage, I have had to turn down work from several customers because the retail price of the item being discussed was not high enough. This hasn’t negatively affected our bottom line up to this point. Additionally, I have begun to actively seek out work that sells at a higher retail price and am investigating manufacturing fields where retail price is not a factor. These haven’t been difficult decisions, but I’m making them during the formative stages of business development while I am still scaling up.

Many business leaders are not happy about the gradual increase to a $15 wage. They have legitimate concerns, which I share. But, I feel that the $15/hr wage which approaches a fair wage, is a necessary start to strengthening our entire state economy.

To frame this debate and the action by our legislature, pick up this book by Zeynep Ton, read this about what counts as the “middle class” in CT according to the Census Bureau, and this about what supposedly is a “living wage” in Hartford County. Hint: it will take until fall of 2021 to reach a so called “living wage.” Also, $15 an hour will in no way approach a middle class income in CT.

 

 

 

A Reading List for the Beginning Apparel Designer

apparel photo by Marcus Loke on UnsplashIn the second post of my 20 minute blog posts, (follow this link to the first one) I’m giving beginning fashion entrepreneurs a list of my three favorite books to read before you start and to have on hand as you progress. If you’re in school, you will want to add these to your list of assigned reading if you haven’t been required to read them already.

Kathleen Fasanella’s “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.”

Kathleen’s main subject in this book is how to deal professionally with the vendors who will manufacture your apparel. Her writing style is plain spoken, full of nuts-and-bolts info without useless frills. Write your name in the front of this book,  read it from cover to cover and never get rid of it. Her companion website, is also chock full of meaty info. I always tell customers to buy this book first.

J.J Pizzuto’s Fabric Science Textbook and Swatch Kit

As a sewing contractor, I find that too many of my customers come to me without knowledge of the materials they’re going to work with. This makes their decision making process unnecessarily difficult and time consuming. Customers can save untold amounts of time and money by taking time to read and digest this book and put the swatch kit together. Later, when you run across a fiber, a textile, a chemical process, a type of knit structure that you are unfamiliar with, you can run back to your studio, pull this book off the shelf and educate yourself.

Tim Gunn’s A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style

Frequently, I meet with younger designers who have a rather narrow view of fashion. This is understandable as they are inundated with all manner of media demonstrating a particular viewpoint on what to put on one’s body and how to style it. I wish they would all take the time to read Mr. Gunn’s guide to get a solid foundation of what the core of fashion really is no matter what one chooses to wear. His conversational writing style makes the information contained applicable to anyone. A bit of history, a snippet of culture, a hard truth or two makes the book an entertaining read and worthwhile. Plus, take it from me, he’s just a really nice guy.

Entrepreneur Blogging: A New Model?

Blogging for Entrepreneurs Who Have No Time to Blog

Meeting to scale up a businessHere’s an idea! How about if entrepreneurs who blog as a part of their business get to compose, edit and market a blog post in 10-20 minutes? Here’s why I’m proposing this new model. As you can tell if you look at the frequency of my posts, they are infrequent! From what I have seen on websites I visit, I’m not the only one with this problem. When I review the analytics of this website, I can see dips in visits in between my posts. Not a good thing. Whenever I think about posting, I have no problem with generating ideas, I just can’t seem to set enough time aside to compose the recommended 700-1000 words complete with the proper titles, links, categories, tags, images, etc. Is this you? Is a 10-20 minute blog post optimal? Maybe not. But, is it better than nothing at all? Absolutely! So, until I have a break between filling customer orders which I can use to write a full blog post, I’ll be creating short posts on ideas, issues, and questions I’m thinking about in 20 minutes or less. I’m going to focus mainly on info that readers will find helpful and thought provoking. My first installment is below. Follow my blog for more!

The CT Small Business Development Center

I am currently working on scaling up United Sewing and Design, which is a daunting process but exciting and fulfilling as well. I can’t say enough about my mentor Jim Jackson from the Small Business Development Center. I meet with him in the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce on Main St. in Middletown. He has experience in most of the business issues I’m working on: customer relations, manufacturing, lean practices, business structure, and more. And on top of all that good stuff, it’s free. If you’re an entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur like me, a business owner or are thinking of starting a business, I highly encourage you to connect with them right away.

 

 

 

 

 

United Sewing and Design 2018 Social Enterprise Report

United Sewing and DesignEach year in CT, social enterprises are required to report their progress toward fulfilling their social impact goals for the previous year. This post is the United Sewing and Design report for 2018 about our progress toward meeting our business goals which are:

  • hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment and,
  • diverting materials from the waste stream into our business and preventing materials from our manufacturing processes from entering the waste stream

Goal 1:  Hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment

Our independent contractors have included individuals with social and emotional disabilities, and full time caregivers for individuals who need intensive support in daily life. I work with social service agencies and non-profits to identify individuals who are trustworthy and dependable, know how to sew, have the appropriate workspace and equipment, and are experiencing barriers to getting and keeping well paid work.

This year we added formerly incarcerated individuals to our pool of collaborators. I connected with the Wesleyan University Center for Prison Education to identify ladies who were placed at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic. This was an important goal for us because the inmates at York sew a variety of products including t shirts, prison uniforms and bed linens so they are already trained for the manufacturing skills we need.

In 2018, our pay to contractors increased 527% over 2017. United Sewing and Design paid contract labor wages to independent contractor “M.I.” from Middlesex County. (I do not name my contractors to preserve their privacy.) Although this increase is significant, we consider it essential to grow sustainably and look forward to steady growth for the rest of 2019. I interviewed two new contractors, L.A. from Hartford County and L.M. from New Haven County, both of whom were referred by the Weselyan CPE, who will be working with me in 2019. Much of our work at the moment is geared towards developing and prototyping  patented products for individual designers. I anticipate that these contracts will grow into steady manufacturing work for our contractors.

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A Sewing Contractor’s 10 Favorite Sources for Soft Goods Manufacturing

 

Mary Ruth Shields, sewing contractor, United Sewing and Design

As a sewing contractor, I spend a lot of time sourcing for customers. Fabrics, trims, interlining, snaps, buttons, etc., etc., etc. For example, it’s taken me hours of traveling, shopping, calling and surfing the web over the past few months to find a lightweight wool in just the right shade of purple for the Masonic Temple costumes we’ve been working on. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen the other costumes we’ve been creating for the Masons. All of the fabrics and trims in the photos came from the vendors listed below.

So, I thought, why not share some of my favorite sources with you to give you a leg up on your next soft goods manufacturing project?

For each vendor, I’ve listed the name, contact info, what they sell and some comments. Most of these suppliers will ship, some are local to CT where I work. Also, see this blog post on knowing your fabrics, this one on working with a sewing contractor, and this one on knowing your customer which will also help you grow your business.

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