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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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!

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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What Sewing Contractors Wish You Knew About Fabric

As a sewing contractor, individuals or companies who are designing products to be sewn, such as apparel, frequently contact me. It occurred to me that many of them have come from backgrounds that have little to nothing to do with the materials usually used for sewing such as fabric. Many people or organizations don’t take the time to learn about the materials they’ll be asking me to construct something from. This lack of understanding, impacts their ability to talk to me about what they really want. To help those customers who are intending to call me or another sewing contractor, I offer another excerpt from the Introduction to my book Industry Clothing Construction Methods.

 

This excerpt contains the most basic concepts about fabric. For more really useful info on the materials usually used for constructing products by sewing, I recommend the text that I used when teaching fashion design. It’s the same one that most college level programs use as well. There is no better, more comprehensive learning tool on the subject.

You can click here for an earlier blog post containing an excerpt from the Introduction to my book about a key concept for selling–satisfying your customer. Knowing the concepts in that post may also help you define what materials to use in your project. After reading that, click here for my list of 10 things sewing contractors wish you would figure out before contacting us to save you time and money.

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How Building Value for Employees Builds a More Valuable Business

All business owners know that the key to long term success is for businesses to deliver value to customers and investors. But, have you considered how essential it is to deliver value to your employees, what that value looks like to them and what the impact of that value will be on your business?

Fortunately, we don’t have to figure out how to deliver value to our employees. Zeynep Ton has already done that for us. In her Good Jobs Strategy, Ton laid out the steps we need to execute, discussed in my last blog post. Here’s a recap of her guidelines paraphrased.

1. Concentrate on fewer, higher quality products.
2. Standardize work requirements so that workers can have the freedom to work more efficiently.
3. Train workers in more than one task to reduce fluctuations in workloads.
4. Have more workers on hand instead of fewer, cross training them so that they can be employed full time on regular schedules.

 The point of these guidelines is to create value for employees. To them, a valuable job would have fair pay; a stable schedule; management that is respectful; engaging tasks that are aligned to the worker’s abilities (emotionally and physically) and intellect;, and, I would add, accessibility by reasonable transportation. Structuring a new business in this way or restructuring an existing one, results in a mindset for owners in which employees are viewed as assets instead of expenses. Here’s how these guidelines function when applied in my own business, United Sewing and Design.

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Proof that Artists Can be Savvy Business People

As fashion designers, fabric is one of the mediums that Allie and I use to express our artistic vision.

Allie McConnell, the designer behind Manuma, and I got together earlier this week to view the “Abductions and Reconstructions” exhibit at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Curated by David Borawski, this show includes works by Meg Hitchcock, Ryan Sarah Murphy, and Liz Sweibel. All three of these artists work with re-purposed materials as do Allie and I. After the show, Allie and I sat down to trade insights on Facebook Live about the social impact of using re-purposed materials, the differences between art and craft, good workmanship vs intentionally being messy, and other topics between the worlds of art and commerce. Be sure to visit the artist’s websites while we discuss their boundary bending art work. Here’s the link to our discussion. I write frequently on the power and utility available in the intersection between art and business. For more, check out this blog post.

 

How You Can Change Your Bad Consuming Habits and Not End Up Naked

Shop at a Locally Owned Boutique
Photo by Clark Street Mercantile on Unsplash

If you’ve been paying attention to global trade issues lately, you’ve undoubtedly run across discussions about fair wages also known as a “living wage.” Simply put, a living wage is a close approximation of the amount of money it would cost to support a single person or family in the area in which they live. This well written article, by on racked.com about the apparel giant H&M, discusses why they probably aren’t paying their workers a living wage, what it means to make sure a labor force benefits from good pay and how you can make a difference. Please take the time to read it and visit the great links embedded in there. When the people you’ll read about who make the apparel you buy and wear live with their families on the other side of the world, it’s easy to put them out of your mind. However, your consumption of a $10 t-shirt or $20 pair of pants at H&M, Target, Uniqlo or other importer of apparel manufactured overseas impacts the wages of those workers. Your bad consumption habits are denying them a living wage.

The lack of a living wage and safe working conditions for the workers who manufacture over 90% of the apparel available for us to buy in the U.S. is nothing new. I’ve been covering this issue in my lectures, writing and social media for over a decade. So, let’s skip to the questions I know you’re going to ask, “Why should I care? I can’t change what’s in the store to buy. Isn’t it cheaper to live there anyway? I don’t set the prices. I’m just one person. How can I come up with the solution?” Here’s an answer you can use, with some simple steps you can adopt that aren’t too difficult or too expensive.

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United Sewing and Design: Report on Employment and Environmental Impact 2016-2017

Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.
Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.

As part of their compact with the communities they serve, social enterprises publish a report to document their impact in the areas they focus on. As a social enterprise, the two areas that United Sewing and Design focuses on are creating work opportunities for marginalized individuals facing barriers to achieving well paid employment and manufacturing products with materials removed from the waste stream for our line “White Horse Style.” (For a portfolio of White Horse Style products visit this page.) Currently, United Sewing and Design works with independent contractors to manufacture products for individual, corporate and non-profit clients. For a profile on Green Banana Paper Company, one of our clients whose company manufactures accessories from recycled banana fiber, click here. For more info, be sure to check out the helpful links at the bottom.

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Your Business Creates Waste. Here’s How to Deal With It.

Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.
Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.

From the largest to the smallest, every business creates waste of some kind. Paper, old copier cartridges, used motor oil, shopping bags, metal shavings, outdated tech, Brian’s lunch from last week that he left in the break room fridge. Much of the material that ends up in your trash destined for the landfill doesn’t have to go there. I introduced some methods to implement for reducing the amount of waste that your business generates in my blog post of July 20th about closing the consumption circle. All of the materials I listed above, with the exception of Brian’s problematic lunch, already have recycling methods in place preventing those materials from being added to landfills.

Here are some additional, nationally available resources for diverting material from the waste stream into uses that provide meaningful work opportunities, sustain businesses and non-profits, support our economy, reduce dependence on social safety nets, and make your company look good.

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Hiring a Sewing Contractor? Ten Things to Do to Get the Best Results

ake time to prepare for your meeting with a sewing contractor by doing these 10 tasks.
Take time to prepare for your meeting with a sewing contractor by doing these 10 tasks. Photo by alejandro-escamilla

You’re really excited about the new product you’ve envisioned and rightly so! It’s made of a flexible material (fabric, vinyl, felt, rubber, leather, etc.) so you know it needs to be sewn.  You don’t know how to sew but you’re sure you’re ready to take the next step to have it manufactured. At this point, you realize you want to maximize your investment in time and money but you’re concerned about how to explain what you want and get the best quality result. What to do?

There are ten things you can do before you meet with United Sewing and Design or another sewing contractor to insure that you are prepared. These tasks are what I wish all of my customers had done ahead. Thought invested doing these will save money during the consultation period and speed up the time it takes to get started. Sketches do not need to be attractive or perfect. None of the answers to these questions need to be exact at this point. Actually, it’s better if you’re open to suggestions from the sewing contractor you are hiring. They should be able to suggest changes that are right for your product and might save you materials, time and money while delivering the best possible results.

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