Each year in CT, social enterprises are required to report their progress toward fulfilling their social impact goals for the previous year. (Click on the 2019 report to see how far we’ve come.) This post is the United Sewing and Design report for 2020 reviewing our progress toward meeting our business goals.
- 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, I continued my focus on hiring formerly incarcerated individuals as independent contractors. I continued working with J.T. who now resides in East Hartford as my primary contractor as well as M.R. who resides in Hartford. These two individuals were well trained in the sewing shops in CT state institutions. Because of what I considered a lack of solid knowledge about COVID transmission, we continued to work remotely in our own workrooms throughout the year. In addition to manufacturing a variety of masks for local hospitals and medical facilities, we also manufactured quilts, apparel, bags, sports gear, home decor, and personal accessories.
In 2020, pay to independent contractors including the formerly incarcerated increased 600% over 2019 totals. Obviously, our capacity has greatly increased. Fortunately, we benefitted from the Pandemic instead of the alternative. Recently, the boom in some fields of manufacturing has been attributed to the fact that individuals with extra time and money decided that 2020 was their year to start on that product they always wanted to make. We benefitted from this trend because of our prototyping process, breadth of skills, our willingness to take on new challenges and to creatively problem-solve. We are able to pivot successfully from one type of sewn product prototyping and manufacturing to another by working closely with individuals and companies to satisfy their needs. These capabilities and attitudes also allowed us to quickly pivot to manufacture items that were popular during the pandemic such as masks.
Supporting Other Community Members
In addition to these two individuals, I also worked with Andrea Rowe, an accomplished seamstress who owns a Shop at the Westfarms Mall. I’ve known her for over a decade. Andrea experienced a significant downturn in the number of customers who came to her when the Mall fully closed during the beginning of the Pandemic and the permanent closure of Lord and Taylor occurred. The mall eventually reopened but with greatly reduced traffic. She considered closing her Shop so I was very glad to be able to help Andrea smooth over this income gap by bringing her work. In 2020, I also added an accomplished technical designer who can only work remotely. Having Tara helps broaden our offerings to customers.
Goal 2: Diverting materials from the waste stream into our business and preventing materials from our manufacturing processes from entering the waste stream
In 2020, we collected equipment and materials from all over the state of CT including from the Macys which closed in Meriden. A lot of fabric went to individuals and organizations for mask making. One of those organizations was Hartford Fashion Week which gathered donations of funds and materials to employ local designers and sewists in mask making. Masks were distributed to the United Way in Hartford and other non-profits in the field of family support.
In our workroom, we continue to sort our natural fibers, synthetic fibers, and paper for recycling. Natural fiber scraps are used whole or recycled by us, synthetic fiber materials are taken to Fabscrap in Brooklyn. Our donation to Fabscrap this year totaled 261 pounds of non-natural fiber materials.
Papers are shredded, soaked in water, put through a blender then mixed with cotton fibers to produce handmade paper. During this process, any information contained on the pages is rendered completely unrecognizable.
2021 and Beyond
As well as accepting larger orders from corporate customers, we continue to work with private individuals to help them design their products, create prototypes and execute small production runs. We have also increased our manufacturing capabilities to make larger runs of up to 1000 units. I am moving United Sewing and Design to a larger space in Hartford to support our customers. This move will also increase the number of formerly incarcerated individuals I can employ while maintaining social distancing. We will be renting space from reSET, Social Enterprise Trust. reSET is a non-profit incubator and support network for social enterprises like mine. Our new space will be on the second floor of 1429 Park St. at the corner of Bartholemew. This is an up-and-coming area of Hartford which is attracting new businesses, eateries, and housing. The area also continues to support manufacturers, retail, arts venues, and social support organizations. In the new space, we will be replacing older equipment as well as adding new equipment to enlarge our capacity, add new construction techniques, and speed up our production processes.
Follow my Instagram feed to find out what projects we’re working on (that aren’t patented) You can also learn tips for reducing the quantity of material you put into the waste stream, and how you can contribute to the cause of economic justice. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for classes such as this video on choosing textiles for your products. In my emails to customers, I include a variety of business advice and info about trends in soft goods manufacturing. You can join my email list by going to our Contact Us page and entering your info. You may also find the info in my blog useful. You can subscribe to that here.
Mary Ruth, Owner of United Sewing and Design has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing of products by sewing and is author of “Industry Sewing Construction Methods” http://amzn.to/2yMxMmk. Her focus is on design, entrepreneurship; social enterprise; the connections between the environment, the apparel industry, and manufacturing; and how owners can leverage artistic methods to benefit their business.