United Sewing and Design 2020 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 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.

They 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, 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.

Who is Independence Day For?

As white, middle-class folk usually do, we think that everything is about us. We also forget that everyone else may not live as we do, with all of the rights and priveledges we are accustomed to. It’s so easy to go about our daily lives, gliding from one hour to the next on a cushion of assumed understandings about what life should be like.

We live in a different society now. We cannot go back to the way things were, nor should we want to. We are called to re-examine our normal behaviors, our assumptions, our thoughts, and what lies beneath them. So, in honor of today, July 4th, 2020, our country’s 244th birthday, I ask, who is Independence Day for?

Instead of proffering my opinion on this question, may I offer an excerpt from one of Frederick Douglass’ most famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” Mr. Douglass gave this speech on July 5, 1852, to an abolitionist group in Rochester, NY. I found the excerpt at tolerance.org, a website for educators. The entire speech can be read here.

Below the text is a link to a short video in which Mr. Douglass’ descendants recite selected passages from the speech and offer their thoughts on our current situation. I also include several links to my past blog posts on related social issues.

“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! …

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.

Continue reading “Who is Independence Day For?”

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!

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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White Colonialism to the Rescue?

As a representative of white, middle class Liberalism in the United States, I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been raised in a certain way which affects my behavior. More specifically, I am a WASP, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. I am not from Connecticut. I was born and raised in Virginia up to age 21 and then chose to live in the northern reaches of our country; for the last 20 years in Connecticut. Having lived on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, I feel that I am constantly balancing the viewpoints of a southerner and a New Englander on a false assumption.

The assumption is that white, middle class, well educated folks know what’s best for our fellow citizens who happen to be brown or black. I maintain that the attitudes and thoughts which engendered the white colonialism that founded our country, that subjugated and enslaved humans from indigenous societies here and on the African continent, still exist, 200 years later, in the heads of well meaning, white, liberal, middle class business owners in our country today.

Coming to terms with my heritage and upbringing has caused me to examine my thought processes, conclusions and behaviors, as well as those of the people around me, in great detail, especially since President Obama was elected in 2008. (I hope that many of you are also engaging in the same examinations.) Since his election, many facets of race relations in our Country have become the point of much thought and action by white folks who want to make a difference. To take the best course of action to grow my social enterprise, I am thinking about the following questions during the process of scaling up.

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Why Successful Apparel Manufacturers Should Create “Good Jobs”

The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep TonA few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the concepts in Zeynep Ton’s insightful book, “The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.” Here’s an updated version with links to more meaty info.

Frequently, the expenses associated with hiring in the United States (a fair wage, predictable hours, a respectful workplace) are given as reasons not to attempt apparel manufacturing in the U.S. How can we change this mentality?

Read, internalize, then apply “The Good Jobs Strategy.” Ton’s research and conclusions are sound.

In “The Good Jobs Strategy”, Ton details methods for becoming a company that uses a “virtuous” cycle instead of a “vicious” cycle as the heart of a business. As a graduate of the Sloan School of Management, and an adjunct associate professor in the Operations Management group at MIT Sloan School of Management, Ton researched companies with successful methods honed to perfection such as Trader Joe’s, and Costco.

She breaks down the virtuous strategy into four “operational choices,” proving that these “allow (industries) to deliver value to employees, customers and investors all at the same time.” Although her book primarily uses retail businesses as examples, these methods could easily be adapted to manufacturing. They are:

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Have You Thought About Racism and Your Business?

bridges are built with respect
bridges are built with respect Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

I was planning to write a post about the fast vs slow fashion this week, but decided instead to write on what has been on my mind for months now. I’m in a “put up or shut up” mind set after re-reading my LinkedIn profile the first sentence of which reads

“Business is about putting our beliefs to work. It’s not enough to talk about what you think is wrong; you must apply what you know best to create change.”

Also, I ran across Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he chastises white moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is … the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…..Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

I’ve been delaying writing about the place of racism in business for two reasons, neither of which I could be faulted for. First, obviously, racism is a controversial topic. As a small business owner, honestly expressing my opinion about it could potentially damage my business in multiple ways not the least of which is alienating potential customers. As you undoubtedly realize, small business owners have a very close relationship with the brand image of their businesses.  It is therefore, fair to assume that the business would suffer if the views of the owner are seen as misguided.

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