In their latest endeavor, legacy craft-gear manufacturer Diamond Brand Gear, having manufactured outdoor and mountain-lifestyle clothing and equipment since 1881, has helped launch an industrial sewing program in Western North Carolina, specifically in Henderson and Buncombe counties, where other boutique cut-and-sew businesses have opened up shop in recent years.
“The program started with a lot of us that have stayed in the area and continued to make things here,” explains Lauren Rash, COO of the Asheville-based company. It came together, she says, with efforts from more than 20 regional manufacturers, funding from the Carolina Textile District, and support from Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock and A-B Technical Community College in Asheville.
The program is part of a growing effort to bring back career sewing to former textile communities (Oriole Mill in Hendersonville being one successful example). “You know, our population of skilled sewers are aging out,” notes Rash. “[Textile facilities] became off-shored in the 1990s, so, since then, we have had generations of folks who said, ‘Don’t go into textiles.’ And they said that rightfully so, because so many people lost their jobs in the textile industry overnight.”
The course currently in session at Blue Ridge Community College, and the one scheduled for the spring at A-B Tech, both follow a purchased, streamlined curriculum established by the Makers Coalition and Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) in Washington State. “Collaboration is key so that we can continue to grow the industry and to grow the work force here,” Rash says. “No one company was large enough to make this happen on our own, so we are teaming up to grow our own companies together.”
According to the press release, “the curriculum will prepare incumbent workers and student participants for a career in sewing.”
“It starts with folks knowing that there is a career in this, and secondly, that it can be pretty lucrative and satisfying,” Rash continues. “Every day, you get to see your products come to life by using your hands and the machines. I think all of this is important to understand for kids and for students. We do a lot of school and summer-camp tours through the plant where kids get to sew a bag using scrap fabric, and with that, every child walks out with something they created and can use every day. It’s showing kids that you can still make something yourself — it’s not just about purchasing items.”
While Rash went to a four-year school, she doesn’t believe that university is the only way to success. “I do believe there are career paths that make folks happy but don’t require a four-year degree,” she states. “It’s important to me that there are other offerings, and that people know [about] those choices. More and more students today are entering into textiles in college, which for me says the generation coming [up] really wants some say in the fabric world.
“For sustainability purposes and other reasons, it’s nice that we can make things here in the U.S. that we need, instead of items that are just commodities.”
Diamond Brand Gear’s Industrial Sewing Program for WNC offers its second course at A-B Tech in the spring. For more information and to register, email Lauren Rash at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.diamondbrandgear.com.