A new version of Kansas City’s golden era of garment design and manufacturing has been quietly helping women build careers for themselves. Focused on revitalizing the once thriving Kansas City garment and fashion industry, Rightfully Sewn trains at-risk women as seamstresses and then places them in apprenticeships with local business partners.
Jennifer Lapka Pfeifer, Founder of Rightfully Sewn, is not only passionate about the garment industry, she’s also very serious about empowering women to do what they love while learning skills they can use to improve their lives. “A lot of people say it’s frivolous, but fashion can translate to jobs and tax revenue. It’s a $250 billion industry in America!” said Pfeifer.
Expectations for the program are very high. Rigorous curricula must be followed and 100% attendance is required. In return, Rightfully Sewn promises to give seamstresses all the resources they need to become gainfully employed in the growing fashion industry.
In 2016, six participants were selected to be part of Rightfully Sewn’s pilot Seamstress Training Program, and the EDC’s Community Economic Development Assistant, Carrie Habib, was chosen to be one of three mentors. Each mentor is paired with two seamstresses and their role is to supplement the Director of Instruction’s teachings by answering questions, giving feedback and encouragement, and checking in on the seamstresses outside of class to ensure they are doing their homework and have the resources they need to complete the program.
Pfeifer said Habib goes out of her way to help, even when it means delivering and setting up two donated sewing machines at her mentees’ homes so they can do their homework! “Habib is incredibly engaged, organized, and experienced, which is having a profound, positive effect on our first-ever class,” said Pfeifer.
The motivation and hand-eye skills the six participants exhibited during the recruitment process have come to the forefront. “Amna, Andrescia, Jasmin, Liliane, Marzia, and Sholeh have not missed a single class,” said Pfeifer. “In fact, they arrive early and stay late.”
The relationships they are forming with one another, with Pamela Lucas, Director of Instruction and Curricula, and with their sewing mentors are inspirational. A brief list of skills they have become either proficient or advanced in so far include:
-Individually threading a beginner and intermediate-level sewing machine
-Laying out patterns according to the pattern direction, grain line, and other aspects
-Taking accurate body measurements
-Constructing various types of industrial-grade seam finishes
-Understanding important terms employers will use in the workplace
The largest obstacle Pfeifer said they have faced is the language barrier for Amna, who speaks Arabic. They are working with one of their social service agency partners, Jewish Vocational Service, to provide her with an interpreter.
“He was present for the entire day, every day at the start,” Pfeifer said.”But we are slowly reducing his hours so she will be prepared for the on-the-job-training component starting in August.” In addition to the interpreter’s help, Amna’s mentor is working to teach her a minimum of five English words each day.
Amna has been described as a trailblazer by her case manager. In her culture, women are often barred from education or working outside of the home and are not allowed to interact with men without their husbands present. In order to better her family’s financial situation, and despite receiving backlash from peer Syrians in her Kansas City community, she is forging ahead to learn a skill in order to become gainfully employed, with the help of a male interpreter.
Amna is not represented in the photos due to her religion and asylum status, but you can see the five other participants working diligently in the classroom. All of them have extraordinary stories and are some of the strongest people we know.
Next month, Rightfully Sewn will turn their attention to industrial-grade machine work, growth assessments, and will plan the on-the-job-training placements with their sewn product business partners.
If you are interested in visiting Rightfully Sewn, tours are available by appointment, and you can learn more about them on their website.
Sources: Rightfully Sewn, FlatlandKC, KC Star