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Ida Matthys ( left) of Sophia Graydon works with Erin Hennes on a pattern. Hennes is part of Makers Coalition, a training program to teach textile skills to American students.
GLEN STUBBE/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
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BY DEE DePASS
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Not long ago, Jen Guarino looked around her J.W. Hulme handbag company in St. Paul, Minn., and realized something was missing.
"We lost a whole generation of skill development," Guarino said. After 30 years of outsourcing, the U.S. garment and textiles industry is short on workers who know how to cut leather, stitch silk and bind seams into beautiful purses and garments ready for the showroom floor.
With older textile workers retiring, "We are running at an incredible rate right now, and we can't find skilled labor," Guarino said. Determined to fix the problem, she tapped community colleges, hired interns and then convened industry friends for a brainstorming session.
The result is the Makers Coalition, a group of 16 Midwestern manufacturers determined to create jobs by teaching American students to use industrial cutters, steamers and factory sewing machines to fabricate garments, purses, satchels, bedding and other products, right here in the United States.
The first 22-week course started this month at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. Tuition is $3,600, but most students will receive scholarships. The first class has 20 students.
While the Makers Coalition was founded by Guarino, the CEO of J.W. Hulme Co., she is not in this alone.
Lifetrack Resources, a St. Paul-based nonprofit, applied for and won a $75,000 Twin Cities United Way grant to cover scholarships. Dunwoody College of Technology helped with the curriculum, workshop space and some equipment.
Other businesses joining the coalition include handbag maker Urban Junket, the northeast Minneapolis luxury sleepwear company Sophia Graydon, dance-costume maker Kelle Cos., sewing contractor Airtex Design Group, and Pierrepont Hicks, which makes men's silk ties, boots and blankets.
Students going through the program will learn to cut patterns, use industrial-grade sewing machines and handle materials ranging from dainty silks and chiffons to coarse leather and thick canvas.
"The real strength of this training is that it is being developed in close collaboration with industry leaders and local business owners," said Tatjana Hutnyak, business services manager at Lifetrack Resources. "Program graduates will gain a specific skill set that is a great fit and is in direct demand by employers."
Coalition businesses said they hope to hire graduates. Others hope they can develop enough new local talent to lure overseas sewing contracts stateside.