In episode 35, Terri Stipanovich, founder and CEO of small-batch manufacturing factory The Collective Thread, shares how her background in the non-profit world and mission to empower women to earn a living wage led her to start The Collective Thread as a resource for emerging designers, training ground for industrial sewing, and a place for all to find meaning in creating something beautiful.
In 2010 the founder of Faith that Works, now The Collective Thread, Terri Stipanovich traveled to East Africa on a vision trip. Terri was heartbroken when she saw refugee Somali women facing severe poverty and oppression. During that trip, she made a decision to start an organization that would empower refugee women both in her hometown of St. Louis, Mo, and in the Somali region of East Africa. After some years of working with women in both areas, she realized economic empowerment was the only sustainable solution to the issues she was passionately working to solve. At that point, The Collective Thread began to offer free sewing classes, which then led to living wage jobs for women both in Africa and St. Louis.
It wasn’t long before some St. Louis apparel brands approached Terri asking her team to take on their sewing needs. She knew this was a potential business opportunity that could fund the mission she had spent 10 years developing. But she needed experts in commercial sewing to succeed.
Terri grew her team and expanded to a beautiful historic space in The Garment District in Downtown St. Louis. They purchased state-of-the-art equipment to increase their free sewing education classes to the community and to offer top-notch product development and small-batch manufacturing to companies in need of these services. They grew their management staff by hiring aspiring fashion designers and creating a winning team that has served over 50 brands fulfilling apparel design and manufacturing needs—all while staying true to The Collective Thread’s mission to empower vulnerable women through new skills and a living wage job.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How working in non-profit world led Terri to into cut & sew manufacturing
- The mission that began it all
- How The Collective Thread got connected with the refugee community in Saint Louis
- The real cost of training new sewers and how The Collective Thread can afford to make it their focus
- Why a skilled sewing workforce is so important yet so undervalued
- Who makes up the team at The Collective Thread and who they work with
- The questions all designers should come prepared to answer when they first meet their factory and why those questions are important
- How The Collective Thread learned the hard way about needing to focus down and say no to certain client work
- The one thing that can make or break your relationship with your factory
- What things would make your brand the perfect fit to produce with The Collective Thread
- The biggest challenge that Terri faces in growing The Collective Thread
People and resources mentioned in this episode:
- The Collective Thread website
- The Collective Thread Instagram
- Terri’s email
- Book a consultation with Terri
- Saint Louis Fashion Fund
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