The socially conscious clothing production company is working at stitching the community together by creating dignified jobs and reinvigorating American apparel manufacturing.
Founded in January by Sadye Harvey, Janie Rich Munro, Julia Marshall, and Kelly Alford, The Whole Works serves designers who want small-run, cut-and-sew production. It's a social enterprise that employs women transitioning from federal assistance by working with state and local government programs to develop industrial sewing training programs for women.
"I love being behind the scenes of clothing manufacturing," says Harvey, who became interested in clothing production while working as a design assistant at a small clothing company in Los Angeles. "Every single garment is sewn by hand, whether it's in China or Rifle."
As a public benefit corporation, The Whole Works is dedicated to environmental and social sustainability, as well as maximizing profit. Until the 1990s, the majority of clothing bought in the United States was made domestically. Between 1990 and 2011, the United States lost 750,000 apparel manufacturing jobs.
"We have a social mission at the core, which is to provide jobs for people in these rural communities," Harvey says. "That's at the heart of what we're doing. And we think being a for-profit business is the best way of doing it."
Winner of the 2015 Wright award, The Whole Works is working with GarCo Sewing Works to provide employment to students who complete the certification program. Founded in 2012, GarCo is a partnership between Colorado Mountain College and Garfield County Human Services. Its facility in downtown Rifle is equipped with professional grade sewing and sustainable manufacturing tools.
The Whole Works sews clothing for such Colorado clients as Aspen's Corbeaux Clothing, a collection of athlete-designed mountain apparel; Avon-based ColoRundies, an active underwear company; Shredly, mountain bike-inspired women's athletic apparel out of Carbondale; and two+two, an Aspen-area company selling reusable bags and bowl covers that are food safe and eco-friendly.
"Our clients right now are a mix between more established companies and emerging designers," Harvey says. "You don't have to have any previous experience to come to us. Sometimes it's hard to break in if you don't have an in. We're trying to make it a little more transparent."
Challenges: Training the workforce is the main challenge facing The Whole Works. "Clothing manufacturing has disappeared from all over the U.S., so there's this big vacuum of skill in every part of the manufacturing process," Harvey says. "The challenge is to find people with experience or who are up for the challenge of training for production sewing."
Unlike sewing at home, production sewing involves teamwork, with two people working on garments simultaneously. "It's called modular production," Harvey says. "We are loosely basing it off the Toyota manufacturing model."
Opportunities: The Whole Works wants to open more production facilities in small communities across Colorado, with each shop specializing in something different. "The demand for American manufacturing is at an amazing place now," Harvey says. "We haven't done any marketing, and we keep getting calls every day. The demand is there, and the need for jobs is there. It's good for people who are looking for the service and people who are looking to find good work."
Needs: The Whole Works needs additional funding to get more production facilities off the ground and develop training programs to support its American manufacturing plan. "We need support from the state and educational institutions to get clothing production training more at the forefront so it's more accessible to more people," Harvey says. "We've found you can't focus on one piece of the puzzle. You have to look at many different facets of it to make it work for the people we want it to work for."