GarCo Sewing Works training local workforce

Design Training Center opens in Rifle

This article first appeared in the Citizen Telegram. By Beth Shaw and Jill Ziemann

Open House at GarCo Sewing Works

GarCo Sewing Works, a new enterprise from Colorado Mountain College’s Customized Business Services and Go2Work program, held its open house May 31 in Rifle. Shown here: Lynne Jammaron (GSW Board member and volunteer), Dave Bartlett (GSW Board member), and Jordan Callier (GSW Volunteer Web Master) watch student Angelica Hendricks demonstrating one of the sewing machines.

In these challenging times, we are thrilled when any opportunity comes along that brings a promise of providing new skills, or launching new careers or, better yet, potentially starting an entirely new industry. In the GarCo Sewing Works, we believe we’ve found a grand tapestry for all these threads to come together.

GarCo Sewing Works is a design training center in the Henry Building in downtown Rifle. It is also an entrepreneurial learning lab for aspiring small business owners who have some design ideas and need a vehicle to get those ideas to market.

We’re starting modestly, training a small number of people to operate the industrial sewing machines. So far we’ve sewn over a thousand cloth grocery bags, to meet initial bag orders of 5,000 from CORE. Many of these bags will be available to shoppers in Carbondale and Aspen, which are phasing out the use of plastic bags. Now, thanks to GarCo Sewing Works, shoppers can get those bags locally. And help support local jobs.

“Made local, buy local and Made in America”: We exemplify this as a way to stimulate our local economy.

With unemployment around 10 percent in Garfield County, it is clear that local jobs need to be created. Referrals for our trainees come from TANF, Colorado Workforce Centers, Human Services and the probation system. While on public assistance, trainees are required to take unpaid jobs to learn skills to become self-sufficient, stable contributors to their families.

We’re training unemployed workers, many of whom are single mothers, gain skills so they can get off public assistance and improve their lives and their families’. Once our operations are fully up to speed, we plan to hire some trainees part-time.

We’ll be teaching not only sewing, but all facets of business: developing creative talent, generating payroll, bookkeeping, hiring, managing and supervising, inventory tracking, quality control, sales, e-commerce and marketing.

Thanks to the generosity of the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, this endeavor came together quickly. Through $40,000 in economic development funds, they provided a grant that covers leasing the Henry Building and all of our equipment.  Three departments within Colorado Mountain College – the Gateway program, Go2Work and Customized Business Services – operate this program. We are extremely grateful to the county commissioners, and to Doreen Herriott, our designer and trainer extraordinaire. She was even responsible for our fashion line, seen on the runway at this year’s Green Is the New Black show in Carbondale.

In the spirit of sustainability and community, we’ve been partnering with local thrift shops and sewing shops, and accepting donations of fabric. We’ve been amazed at the generosity and support our endeavor has gained, even at this early date.

We are looking for other partners who have sewing needs. We’re also intrigued by the thought of using locally grown fibers. And we’re looking for someone who can take our concept and expand it into a manufacturing facility, or someone who will help us obtain more advanced equipment. Even if your needs and skills are not a perfect fit for what we’re able to do right now, please come talk to us. GarCo Sewing Works is located at 321 East Avenue, Rifle (the rear of the Henry Building).

Beth Shaw is dean of business and industry at Colorado Mountain College and Jill Ziemann is director of the college’s Go2Work programs (which include Gateway, WoMen In Transition, Go2Workshops and GarCo Sewing Works).