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Detroit entrepreneurs turn to Zaman Sewing Program for expert services

Zaman’s Sewing Program is gaining momentum as a provider of high-quality sewing services to local entrepreneurs seeking customized items or help with commercial ventures.

Developed with curriculum and evaluation expertise from more than 30 community-based partners, the Sewing Program has provided beginning, intermediate and advanced sewing instruction, entrepreneurial training and (if needed) English language tutoring to more than 90 unskilled, low-income women since its launch in 2016. The year-long program, which teaches quilting, alterations, custom tailoring, pattern-making and the use of industrial machines, includes weekly presentations by local professionals on business fundamentals as well as service projects and sales opportunities at Detroit-area markets and venues.

Designed to help women heads of household secure reliable income and financial stability, the program imparts job-ready skills for positions in the commercial sector as well as for work in the home. One of the program’s chief objectives is to connect students with prospective employers and clients, who may be entrepreneurs or small business owners looking for customized items or help with small-scale production.

One such entrepreneur is Will Coleman, a local chef, cookbook author and television personality whose blog and Bold spice product line are available online. Seeking a unique apron to wear at his Eastern Market sales booth and when teaching classes, Coleman approached the Sewing Program to commission something tailor-made. His consultation with a Sewing Program student, who worked from sketches and a color scheme approved by Coleman, produced a masculine teal-and-denim apron with buckles.

“When it comes to giving people my business, I try to stay local and small because I know how it feels to put your name out there,” said Coleman, who showed off his apron to a crowd of thousands at the upcoming Maker Faire Detroit, a two-day festival showcasing inventors and entrepreneurs at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. “I wanted to support Zaman because I really like what they stand for and what they do. The person who made my apron has a story to tell, and it’s a story I can share with others when I wear it.”

A bigger commission came from startup clothing line Umami Wear, a playful collection of shirts, accessories and baby “onesies” made from subtle snack-food-print fabric and marketed to the “modern foodie.” After quickly selling out of men’s dress shirts following the line’s January launch, creator Hussein Saab learned it would be at least two months before his Detroit-based supplier could refresh his inventory.

“It was important to me to source my products locally, but the company I was using was very expensive and very busy,” said Saab, a business strategist at Ford who runs Umami Wear and three other startup businesses on the side. “I realized it just wasn’t sustainable to continue that relationship long-term.”

Saab reached out to Sewing Program Coordinator Raghida Abraham, who recommended two students to make the shirts. They made the shirts better and more quickly than the original supplier, prompting Saab to order two batches and to plan to move production of Umami Wear bowties to Zaman from their overseas manufacturer.

“It’s a great feeling to empower women by giving them work, especially work they can do from home when their family obligations require it,” said Saab, who leverages social media and influencers to promote his products. “But there is also tremendous benefits to entrepreneurs when they can find local labor.”

For one thing, communication barriers – both from language and time zones – are challenging when using overseas suppliers, Saab pointed out, adding that in-person meetings lead to better business relationships. He met several times with the sewing students the first week his shirts were being made, he notes, saying the ease of consulting with them made the product better and the process more efficient.

“If Zaman could increase its production capacity, I would not hesitate to order my entire line of clothing from the Hope For Humanity Center,” Saab said.

That day may come. According to Gigi Salka, director of the Sewing Program, the creation of an in-house sewing center that could hire program graduates and accept higher-volume commissions is one of Zaman’s goals. The center would be similar to the new Culinary Arts Kitchen, Salka noted, in that it would create revenue streams to support the organization’s free services while providing a state-of-the-art training space.

In the meantime, Salka said, the program is working to keep its students and their skills in the public eye. A perfect opportunity came in April, when Dearborn Public Library (DPL) Commission Member Jihan Jawad suggested inviting the Sewing Program to participate in programming around DPL’s 2018 Big Read selection, “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri. In honor of the novel, which tells the story of a young couple newly immigrated to the United States, Zaman’s students created a quilt depicting dwellings from around the world and invited patrons to help sew the quilt’s border during an evening at Henry Ford Centennial Library.

DPL Librarian Henry Fischer, who serves on the Big Read planning committee, said the library is “very thankful for the partnership with Zaman.”

“It brought a multicultural perspective to the library and helped strengthen our community ties,” Fischer said. “We have a beautiful quilt now that we will put on permanent display, and we hope we can work with Zaman on more projects in the future.”