Northern niche

November 1st, 2016 / By: / Business, Management

Ben, Kate, Richard, and Jennifer Mitchell. The family owners of Nomar in Homer, Alaska.
Mitchell began business in 1978 with a single commercial sewing machine and a converted GMC school bus used as a shop. Today, NOMAR employs 15 talented individuals, has numerous sewing machines and 10,000 square feet of work space. Photo: NOMAR.

Kate Mitchell is the owner of NOMAR, a Homer, Alaska-based company that develops unique items to serve the local industries. NOMAR first opened its doors in 1978 as Mitchell’s Marine Canvas & Upholstery. Today, it employs 15 skilled employees and offers American made clothing, ‘Laska Luggage,’ fisheries gear, parachute bags, upholstery and canvas boat tops. Here, Mitchell talks about her biggest influence, rewards and how she made a living with a sewing machine.

Who has been your biggest influence, personally or professionally?
My mother Ruby was the first woman in Washington State to receive her Journeyman card in the Upholstery Union. WWII provided an opportunity for women to step into industries that had been men only. She was my inspiration, “You can do anything you set your mind to ... just have to overcome the ‘B—‘ trying to stop you,” is the jist of what she shared. Twelve guys stood and watched her all day while she upholstered a piece of furniture before they would grudgingly give her the certificate she had earned.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Do it yourself if you want the profit, you have to be in charge and don’t be afraid to say yes. That propelled us into the business we have today.

What has been the most significant invention or technological advancement during your lifetime?
The computerized cut table was a giant leap into the future. The efficiency gained has opened doors for bigger and more complex projects than “mom” could have ever imagined.

Why did you join IFAI? Which services/benefits do you use the most?
I was thrilled when IFAI membership called me, I had no idea there was an organization to promote sewing businesses. I am so far off the beaten path in Homer; I was on my own trying to figure out how to make a living with my sewing machine. Specialty Fabrics Review magazine gave me supply sources and the stories helped broaden my horizons. Just to know that many big shops have started out as humble as me.

The IFAI conventions show you all the latest tools of the trade. In the beginning, we could only dream of the possibilities and come home with some small improvement to our shop. The wish lists were created and. step-by-step, progress was made. The webbing cutter, the hydraulic grommet machine and better sewing machines all helped.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST REWARDS?
The biggest reward looking back is we created an Alaskan business based on high quality American-made solutions to fit Alaskan needs and built a business sustainable well into future generations.

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