Diamond Brand Gear is leading a regional effort to revive the art of sewing through education and collaboration.
By Holly Eamon
With roots extending to 1881, Diamond Brand Gear in Fletcher, N.C., continually works to build upon its legacy. The outdoor and military gear manufacturer is revitalizing not only its brand but also the industry’s core craft: sewing.
From hosting facility tours and a temporary pop-up retail factory to spearheading a workforce development initiative for cut-and-sew companies, Diamond Brand is igniting interest in U.S. manufacturing across western North Carolina.
“Collaboration is one of our company values,” says Lauren Rash, chief operating officer. “If we grow the industry for the greater good, our piece of that pie will grow too. It’s ingrained in our DNA to be good stewards of our community and our employees.”
Education became a company focus when summer camps started requesting facility tours for 5- to 12-year-old participants. These expanded to youth of all ages as high school teachers encouraged their students to explore textile career opportunities. Even curious press members receive the same tour experience: Individuals are paired with one of Diamond Brand’s 60 employees, given scrap fabric and control of a sewing machine, and taught to make a drawstring backpack or tote bag they later take home.
On top of being an easy way to upcycle fabric, this helps spark awareness in younger generations and allows the employees to become stewards and teachers of their craft, Rash says. “The kids love it and our team feels just as encouraged afterward. Even though we use lean techniques and automated machinery, we experience the art of making things every day.”
February marked a year’s end of a successful pop-up retail factory Diamond Brand opened in downtown Asheville, N.C. Employees sold and repaired products and taught people how to sew or repair their own gear. Participants ranged from bridal parties to tourists passing through. The location closed for building renovations, but the company is open to hosting similar events in the future.
Rash knew she was not alone in looking to broaden these teaching skills. To ensure adequate attendance to support continual semesters of a potential sewing course at community colleges, she enlisted the help of other cut-and-sew companies in her region to develop a course curriculum.
“At our first meeting we had 20 companies represented across five counties. Whether we have two or 100 employees, the common thread among us is the desire to grow the industry, but we don’t have the in-house resources or capacity to even teach new hires the basics of sewing,” Rash says.
Calling themselves the North Carolina Cut and Sew Coalition, the group narrowed its focus to workforce sewing training; sewing mechanic training; and dispelling old myths about textiles. They’ve made the most headway so far on workforce training.
Rash reached out to a West Coast makers coalition in Seattle that had created a basic apprenticeship program. With their help and funding from the Carolina Textile District, the North Carolina coalition developed a 60-hour course that two community colleges will offer this September.
“Our hope for the future is to build and grow an apprenticeship program throughout high schools, but this is a great foundation for us and hopefully something companies in other regions can model,” Rash says.
Holly Eamon is an editor and writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.