Opportunity a Stitch in Time

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Once a week in the Black Belt Design building in York, Ala., a group of women are stitching toward a more profitable future. It's thanks to a non-profit job training program called Planting Stitches.

The organization was created by a graduate student from the University of Alabama, with money donated from the school's office of community affairs. Planting Stitches is training women to profit from skills many of them already possess.

"A lot of clothing and textile factories have closed down and moved away and this is a way for them to capitalize on their sewing skills," said Brian Taylor of Planting Stitches.

The program has a simple objective: to train qualified seamstresses at hand-stitching and to help these women to earn business licenses so they can become independent contractors and business owners.

"There's a demand for individual clothing, for clothing to not be so mass marketed or mass produced," Taylor said. "Everything is one of a kind."

Planting Stitches works with a for-profit business venture based out of Florence, Ala., called Project Alabama. The company already contracts out to more than 100 trained hand-stitchers. The women in Planting Stitches go on to join those ranks.

It works this way. Trained seamstresses compete to work on certain items. They pay an agreed-upon price for materials and turn around a week later to sell finished products back to the company for significant profits.

These independent seamstresses earn anywhere between $150 to $400 a week, working from home on hand sewn pieces, and the prices people will pay for these one of a kind, hand sewn, 100 percent cotton garments makes the effort worth the while.

"$350 for a t-shirt up to $10K for a dress," said Taylor. "And they're sold in stores like Barney's New York, Bergdorff-Goodman, about 70 stores all over the world."

"It makes me feel proud just to know that I sewed something that cost that much. You know, it makes me feel good," said Gloria Fortner, a seamstress and stitcher.

Brian intends to expand Planting Stitches throughout Alabama's Black Belt region. For more information, visit www.plantingstitches.org.