By Terrah Baker
Leah Garrett, her mother Lou Sharp and Michael Downs have a dream to help communities through sewing. Their journey began when they started selling specialty items like reversible aprons and coffee sleeves from reclaimed and environmentally-friendly materials under the brand Olive Loom at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market.
“It was at the farmer’s market we realized there were a lot of people who needed secondary incomes and who sewed at home,” Sharp explained.
That’s when the idea of offering couture clothing made by local home sewers first took shape. What started with one home sewer has now become close to 100, Downs said, and from their talents the fashion line fromjane.
The group has hit fashion trade shows in Dallas and NWA since their launch with the hope to make the line a household name in small, local boutiques as well as in larger specialty stores like Anthropology and Urban Outfitters.
“If we were trying to sew for Walmart or the big box stores: One, we couldn’t produce enough. And two, we couldn’t get the costs low enough to compete,” Downs explained. “If you’re going to use the rural market home force you have to have a business model that can support a higher-end product.”
Their business is about helping communities, not making money. So, to make themselves marketable in the high-end arena they use quality materials like organic soy, organic cotton, hemp and recycled plastics. They use all of their remnants and donated jeans for patchwork and flare. They reuse their packing and are even working with U.S. mills to once again bring the trade of fabric milling back from places like China, with the goal of one day buying all U.S.-made fabrics.
“Arkansas is a huge soy producer but all of the fabric is being made in China,” Garrett said. “We are keeping in contact with U.S. mills to show our interest and support.”
To create the pieces, each sewer is given a pattern — whether its special cut for an individual or standard sizes for a boutique — and expected to turn in a finished item using the equipment at their home and in the Olive Loom home office in Fayetteville. Each piece is inspected and then sewers are paid per item.
Most of the sewers who take part are looking to supplement income, and most already have a passion for sewing. Garrett and her mother do some training, and offer more expensive equipment like sergers, to create edging, at their home office.
The next big step to creating a community-supported business through sewing is already taking place through a program they started in Winslow at the Ozark Folkways where donated sewing machines and a serger from the Winslow Economic Development Center are being used to teach new sewers.
“That’s where we’ll provide the training and the jobs,” Garrett said. “Winslow is the flag ship for future communities.”
Their classes are held every third Saturday at 1 p.m., with the next being on June 15. Find more information about Olive Loom, fromjane., their projects, products and classes at www.from-jane.com. Visit their location in Fayetteville at 4083 N. Shiloh Drive Suite 8.