Colorado is becoming a center for apparel and sewn-product companies, especially in the active sports, leisure and outdoor apparel market. The state has a cluster of apparel and sewn-product businesses and is working to find solutions for them to build their own businesses and for the expansion of the apparel manufacturing sector as a whole in the state. This summary outlines a plan to develop a network of manufacturing centers in rural areas of Colorado where jobs are scarce and wages are low.
Over the last three decades, the U.S. has lost 90% of our apparel manufacturing jobs to contract manufacturers overseas. Time constraints, transportation costs, substandard development of prototypes, and low quality have contributed to the desire of apparel and sewn-product companies to have manufacturing facilities located close to design and product development facilities. In the last six years, demand for apparel products “Made in the USA” has increased.
Apparel is experiencing a similar movement of consumers as that in the food industry. The movement from fast food to locally-grown food (the “farm-to-table movement”) is having a fast and lasting impact on the food industry. In similar fashion, overseas apparel manufacturing has resulted in “fast fashion” with the lowest price for the least style, poor quality fabric and materials, and poor craftsmanship. Local, on-American-soil, apparel production could bring a return of high quality craftsmanship and construction to the apparel industry. Consumer appreciation of higher quality craftsmanship could support the higher labor costs of production in the U.S.
For Colorado to truly become a center for local apparel manufacturing and sewn-product businesses, the workforce will need training in garment assembly, on complex industrial machines and in maintaining a variety of industrial machines.
The RCAM network of apparel manufacturing sites concept was developed by Colorado State University Professor Carol Engel-Enright, former economic developer Julie Worley of Rocky Ford, Colorado, and Yuma County, Colorado economic developer Darlene Carpio. The idea is to create jobs and economic diversity in rural Colorado “one stitch at a time”, by establishing a system of sewing centers, each offering basic cutting and sewing services that would be specialized with respect to a particular fabric or item. The start-up cost to open a center is relatively minimal: centers can be placed in vacant commercial properties with few amenities required. This sewing center concept brings numerous benefits to rural Colorado communities: filling empty Main Street buildings, providing part-time jobs, teaching new skills, and supporting the movement on a local basis to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.
An umbrella nonprofit organization, the Rural Colorado Apparel Manufacturing Foundation, is being formed with the help of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Educational and Charitable Foundation, Inc. (RMFU) which is serving as fiscal sponsor until the nonprofit 501c3 status is secured. The RCAM Foundation will support the network of cut and sew centers by marketing the RCAM label, creating a training curriculum and programming, offering human resource services, and coordinating other services to meet the needs of these new businesses.
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