In July, Sew Great Detroit (SGD) moved from the crowded and cramped craft room at AFG that they had called home for nearly 3 years, to Ponyride. Bursting with inspiration and creativity, Ponyride is a nonprofit in Corktown that rents space to budding artists, makers, and entrepreneurs. Its mission is “to be a catalyst for deploying social capital to a diverse group of artists, creative entrepreneurs, and makers who are committed to working together to make communities in Detroit sustainable.”
SGD is a social enterprise program headed by AFG’s volunteers and supported by AFG’s donors, that teaches participants sewing and employment skills. With this move, SGD joins the ranks of over 60 other residents, including Anthology Coffee and The Lip Bar.
Four Young Women Learn to Sew, and Much More
The move coincides with the addition of four new members of the team. The young women, all residents of AFG’s Shelter, didn’t know how to sew before their first week. After only three days, each girl was able to make multiple baby bibs (a SGD staple) on her own.
“Sewing takes a lot of patience. I’m the type of person who has anxiety and sometimes panics. But it’s teaching me to pay attention and slow down. I really like it,” shares Angel, 18.
In addition to having more space and being around other creative business people, another benefit to the move is that it creates a separate space for work outside of their current home at AFG. It is also convenient, located only 2 miles away from AFG. This allows the young women to walk, bike, or take the bus to and from work. “I love that AFG offers a job for us. I like that SGD allows us to be productive and it makes us feel at home in the work place,” Angel explains.
Making the Move
With the support of AFG’s staff, Board of Directors, and Lois Cohn, new AFG Board Member and longtime SGD supporter, the process for applying for space and moving to Ponyride began more than a year ago. “The idea of moving to Ponyride has been a dream since we first launched Sew Great Detroit,” shared Janet McAuliffe, SGD volunteer since 2014.
Once the lease was signed, the space required electrical wiring and lighting to suit SGD’s needs. Thanks to a generous in kind donation from electrical contractor, John Jacobson, owner of J-Power, LLC, the work took only one day to complete.
Finally, with the help of AFG Facilities Coordinator, Robert Blurton, volunteers, and family members, the sewing machines, tables, and supplies were moved to the new space and operation resumed!
SGD Volunteers Teach Girls to Sew, and Build Confidence
SGD was created and made possible by a group of dedicated volunteers. “My favorite part of volunteering [with SGD] is seeing how the women blossom when they learn that they can do something new. The look of satisfaction on their faces when they sew for the first time is priceless!” shares Muriel, who has been volunteering with SGD for two and a half years. Toni, who has been volunteering for one year, agrees, “I love being at the beginning of a promising social enterprise that provides valuable skills to women.”
The new space is a dream come true for the volunteers. “It’s such an upbeat, stimulating place. Our space is light and bright. Even more importantly – it’s ours. We don’t have to share it with anyone. It feels so professional. The move is really a growth step for us,” says Muriel.
“Although we have a small shop (only 300 square feet), the Sew Great Detroit team, seamstresses and volunteers are working in the midst of other artisans that are producing exciting products and services. We have our products on display and every day both visitors and other artisans stop to admire the progress of our new team. This encouragement is an emotional boost as well as a source of pride that really helps when learning something very new.” Janet adds.
Planning for the Future
SGD has big dreams for the future, “We believe that the entrepreneurial focused environment [at Ponyride] will help our team achieve the goals of expanding capacity to include more members and achieve financial sustainability,” reflects Janet. Another volunteer, Fran, who has been with SGD for almost 3 years, said; “I’m looking forward to watching SGD grow and expand into a viable manufacturing business.”
Currently, SGD is producing its “Hold the Phone” cross body cell phone bag, adult size chef bib aprons, child size reversible bib aprons, and kerchief style baby bibs. As the team develops their sewing skills, additional products will be added to the lineup.
As SGD settles into their new home, one thing that won’t change is the impact it has on its members. “I love being around other productive women. There’s going to be so many skills that I will take out of here,” Angel smiles.
You can check out SGD’s handmade goods at the Ponyride Detroit Design Festival on Wednesday, September 20th from 4 pm – 10 pm and Saturday, September 30th from 10 am – 6 pm and at the Ponyride Market on Saturday, October 14th from 10 am – 2 pm. We hope to see you there!