Nashville Sewing Academy Aims to Fill Workforce Gaps (Lizzy Alfs, The Tennessean online)

Posted 09/02/2015

A major challenge Nashville's growing fashion community faces is the lack of resources on the commercial side of the industry.

Only a few local manufacturers offer small-scale production for emerging designers, and a skills gap makes it difficult for those apparel manufacturers to find trained workers.

Enter Nashville's new Sewing Training Academy.

Months in the works, the academy officially opened this week with students learning valuable sewing skills in a comprehensive three-week course.

The academy is a collaboration between the Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the new nonprofit Nashville Fashion Alliance and Omega Apparel Inc. - a Smithville-based manufacturer on a major growth spurt to help fuel Nashville's emerging fashion industry.

The Frist Foundation and the Memorial Foundation are among the groups that provided funding for the academy.

"The Sewing Training Academy is a wonderful example of a public/private partnership that will prepare Middle Tennesseans for skilled, well-paying jobs supporting the local growing creative economy," Bill Sinclair, executive director of Catholic Charities, said in a statement.

Mayor Karl Dean celebrated the academy's launch with other officials at a ribbon cutting on Wednesday.

Nashville's fashion industry has been in the spotlight in recent months, with national news organizations highlighting local success stories and the launch of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, which has a goal to connect local and regional fashion brands with resources to help them thrive.

Local designers include high-end denim label Imogene + Willie, "Rhinestone Rembrandt" designer-to-the-stars Manuel, "Project Runway" Season 13 runner-up Amanda Valentine and luxury leather goods company Peter Nappi.

In response to the fashion industry's growth, Omega Apparel opened a 20,000-square-foot apparel manufacturing facility in Nashville as the company diversifies its business after two decades of supplying dress clothing to the U.S. military.

Omega CEO Dean Wegner said a major roadblock to the company's expansion was finding skilled workers to fill its job openings. He anticipates the new Sewing Training Academy could add 1,000 new jobs to the local economy.

"I am ready to put the graduates to work," Wegner said in a statement.

The Sewing Training Academy is located at Catholic Charities' job training center at 1210 Davidson St. in East Nashville. There are 10 sewing machine stations at the academy, which will offer three-week courses at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

"We are seeking students with a desire to learn sewing as a professional trade in order to gain employment in apparel manufacturing after course completion," Trishawna Quincy, a clothing designer and the academy's coordinator and instructor, said in a statement.

Megan Stack, director of Catholic Charities' Family Assistance and Community Employment department, said the Sewing Training Academy can provide jobs for Nashville's immigrant and refugee population.


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