Sewers boost Oakland economy and more


While most of the nation is focusing on a steady stream of negative news about the economy, an enterprising group in Alameda County is hoping to buck the trend. And, at the same time give Oakland something to brag about.

This is not your average, homegrown sewing group. It's a new social enterprise venture that is bringing sustainable sewing manufacturing to Oakland. The venture is known as Made in Oakland, or MIO - which also means 'mine' in Spanish.

"What we looked at, was how can we do something that really is more than sewing and really training people on how to be master sample makers, pattern makers," said Marsha Murrington, Executive VP, Unity Council.

Murrington fostered this sewing group concept. Unity Council is a nonprofit community development organization that focuses on improving Oakland's Fruitvale District - a neighborhood in dire need of more jobs.

"Since a lot of jobs went away from the Bay Area over the last several years, and a lot of shops have closed down; and we knew that there were people that could sew but were out of work," said Murrington.

With the help of a $700,000 federal economic development grant, MIO is committing over the next three years to create 60-to-70 livable-wage jobs with benefits.

Hiroko Kurihara, a local fashion designer, is directing the project. MIO will provide a range of services -from making patterns and samples for emerging fashion and home furnishing designers, to actually manufacturing the goods at their own production facility. What makes this venture even more unique is its focus on using environmentally-friendly materials.

"We are seeing more and more organic cotton, and bamboo and alternative fibers," said Kurihara.

Hiroko says consumer desire for sustainably-made products is in demand in the Bay Area.

"There's a different sensibility around self-expression and I think craftsmanship towards what we produce and what we wear," said Kurihara.

MIO says the market is there - it already has its first customer, a Berkeley-based fashion shop. Plus the community is eager to work - some 200 applicants are being screened for the jobs.

The group also has plans to develop its own Made in Oakland line of clothing and goods by re-using excess material waste that's donated from larger companies. Idea after idea - being threaded together to build a stronger community.

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