Opportunity all sewn up

From The South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Tasha Vaughn, a mother and grandmother who lived at the Center for the Homeless before she received a permanent housing grant from the center, was looking for work when parental services coach Maria Thompson approached her with a job opportunity.

The job was with STTCHD (pronounced “stitched”), a company that hires residents of the Center for the Homeless to create customized T-shirts. Founder Adam Miller, an innovation consultant with South Bend enFocus, said he decided to create the business after hearing a National Public Radio story in September 2013 about the criminalization of homelessness in American cities.

“In just a split second, I had this idea of taking old material, old T-shirts and then employing residents here at the Center for the Homeless to create apparel from recycled material,” he said.

Miller spoke to employees at the center, including Thompson, about starting the company, and in February 2014, he received a grant from the Fellow Irish Social Hub at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park to build a 50-shirt pilot program. In August 2014, he hired three current or former residents as “STTCHRS” (pronounced “stitchers”), though only Vaughn ended up staying.

Miller created a Facebook page for the business and ordered plain gray T-shirts from SustainU, a West Virginia-based company that makes clothing out of recycled fabrics. After receiving orders via the STTCHD Facebook page, Vaughn sewed colorful pockets on the T-shirts and stitched her name on the sleeve lining.

Vaughn said she makes the shirts at home, using her and her children’s old clothes for the pockets.

“[Miller will] show up with the gray shirts, and the shirts that I make the pockets out of,” she said. “Since then I’ve gone through a couple of patterns. He had an old shirt that I measured and used that.”

Vaughn, who crafted as a hobby for years before working for STTCHD, said the job gives her an income that helps with household expenses.

“Because I’m not working and I’m not bringing in income, it helps a lot for day-to-day things like laundry and necessities at home, things I need, to take care of myself and my daughter,” she said.

Vaughn said the job also gives her the skills and experience she needs to find full-time employment in the future.

“It shows that I’m not idly sitting by,” she said. “Because when you’re looking for a job, they want to know that you’ve been doing something.”

By December, STTCHD sold all 50 T-shirts – the most popular pocket design came from an old floral dress that belonged to Vaughn’s daughter. Miller said he received positive feedback through Facebook, which allowed the company to connect with its customers.

“They take pictures of themselves wearing it, kind of following up, and telling that they’ve informed their friends about it,” he said. “Getting the story out there has been neat to see.”

Miller said he hopes the company will grow after the success of the pilot program.

“Eventually we’d like to involve as many residents as possible,” he said. “The next steps — right now we just sell T-shirts, but we’d like to expand beyond that, whether it be sweatshirts or long-sleeved T-shirts or who knows. Tasha has also done jewelry in the past, so we think there might be other avenues for this as well going forward. That’s a decision we’ll have to make pretty soon.”

Thompson said Vaughn, who participated in several of the center’s career programs, is a “success story.”

“She’s employed part time now, and she’s doing something that she enjoys,” Thompson said. “That’s what I always tell folks. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, everything will fall into place. Because you can get the skills that you need. She’s passionate about crafting. She always has been.”

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