Catholic Charities of Tennessee's Sewing Training Academy set out in 2015 to train sewers to work in Nashville's burgeoning fashion and apparel industry.
But it's also become an incubator for entrepreneurs.
The work of some of those entrepreneurs, all graduates of the Sewing Training Academy, will be on display and for sale at the first SewPOP fundraiser to be held Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Imogene + Willie clothing store at 2601 12th Ave. S. in Nashville [from 10AM - 4PM].
At least 25 vendors are expected to participate at SewPOP, which will showcase hand-crafted products, such as camisoles, hats, robes, leather items, jackets and more.
"SewPOP will provide invaluable exposure for our talented students," explained Trishawna Quincy, the Sewing Training Academy's program coordinator and instructor. "We will have 25 exhibitors, who are at various points in their training. About half have already established their own micro-businesses; others will debut their businesses at SewPOP."
A special Opening Night Preview Party precedes the event on Friday, Sept. 6, featuring food trucks, drinks, music, and "great networking opportunities for both the fashion and sewing communities," Quincy said.
Admission for the opening night party on Friday is $20; on Saturday there is a suggested donation of $5 at the door.
The idea for this first-time event, Quincy said, "was suggested by one of our students as a possible fundraiser, so we decided to run with it."
Thirty percent of the profits from SewPOP will go to the Sewing Training Academy, with student vendors keeping the remainder. The money raised at the event will help fund an expansion of the academy's curriculum, including a six-week Production Intensive Course planned for January 2020.
Since it was founded, the Sewing Training Academy has trained more than 250 students in commercial sewing.
"We average around eight students per class, running a daytime, Level One Foundations class for seven weeks, four days a week, and an evening, Level Two Foundations class that meets two nights per week," Quincy said.
Tuition for the classes,she said, "is on a sliding scale based on income and can range from $150 to $500, with Level Two available day or night after students complete the first level."
"Here (at the academy) they learn how to think like a sewer, working on speed and concentration," Quincy explained.
Before joining the class, students must go through an interview process, Quincy said. "We want to make sure their goals are aligned with those of the program."
Quincy stressed that the academy teaches "career classes, and these are not for people who want to pursue this as a hobby."
Once they graduate, some students choose alterations, others prefer to move into production for local manufacturing. "Some start their own businesses, and others become stitchers for local designers and craftspeople," Quincy said. "Our goal is to be a hub, not only a trusted source for employers to find great sewers to join their team, but also a place where students can learn a trade and find their own road to success. We exist to help people better their lives through the skill of sewing."
Betsy Campbell is one of the Sewing Training Academy's graduates who has started her own business and will be participating in SewPOP.
"For me it was good to have the one-on-one type of teaching and learn how to sew on industrial machines," Campbell said of her time at the Sewing Training Academy.
Another benefit of the classes, Campbell said, "is that it gives you the freedom to create more and do what you want to do."
"That's all we do in there. Sew, sew, sew. Like my project, or someone else's skirt, or another person who's working on a duffel bag," said Nicole Bess, another of the academy's graduates who will be participating in SewPOP.
Campbell and Bess have both started their own businesses.
"My line is strictly a fashion one. I call it Betty C and I'm located at the Farmer's Market now on weekends, but starting in September will be there Tuesdays through Sundays," Campbell said.
"I sell anything that is fashion-related, and a lot of Ethiopian-style handcrafted items and even make an Ethiopian black tea for sale," Campbell said.
The artisan also makes linen jumpsuits and acrylic, handcrafted T-shirts that, Campbell said, "are modeled on Egyptian culture, like my tops, which are made out of Egyptian fabric."
Bess, whose business is N.B. Creations, L.L.C., likes to do custom sewing and vintage "refashion," where, she explained, "you take an existing piece of clothing and turn it into something modern."
"For example, I recently took a vintage dress and turned it into a modern, two-piece outfit," Bess said. "the project that took me about 10 hours, and I purchased the materials from various places - Jo Ann's Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, and some even online."
A local boutique is presently talking to Bess about providing it with items for retail, and the artisan is taking outerwear, or "wraps" as she calls them to SewPOP.
Those thinking about enrolling in the Sewing Training Academy, "will find that Trishawna is a very exceptional teacher," Bess said. "She's someone who gives a pupil one-on-one attention, based on their skill level, and more instruction as needed as each student progresses."
The Sewing Training Academy is one component of a workforce development program offered by Catholic Charities, with much of the training done at the McGruder Family Resource Center at 2013 25th Ave. North, in Nashville.
Tickets for the Friday Preview party can be purchased online by clicking on http://bit.ly/sewpop2019.