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Inspiring Conversations with Shailah Maynard of Sew Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shailah Maynard. 

Hi Shailah, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Sew Valley was founded in 2017 by myself and Rosie Kovacs. We both have backgrounds in fashion in different ways (mine in corporate retail buying, and Rosie’s in fashion design.) We both owned/ran our own small businesses. for several years prior to our formation and what both of us noticed was there is a huge void in our region (and the U.S. as a whole) of resources for small apparel companies to build and grow their brands locally. It is extremely hard to navigate the complicated world of garment production, and starting a small apparel brand or expanding an existing one is extremely hard due to the fact that the majority of apparel production has been off-shored. If you can find a U.S.-based manufacturer, their minimums are still likely way too high for a small start-up just getting off the ground. Rosie and I thought, what if we could provide that resource for local creatives looking to start or build their apparel brands and provide jobs in the sewn trades? If we were having trouble finding help with our own businesses, then others may have the same issue. With that, Rosie and I were lucky to receive seed funding in 2017 from a local foundation, The Haile Foundation, to see if our suspicions were correct. Pretty quickly after our formation, the phone started ringing, and we haven’t slowed since! 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
High level, yes, it’s been a smooth road considering the fact that we started as two part-time workers and now employ 11 individuals on staff. Our production calendar is consistently booked 3-6 months out, we rent studio space to designers (who we call “members”), we host classes quarterly, and our team is extremely proficient in every aspect of apparel design & production. That being said, it doesn’t mean it has been easy. No small start-up or business is easy to start and keep going. It takes literal blood, sweat, and tears to make a dream become a reality, and considering the sewn trades are slim to non-existent in the U.S., well that makes it even harder. For instance, finding trained workers interested in working in an industrial manufacturing facility is quite difficult. Anyone in our industry will tell you that is the biggest hurdle they face in keeping up with demand. We’re hoping to help solve that problem though with an industrial sewing apprenticeship program we hope to get off the ground in the near future. Stay tuned on that one! 

In short, there will always be struggles along the way no matter what you do. We’re lucky to have an amazing team who gives 110% every single day and isn’t afraid of a challenge. We love what we do, and that’s why we do it! 

As you know, we’re big fans of Sew Valley. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about the brand?
Sew Valley is a 501(c)(3) in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood. We exist to provide resources to apparel designers and entrepreneurs, aiming to help brands grow in a sustainable and thoughtful way. We offer physical workspace, educational workshops, and contract services such as pattern making, sample making, and small batch production. 

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you, and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
2020 was a wild year for Sew Valley as an organization. We shut down in March 2020 for 2 weeks, and in that time Rosie and I, along with a local designer Jessica Hemmer, created a plan for introducing a PPE manufacturing arm inside our facility. We received a few small grants to equip our facility in order to make it happen, and then in early April 2020, we were back open, manufacturing masks by the thousands. Remember when no one knew what a mask was, and certainly had no idea where to get one? We knew we wanted to help out during this tumultuous time, and we did it in the best way we knew how. Sewing. In the end, we manufactured over 13,000 masks, partnered with the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio to distribute them to communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic throughout our community. 

The biggest lesson we learned from the crisis is that adaptability is key. We took a step back, saw a need, and responded to it. The takeaways from that experience honestly helped take our internal operations to the next level. We grew from 8 to 11 employees on staff, some of whom had never sewn on an industrial machine before. Making several hundred masks per day was a great way to provide on-the-job training for new staff members who are still here with us to this day and now work on our (more complicated) apparel production line! 

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Image Credits

Sew Valley
Sophie Danin

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