ISAIC featured in Crain's Detroit

An effort by a local coalition of clothing makers to create a nonprofit industrial sewing center in Detroit is coming to life in space donated by workwear company Carhartt Inc.

The Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) will aim to grow the city's clothing manufacturing industry from above Carhartt's Midtown retail shop on Cass Avenue, according to a news release.

The ISAIC effort is two-pronged. Its nonprofit institute oversees a nationally recognized apparel industry apprenticeship program that will be implemented at its Cass Avenue facility, as well as through Detroit nonprofit The Empowerment Plan and others. ISAIC also aims to start a clothing-making factory late this year in the third-floor, 13,800-square-foot space at 5800 Cass Ave.

The manufacturing operation will provide contract sewing services for other companies, starting with 10 employees and building to 24 by the end of the year, Jen Guarino, chair of ISAIC's board and vice president of manufacturing at Shinola/Detroit LLC, told Crain's. The factory will share profits with employees in some way and could possibly be worker-owned, but its structure hasn't been finalized.

As part of its donation, Dearborn-based Carhartt is also giving the nonprofit 12 sewing machines and other manufacturing equipment — a gift that ISAIC valued at $113,000.

Tony Ambroza, chief brand officer at Carhartt, said in the release that now "is the right time and place to build and grow the apparel industry."

The nonprofit's goal is to build an ecosystem for innovative fashion design and manufacturing — one that creates employable, skilled tradespeople and utilizes newer manufacturing technologies such as robotics.

"ISAIC will serve the rapidly changing apparel industry by providing a people-centric environment, ongoing learning, equity in growth and a commitment to ethical practices," Guarino said in the release. "Carhartt's contribution to ISAIC reflects the company's long held commitment to providing apparel for workers and supporting the work they perform. We couldn't think of a partnership more ideal than this."

As it works toward starting operations in Midtown this fall, ISAIC is seeking $5 million through philanthropic channels, Guarino said. That amount — to be supplemented by factory revenue — would fund the apprenticeship program for three years and get the factory to a point where it could be self-sustainable by year three. It needs $2 million for its first year.

Guarino declined to disclose the foundations to which it is pitching for funding.

In addition to Carhartt, the initiative's partners are, according to its website: the city of Detroit, Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Design Core Detroit, Urban Manufacturing Alliance, The Makers Coalition, The Empowerment Plan, Henry Ford College, College for Creative Studies, Goodwill Industries Greater Detroit, Focus: Hope and United Way.

ISAIC's board includes Christian Birky, founder of Detroit-based sustainable menswear brand Lazlo LLC; Brenna Lane, co-owner of Detroit Denim; Cal McNeil of the Council of Fashion Designers of America; and David Merritt, founder of Detroit fashion brand Merit Goodness. The organization plans to announce its executive leadership in June.

As of last fall, the ISAIC effort had garnered support from Carhartt, Detroit Denim, Lazlo and Shinola.

Jeffry Aronsson, a former CEO of Donna Karan International and native Detroiter who has spent three decades in New York City's luxury apparel industry, has also undertaken an effort that seeks to upscale Detroit's fashion apparel industry. He first spoke about growing Detroit as a fashion and manufacturing hub at the 2017 Detroit Homecoming event, and has worked with Mayor Mike Duggan since to recruit big clothing brands to establish a manufacturing presence in the city, Crain's reported last year.

ISAIC has been involved in the city's and Aronsson's discussions, Guarino said.

"The companies that are interested in coming to Detroit to potentially have manufacturing here — one of their biggest concerns is the workforce … We want to be a part of ensuring we have the workforce to attract the industry," she said.

David Merritt