Detroit program aims to become a catalyst for ethical fashion in the city

Original story, including audio of interview, here: Michigan Radio NPR, June 4, 2019


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Detroit may be the city that put the world on wheels, but a new effort launching in the Midtown district might add apparel to Detroit's manufacturing resume. It's called the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC), and it’s opening on Cass Avenue.

Jennifer Guarino is the chair of ISAIC, as well as the vice president of manufacturing at Shinola Detroit. Roslyn Karamoko is the founding director of Détroit Is The New Black, an apparel and lifestyle brand focused on ethical fashion.

Guarino says ISAIC is a program that teaches traditional industrial sewing skills alongside newer technology like automation and co-robotics. She says she hopes that the space will allow upcoming ethical fashion designers to manufacture their products on-site, instead of outsourcing it to other countries. 

Karamoko defines “ethical fashion” as sustainably-made products that don’t cause harm to their immediate environment. 

“Obviously, that’s natural materials, that’s the process in which you’re developing product, but I think it’s also the type of businesses that we have in certain areas and certain cities, and the demographics that they speak to,” she said.

Karamoko thinks Detroit is uniquely poised to support smaller-scale, ethical fashion production because the city has the space and the talent necessary to do so. 

Although the concept of ethical, sustainable fashion was once an expensive, elite endeavor, Karamoko says more consumers are becoming aware of where their garments are coming from, and how they’re made.  

Guarino agrees that ethical fashion is on its way to becoming a “customer expectation." She says that the fashion industry as a whole is beginning to understand what that means for production. She notes the current trend of “reshoring” production back to the United States.

“We are going to be setting up an ecosystem here that will be manufacturing, distributing in a more sustainable way. And Detroit gets to do that because we don’t have to deconstruct anything first. We get to actually build it as it could and should be,” Guarino said.

Margaret Tallet