Grantee Spotlight

Rightfully Sewn provides seamstress training for individuals so they can thrive in a specialized workforce that will reestablish Kansas City as an epicenter of garment manufacturing, while at the same time, propel Kansas City fashion designers to market so they can supply the burgeoning demand for high-quality, American-produced garments.

In the last century, when 95% of what Americans wore was made in America, Kansas City, Missouri was known nationwide for manufacturing suits, coats, and dresses. Our garment district consisted of over 150 companies employing more than 5,000 individuals, and the most well-known was the “Nelly Don” dress company founded by Ellen “Nell” Quinlan Donnelly Reed in September 1919. She sold dresses throughout the country, Canada, and Europe, outgrew three factories before designing and building the largest dress factory in the world, and produced 75 million dresses over the course of her business’ life.

2020 graduate of Rightfully Sewn’s Seamstress Training program

Ninety-six years later, spurred by Nell’s business acumen, a resurgence of interest for domestic goods, and international news coverage of several third-world garment factory catastrophes, Rightfully Sewn was founded in September 2015. Rightfully Sewn developed its mission to meet two key needs in the Kansas City area: the need of women for stable, well-paying jobs to secure financial independence, and the need of local fashion industry businesses for skilled seamstresses to expand their operations. Through skills training that provides a path to employment for at-risk women and various strategies to foster a well-connected, efficient fashion design and manufacturing community, Rightfully Sewn is laying a path to a contemporary version of Kansas City’s 20th-century golden era of garment design and manufacturing. 

Nationally, there is a major re-shoring of fashion manufacturing. We want Kansas City to stay at the forefront of that trend in order to attract additional production contracts–large and small, from all corners of the country–to our community. Our 2015 market research revealed that $5,010,000 worth of KC-designed fashion products are produced annually in other cities/countries like LA, Chicago, Austin, Guatemala, and India, and we want to bring a share of that production home.

2021 graduates of Rightfully Sewn’s Seamstress Training program

Poised for growth, Rightfully Sewn opened its first seamstress training and fashion design atelier on June 1, 2018, allowing us to expand our Seamstress Training Program, provide access to state-of-the-art fashion technology for area designers, and establish critical, mission-related earned revenue through public sewing classes and small batch production. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we temporarily shifted operations to produce 40,000 masks for area healthcare organizations and nonprofits, hiring graduates from the Seamstress Training Program to supplement our workforce. And in October 2020, we announced a new relationship with Alphapointe, a 501(c)(3) that has been in business in Kansas City since 1911 with 400 employees in the Kansas City area and in Queens, New York. They are one of the nation’s largest providers of rehabilitation services and employment for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our missions are similar – to empower individuals with obstacles to employment with work training and job opportunities, all while advancing domestic manufacturing. 

There are more than 100 jobs currently open for skilled seamstresses in our community at manufacturers, tailors, costumers, and retailers. We host jobs fairs to connect our graduates with employers and have a close working relationship with the employers so they can inform our curricula development. Rightfully Sewn distinguishes itself by cultivating local economic opportunity in order to boost demand for the skills taught in our workforce training. To that end, we offer quarterly workshops for Kansas City-based designers to help them develop their businesses, small batch production services to help brands launch and grow, and public events that enrich designers of all ages. These events feature nationally-known leaders, so we are exposing our community to the latest fashion industry practices and connecting these leaders to resources here. Advancing all of these initiatives simultaneously, we are empowering women, helping businesses grow, attracting new businesses, creating an identity for our city, and creating economic impact.

2021 graduates of Rightfully Sewn’s Seamstress Training program and staff