Sewing as Social Entrepreneurship
In 2005, Kelly Wilson and Lonnie Vanderslice dusted off their sewing machines from high school to work on a home makeover project for a friend. They both knew how to sew and needed the extra income. Kelly worked at a fabric store and requests for custom sewing kept coming in. Six months and many custom jobs later they realized they had a business. Today, Weave Gotcha Covered! is a custom window covering company pushing $1 million in sales and employing over 15 seamstresses.
As the business grew, it was difficult to find skilled seamstresses. Sewing is generally not taught in high schools or community colleges anymore. “It's become a dying art and we aim to stop that,” said Lonnie.
Kelly and Lonnie began participating in 100 Jobs for 100 Moms, teaching women in a transitional living facility how to sew. They started The Sewing Labs in 2017, a volunteer-based seamstress training facility, to help teach and employ people with barriers to traditional employment.
Kelly and Lonnie had been operating Weave Gotcha Covered! out of a small, cement gray, unfinished space. The size of their operation doubled in three years and they quickly outgrew the space. Kelly found a building in the community close to their existing space, but they were not able to make an offer.
Lonnie explained, “Ours had been a cash business, so it's difficult to get business loans. We sell services, so we don't carry inventory. We don't have any depth of pocket for a bank to have as collateral. Our employees are skilled and transitional by the nature of their lives. Those things don't make us a risk an average bank wants to take.”
In a social media post, Kelly asked for financing recommendations and AltCap was mentioned in a comment. Kelly realized she had met Ruben from AltCap during an event at The Kauffman Foundation, but did not know AltCap offered financing services. Kelly and Lonnie liked that AltCap supported local, small business in the urban core, so they called them. AltCap worked quickly to provide a microloan which Lonnie and Kelly used to make an offer on the building in their community.
“AltCap kept us in the community. We are five blocks from our previous location, and we moved to this place in the community specifically to be able to serve the population we want to hire,” said Lonnie.
The capital from AltCap also allows Kelly and Lonnie to improve their business operations. Along with more room, the new space will improve efficiency and profitability. Weave Gotcha Covered! is now looking to introduce a new division and product line.
Kelly has enjoyed working with AltCap because “They're approachable, they're neighborly. That's what I love.”