Yesterday, I woke up extra early (for me!) and made the three hour drive up to sustainable fashion hub Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned production facility in the foothills of western North Carolina. I was bringing five rolls of organic jersey to the facility, which will be sewn into 500 organic t-shirts. I also needed to pick up a couple of t-shirt samples that the sewing techs had pieced together (the pattern must be tested before we go to production).

Eulalia sewing up a storm!

About the Facility.

Its always such a pleasure to visit Opportunity Threads and see what everyone is up to on a given day! When I arrived, the facility manager, Molly, gave me a quick recap of what the sewing techs had been up to over the past few months. Molly has been able to hire a few more employees because business has been going so well! All of the employees are Hispanic. Many of them learned sewing and production skills while in their birth country and have brought their much needed knowledge to rural NC.

A Brief History of Clothing Production in NC

Just a bit of background here on apparel production in NC: A few decades ago, North Carolina had a strong infrastructure of clothing production. We grew and processed cotton, loomed fabric, and sewed garments (notably denim, tees, and undies!) here in NC. Unfortunately, we lost much of that due to outsourcing in the ‘90s. Luckily, Hispanic immigrants have come to North Carolina bringing their valuable sewing skills with them. They are key to rebuilding local supply chains.

The Thread Wall.

What’s Being Made?

So, back to my visit at Opportunity Threads! I was given a show of new products and garments being made at the facility. Molly and her co-workers love to collaborate with sustainable brands to make a variety of garments. I saw boxers, doggie vests, sweatshirts, and baby clothes this time around.

The main brand that the facility works with recycles used t-shirts into keepsake quilts. As far as I could tell, the vast majority of the employees were working on quilt production. It seems to be a booming business, which is exciting because these quilts are 100% recycled! The process is fascinating too. Some workers maneuver human-sized machines that cut perfect squares out of old t-shirts. Others sew the pieces, thoughtfully putting them together so that the colors coordinate. One woman, Maricela, was stacking up layers of recycled fleece and then cutting out the quilt backings with a giant saw! (I’m SO IMPRESSED with women who use heavy machinery. So badass.)

Maricela stacking fabric in preparation for cutting.

After a short tour, I got to take a look at the samples that Eulalia, one of the most talented and senior sewing techs, had put together. They looked great. I added a rib neckband to the Cody Tee this time around and it was laying nicely. I also had a couple of samples made for a new mens tee, to be called the Jack Tee.

Eulalia putting finishing touches on the Pamut samples.

What I took from the Visit.

Most importantly, Molly and I had a quick conversation about the future of sustainability in NC. We both agree that it is SO important to keep sustainable clothing accessible and affordable. Molly believes that the people who sew our clothes should be able to afford them too, and I wholeheartedly agree! That’s why I have a wide range of price points for Pamut garments. At $32-$40, the tees are accessible and wearable. The more expensive woven tops, dresses, and pants are my passion projects where I can really explore silhouette and craft. By creating this range, I’m able to help grow facilities such as Opportunity Threads while also pursuing my own creative goals.

Written by Katherine Williford

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