When you unfold your Mamachic for the first time, you’ll marvel at the smooth seams, the fun polygonal symmetry, and the gentle pull of the draped knit along your shoulders. You might wonder, how is this simple, beautiful garment made?
Welcome to Opportunity Threads.
This worker-owned cooperative, located 70 miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, boasts 20 employees who are talented cutters, sewers, samplemakers and handworkers. At the helm is Molly Hemstreet, who fell into manufacturing as she set out to create a cooperative within the small town of Morganton. She’s changed the traditional business model to one that is truly empowering for her employees — they manage their own output, and if on an owner-track, have a direct stake in profit and losses.
At the start of Mamachic production, I parked myself at Opportunity Threads for a few days in order to track process and quality. It was wonderful — and important — to meet those whose very hands are making my product.
All of the workers are Guatemalan Mayan, and many came with sew skills already in hand. As English is their third language (behind Mayan and Spanish), Molly makes a concerted effort to enroll them in weekly literacy classes as well as community activities. Refreshing, all around. Their days start bright and early at 7 am, and most are out by 3 pm. When I walked into the sew shop each morning, there was bouncy music playing and many greeted me with smiles.
Here, I’ll take you through the production of the Mamachic, from cutting to packing!
Step 1: Cutting
Juan rolls out our fabric in layers, then uses industrial cutters to slice through about 6 inches of fabric at a time.
Step 2: Sewing on the labels
After all the fabric is cut, it’s in the queue to get a Mamachic label sewn onto the “neutral” side. In the case of our teal Mamachic, it’s a charcoal grey that gets the label.
I immediately check for quality, and notice some of the labels are too tightly stitched, warping the fabric immediately around it. Do-over!
One sewer, Maria, gets into a good groove and finishes off a batch of perfectly-sewn labels.
Step 3: Sewing two layers together
Next, the two layers — in this case, the teal and charcoal — get stitched together, inside out, along the perimeter. Here, head sewer Walter works on a batch.
Then the garment gets turned back right-side in, where a top-stitch is applied by Jessica.
The knit of our rayon from bamboo is tricky. Walter ended up experimenting with a few different machines to get the edge seams to lay flat. Because the fabric is so stretchy, as he moves it along the machine, one layer may stretch more than the other, which pulls unevenly on each other — resulting in these ornery waves:
After Molly and I examined a few coming off the line, Walter switched out a different weight of thread, and figured out just the right needle pressure and pull, as well as which sewing machines were calibrated correctly for our stretchy fabric. It’s both a science and art — and fascinating to see the troubleshooting process!
Step 4: Pressing in the snap buttons
Molly had wanted to try using her automated machine to press the snaps onto the Mamachic, so I ordered some dies from our button vendor to insert into her machine — but the dang machine broke! So here, Alfonso uses a custom hand-press tabletop machine to snap our dark brown buttons on.
Step 5: Trimming and Quality Control
Aside from cutting off the loose, long remnants of threads from various seams on the Mamachic, it’s important to check each garment for workmanship and irregularity. When the first few came off the line, I spotted some seam imperfections. An “irregulars” pile soon started! No customer will receive those; instead, they will be used for demonstration purposes or donated to women’s centers.
Step 6: Folding & packing
The last step involves folding the Mamachic so that we show off the label as well as both colors. I created an exact folding methodology, and with some repetition, it should flow fairly quickly!
The folded Mamachic is topped with our branding booklet, and stuffed into a waterproof, recycled plastic bag, ready for shipping!