As my old pappy used to say “Sometimes good things happen because somebody saw an opportunity to make some money.” I hope that School House Apparel will prove him correct because it certainly has been built on a couple of big audacious altruistic ideas. According to Rachel Weeks the founder and guiding light of School House Apparel that day of profitability may be near at hand.
Ms. Weeks was a Greensboro girl who came to Duke with an interest in fashion and concern for exploited workers in the third world sweat shops which produce much of the world’s clothing.
She managed to obtain a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Sri Lanka, a small country 10,000 miles away which was trying to brand itself as a source of clothing that was produced ethically. To make a long story short, Ms. Weeks founded School House and launched a factory in Sri Lankathat paid almost triple the prevailing wage to its workers.
Perversely perhaps, the success of the latter negatively impacted School House. The factory attracted the attention and business of much larger companies like Nike who made it difficult for them to meet the needs of a small customer like School House. This and the fact that the logistics of dealing with a supplier so far away led to the second big School House Apparel idea; revive the American clothing industry.
Everyone knows that there used to be hundreds of small knitting and cut and sew operations scattered throughout North Carolina. School House went on a search among the few that are left and found a partner in Mitt’s Nitts right here in Durham who would work closely with them to produce and source materials right here in North Carolina including zippers in Oxford, fabrics in Greensboro and screen printing in Rocky Mount. In their words, they are creating a greener, homegrown supply chain and providing a model for reviving clothing manufacturing here on the east coast. [Read more…]