Program Report: Rachel Weeks and School House Apparel

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…]

Program Write-up: Council for Entrepreneurial Development – Joan Siefert Rose

The Council for Entrepreneurial Development serves as a networking and mentoring non-profit organization that fosters the entrepreneurial culture of the Research Triangle andNorth Carolina. Founded inDurhamin 1984 CED is the largest entrepreneurial support group in the Southeast and the oldest such network in the country.  It has helped entrepreneurs raise more than a billion dollars in capital, launched more than 700 companies, and serves more than 5,500 members in more than a 1000 companies.  Its principal donors include banks, law firms, real estate companies, technology and biomedical and consumer products companies among others.  Area universities and RTP play a major role in CED activities.

Joan Siefert Rose, president of CED for the past three years, gave us a fascinating and informative overview of the mission and activities of CED.  She admits that she is a “low tech person in a high tech world.”  With a B.A. from decidedly liberal arts Middlebury College and a master’s degree from Michigan, Joan’s previous professional career was  mainly in public radio—Michigan NPR and, more recently, seven years as general manager of WUNC.  Anticipating the question of how someone with her background in radio would wind up cultivating entrepreneurial networks, she humorously commented that some of their mentees just needed a little “adult supervision.”  On a more serious note, she noted that it is one thing for entrepreneurial aspirants to have creative, practical ideas, designs and prototypes.  Building a product that has a market and potential for profit results in real entrepreneurial success.  The mission of CED is to help grow good ideas into businesses. [Read more…]

Bill Stokes and George Deaton on Creative Giving Strategies

We have had so many great programs over the last few years I wonder whether we will ever run out of great topics.  On top of that we also have a large number of the most knowledgeable and interesting people in the community in the club and we seldom tap them for programs. Sometimes we just take what we have for granted.

In spite of that, the program on March 12th brought us two members who put together a program on creative charitable giving to pinch hit for another member, Dave Ross who was originally scheduled to present an opportunity to help start a Rotary Club in a devastated area ofHaiti. Dave had to be out of town.

Neither Bill Stokes nor George Deaton need much introduction but for newer members, Bill is a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney ( with a couple of degrees from Duke. He’s also aDurham native with a long list of community activities. Bill described how certain individuals with traditional IRA accounts could make charitable contributions directly from their IRA account excluding the contributions from gross income and simultaneously satisfying distribution requirements. You’ll find the total explanation on Bill’s webpage by clicking through the link in the sidebar entitled “White Papers.” The two page summary is the last one on the list. [Read more…]

Program Report: ACC/NCAA Basketball Tournments – Barry Jacobs

With March Madness upon us and with the ACC Basketball Tournament getting underway in downtown Atlanta’s Phillips Arena on March 8th, the club heard from arguably the most respected local sports journalist and analyst Barry Jacobs.

Barry’s career as a journalist spans thirty six years.  Born in New York, he graduated from Duke and settled in the Triangle area.  His columns have appeared in major national newspapers and local news outlets and he contributes regularly to the online ACC Sports Journal (  Barry is a prolific author of roundball books.  To name a few: Golden Glory: First Fifty Years of the ACC;  Across the Line: Tales of the First Black Players in the ACC; Coach K’s Little Blue Book (co-authored with Coach K); Three Paths to Glory: A Season on the Hardwood with Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina; and The World According to Dean.  His level-headed, informed and honest analysis makes him a highly sought after commentator on ACC sports.

In addition to his career as journalist and author, Barry spends many hours in public service.  As a member of the Orange County Commission since 1998, Barry is a strong proponent of a Triangle light rail system and environmental protection.  Another interest is historic preservation.  He and his wife Robin, the executive director of the Eno River Foundation, are active in preserving Moorefields, a 1785 home in Orange County that is on the National Register of Historic Places and whose surrounding land is maintained as a wildlife preserve. [Read more…]

Program Write-Up: John Guss and the Bennett Place Historical Site

The last time we heard from John Guss was when he addressed the Club at the re-dedication of the Rotary Bandstand at Bennett Placeduring President Sam Miglarese’s term two years ago. Sam, who is now on the board of Bennett Place introduced John, a man trained in marketing but very interested in history and who built something of a career in films based on his interest in the Civil War as a reenactor.

Even though Mr. Guss joked about having to begin to grow a beard for an upcoming portrayal of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union General who wreaked havoc throughout the south during the war, this presentation had a more somber tone than the celebration two years ago.

Bennett Place is one of three state historical sites inDurhamand is important because it was the site of the largest surrender of the war. The others are the Stagville Plantation and the Duke Homestead. Mr. Guss related that besides preparing to play Sherman, he was also preparing for a meeting the following day to discuss the fate of the three sites under the pressure of the State’s ongoing budget crisis. One of the cuts under discussion is to place the management of the sites under one manager and letting two go…at no additional salary, of course. [Read more…]

Program Write-up Joystick Labs – Video Gaming Industry

 Video Gaming has come a long way since Atari was launched in the 1970s and later when the industry began migrating from video arcades to home computers—remember the Commodore and Tandy computers.  A guy named Steve Jobs was selling Apple computers out of his parents’ garage.  I’ll bet many Santa Clauses in this club remember scrambling in the next decade to find copies of  Frogger, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders to put under Christmas trees and in stockings.

Development of video games has become big business, bigger even than the movie industry.  Gaming is something on the order of $30 billion a year.  Silicon Valley leads the pack but the Triangle area has emerged as one of the top ten areas—with 30 video game studios and companies—ranking somewhere around fifth or sixth in the country.

Joystick Labs, located in the American Tobacco facilities, plays an important role mentoring and fostering emerging video game developers who have great ideas but little business experience and no money.  Joystick’s Managing Director John Austin and co-founder Glen Caplan gave us a fascinating overview of their operation and the video game industry.  For most of us, their presentation was something of an eye-opener.  They were not preaching to the choir.  A show of hands revealed few video gamers in our midst except of course for a small number of younger, more “with it” members.  However, a later show of hands revealed that many club members reticent to admit game playing confessed to being avid fans of  “Angry Birds,” a game ap on their Iphones. [Read more…]