Saturday, February 16, 2008

Entrepreneurship: Sew and Know - training ground for young entrepreneurs

Getting an early start in business, learning a trade or simply discovering an enjoyable, lifetime activity often has a modest beginning. For many people, it starts as a child. VOA's June Soh visited a sewing program for young entrepreneurs in Washington and filed this report.

Twelve-year-old Christian Tarver says he is happy that he can make something for his mother. It is a giant pillow that he says his mother can use when she feels tired.

He looks at his project and says it's perfect. Christian has made things for himself, too. He describes his projects, "I made this hat. It is reversible. It is kind of reversible. It has green on the patch and it has camouflage color. It stands for my initials, Christian Tarver. And I also sewed the side of this black t-shirt. Basically, I made these clothes from scratch."

Christian joined a class called Sew and Know when he was nine. It is a public after-school program in southeast Washington sponsored by a community organization known as the Recreation Wish List Committee.

Janis Rankins created the sewing program. Reviewing a student's work she says, "This is perfect, except for -- that is the wrong side."

She once worked in the wardrobe departments of Hollywood studios and helped make clothes for television shows. "My idea was to give back some of the knowledge that I had gathered over the years working in the fashion world to the community, especially to children," she said.

Rankins says that when she first started the program there were two boys and ten girls in the class. Now the numbers are almost even and she has taught about 150 boys. "The interest that young men have in sewing and design and fashion has grown in this 12 years that I have been doing this program here in [Washington] D.C. The paradigm has definitely changed."

Rankins credits the change, in part, to famous entertainers getting into the fashion business.

The students held an annual holiday bazaar and fashion show in December. They used some of the proceeds to buy sewing supplies and the rest for Christmas shopping.

Rankins says the program benefits the children in many ways, and parents agree. Christian's mother [Felicia Tarver] says this is a class her son does not want to miss. "I think it has a really good impact. Because, not only do they learn how to sew, it is an entrepreneurship program as well. It teaches them to be creative and to use their talents to actually make income from the sales. So I think it is going to be an excellent benefit for him now and as he goes on to college."

The boys point out other benefits. Tarver says, "I have learned mostly a teamwork-like helping with each other and try to do my best in what I create."

Aaron Gerald, 10 years old adds, "I enjoy because I get to show boys that sewing is not just a girl thing, it is a boy thing too. Boys can do it. You just have to believe in yourself and do what you have to when you come in."

Gerald has been in the program since he was eight. He says there are a lot of things that he wants to do when he grows up and one of them is to be a fashion designer and have his own clothing lines and business.

By June Soh Washington DC
Published with the permission of Voice of America