HERSTORY: How a For-Profit Company Birthed a Successful Non-Profit
When their worlds came crashing down in the mid-2000’s Lonnie Vanderslice and Kelly Wilson pulled out their high school sewing machines and fell back on a skill they learned at an early age - sewing. With a great deal of work and creative planning, they ultimately built an award-winning soft furnishing manufacturing company in Kansas City. Weave Gotcha Covered! a social enterprise located in the urban core, which provides employment opportunities for economically challenged women. A byproduct of the company is a constant inventory of scraps and textiles remnants. Believing others could use the power of a sewing machine to create the economic freedom-the women started dreaming about ways to duplicate the success of WGC and give back to their community. In 2016 longtime friend, and businesswoman Linnca Stevens joined Weave Gotcha Covered! Linnca’ passion for fostering the love of textiles and keeping heirloom arts alive was a perfect fit and the three women birthed, The Sewing Labs.
In 2016, The Sewing Labs®, was officially formed as a 501(c)3, with the mission: “To inspire hope in populations of women marginalized by generational poverty, addiction, incarceration, immigration or other life-challenges, through job skills training in the creative sewing arts, and networking.”
Each of these Co-founders brought their own unique experience, ideas and determination to the birth of The Sewing Labs:
Linnca Stevens, The Sewing Labs Operations Manager, came from the creative retail sewing industry as a multi-unit district manager and educational program developer. Linnca’s industry experience with national fabric chains provided the knowledge of establishing and leading sewing curriculum & classroom development expertise, along with years of event & community coordination of women’s creative retreats & workshops. In addition, Linnca was a lead designer & co-owner of an indie pattern company for 10 years. These experiences brought extensive connections within the sewing industry, with various guilds & with the maker community from her 40+ years in the industry.
Lonnie Vanderslice With a wealth of sewing, and administrative skills, served as the founding Executive Director of The Sewing Labs. Resigning the ED position after purchasing another sewing based enterprise in Kansas City, WomenSpirit. Lonnie now serves as the CEO of this 25-year-old company. Ultimately, WomenSpirit will fit strategically in the overall vision to provide sewing based employment opportunities in Kansas City.
Kelly Wilson continues to lead Weave Gotcha Covered! as CEO Kelly’s passion is asking, “WHY CAN’T WE?” as she works to solve community problems through the power of business. Weave Gotcha Covered! has garnered numerous business awards and is routinely featured in the HGTV Networks, Kansas City based series, Bargain Mansions. Kelly currently maintains a seat on The Sewing Labs Board of Directors.
In May of 2019, Eileen Bobowski was hired as the new Executive Director of The Sewing Labs. Eileen brings a wealth of leadership and nonprofit fundraising experience, as well as a humble and passionate love of service to others. In addition to Eileen’s executive skill set, she has a life-long enthusiasm for sewing and is excited about growing and serving The Sewing Labs’ mission to teach the legacy of sewing toward employment.
Each of these women experienced a history of the tradition of sewing in their own families. Each woman cherished the legacy of sewing and knew firsthand that sewing brings women together in a unique way that builds each other up. And most importantly, that sewing can provide an individual gainful employment or an entrepreneurial career pathway, along with self-enrichment.
Weave Gotcha Covered! continues to be a key sponsor of The Sewing Labs, providing necessary tangible and intangible capital to see to the success of the work that is done by the staff and dedicated volunteers.
Sewing is the fundamental foundation on which The Sewing Labs was built. The Sewing Labs became a reality with its mission to teach sewing for job readiness and to create a supportive community. The Sewing Labs stitches together women of different life-cloth and partners with other nonprofit agencies, organizations and businesses in Kansas City, to build everyone up. NEVER underestimate the power of a sewing machine!