The secret to any startup venture is to move forward one stitch at a time, said Rightfully Sewn founder Jennifer Lapka.
“Start small, struggle, have success, then scale,” she said, quoting one of her many mentors.
Freshly moved into a 2,200-square-foot atelier, or design studio, at 1800 Wyandotte St. in the Crossroads, Rightfully Sewn is now ready for the next step in the nonprofit’s journey: men.
Sewists — a gender neutral term that presents a more inclusive description than “seamstress” or “machinist” — typically have been women, though men possess the same potential for the work, Lapka told a crowd gathered Wednesday evening for We, the Creators KC: Startups Unplugged.
The event — organized by WeWork, 96.5 The Buzz and the Kansas City Startup Foundation — showcased Rightfully Sewn’s development since its founding in 2015. The program, which traditionally has trained women to be seamstresses for local designers through a two-year experience, initially could only accommodate six women (typically refugees or low-income, working individuals) per class.
In the new space, Lapka has room for 30 sewists, she said, noting Rightfully Sewn could open to men as early as August.
The program already has welcomed Godfrey Riddle as vice president of external affairs. Formerly director of development for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, Riddle is the nonprofit’s first full-time hire, Lapka said.
It’s another big step — and a scary one at that, she said.
“When I was developing Rightfully Sewn, it was just kind of me volunteering my time. And then it was part time, and my family was financially involved. And then I went to it full-time,” Lapka said. “But when does the most fear and doubt come in? It’s when you add that first full-time staff member. That person believes in you enough to leave his day job — he has a mortgage, he has dreams.”
“But you can’t let fear paralyze you,” she added. “It has to help drive you.”
Lapka believes Kansas City is on track to regain its historic crown as an internationally known fashion hub, she said, in part because of the potential locally for success based on sheer determination.
“Kansas City is so accessible,” Lapka said. “It’s easy to get a meeting with [Roasterie founder] Danny O’Neill or someone like [H&R Bloch co-founder] Henry Bloch. If you are polite, you have an idea, you are persistent, these doors will open to you.”
Check out the new Rightfully Sewn atelier below.