Adam Worrel’s vision for a fabric-to-finish apparel and screen printing business is finally sewing itself together — nearly 4,000 miles from where it began — with a label made in KC.
First formulating the idea in 2010, he imagined creating a line with production and printing in-house and as much control over the supply chain as possible. But living in Hawaii at the time, the plan just wasn’t feasible, logistically or cost wise, Worrel said.
“So we just kind of tabled it,” he added. “Now we have the capability to do it. It’s actually really exciting for me — where it’s essentially a 12-year project, building towards it.”
Relocating to his hometown made all the difference.
In August, Worrel launched his Hewn sewing shop and its Southwind apparel line in Olathe under Southwind Press. Products made at the Johnson County shop are expected to hit the shelves of Made in KC Marketplace stores this month.
“It’s pretty surreal to be at this point,” he noted. “Hawaii was definitely a great experience. I’m super thankful for it. But this is a ‘We’re putting down roots’ kind of a thing. Being here and establishing this is just like, ‘Well, this is going to be around, I think, for the next 30 to 40 years.’ I’m excited.”
Click here to shop the Southwind line.
Everything from design and pattern making to cutting and sewing will be done in-house, Worrel said.
“We sourced everything U.S. on this project,” he explained. “So all the way from the cotton itself is grown in Arkansas. The yarn is spun there in Arkansas. And then the yarn is brought over to the Carolinas, where then it’s milled into the actual fabric. Then the fabric goes straight from the Carolinas to here and then that’s where we cut and sew and assemble the product.”
The business also is donating to Harvesters for every purchase from the Southwind line.
“It breaks down to, every shirt purchased or item purchased, we’re donating the equivalent of three meals,” he added. “So every shirt feeds a person for one entire day.”
Worrel — who taught himself screen printing through YouTube videos while he was getting his fine arts degree at Missouri State University — and his wife moved back to Olathe in 2020 and he launched Southwind Press in May 2021 after the pandemic shuttered his custom-order screen printing business in Hawaii.
“They shut our business down,” he recalled. “Hawaii was ultra strict on everything. And then, of course, all of my clients were shut down — retail stores and everything.”
He pivoted to an ecommerce line of Hawaii-inspired apparel, but gave up on waiting for the local economy to reopen. Ultimately, they decided to move back to the Kansas City area to be closer to family.
Worrel, however, didn’t completely give up on Hawaii.
He split operations — moving some of the equipment to Olathe and leaving some on the island with a small staff to continue serving such existing clients as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Gift Shop and Diamond Head Gift Shop.
Once business in Olathe picked up, Southwind Press consolidated with its Hawaii-based manager relocating to Kansas City to help.
“I talked to my Hawaii clients and they were totally fine printing and shipping product here,” he continued. “That’s what kind of stepped us off pretty quickly out here. And since then, we started printing for local clients. We just started with Rally House and doing that kind of thing. So we’re doing contract printing and that’s kind of the base of the business.”
Pockets of potential
With the wholesale printing side of the business already established, Worrel is now focused on building up the Hewn sewing shop — located across the parking lot from the printing presses, although business is quickly outgrowing the space.
Southwind Press brought on Molly Burd to run the sewing shop and lead production in the print shop, done in small batches with plans to take on more as the business grows. Observing the process quickly inspired even more designs, Worrel said.
“As I was watching her operate the machines and I was like, ‘Wait, so that machine can do a three-needle stitch on top?’ and then that was sparking all these new design ideas,” he recalled. “Then it was like, ‘Can we do this with the collar?’ (We were) doing these little tweaks and then it just evolved into our own in-house line.”
On top of U.S.-sourced materials, Worrel said, the Southwind line features extra details like the triple-stitched collar and pocket in colors corresponding to the pocket design.
“We’re elevating our sewing details,” he explained. “The pocket itself, we took a blank fabric panel and we can print the pocket template with our screen printing over there about six per sheet. Then we cut them down into the pocket. That red on there is actually ink and it’s just a natural color fabric. So that kind of streamlines are materials where we really only need to stock a natural fabric and a black.”
Burd — who has been sewing professionally for eight years and graduated from Missouri State with a degree in fashion design and merchandising — has made all of the patterns herself and is working with three seamstresses at Southwind Press to produce the shirts.
She’s excited to help Worrel start the sewing shop, she said, and doubts she’d have such a creative opportunity anywhere else.
“It’s been super fun (and) very challenging, but we’re up for the challenge,” Burd continued. “Starting it from the ground up has been a super cool, unique process. Adam and I see really eye-to-eye on that long term, big vision. So it’s been super fun to get employees in and teach them. And having everything under one roof — or two roofs here — we can make changes and products so fast.”
Both Burd and Worrel noted that they are hoping Hewn is a catalyst for making Kansas City a garment-producing hub.
“This was a dream position for me to come over here and really be able to be creative and start something new here in Kansas City,” Burd added. “This is just the start. I can’t wait to see what we do next.”
The Southwind line is initially focused on hometown/Kansas City-inspired designs, but Worrel said it will soon be adding more Midwest-inspired designs. More colors are expected, and new body styles — a women’s cut and a long-sleeve — already have been developed.
Also in the works: a fleece hoodie, a women’s matching travel set, and canvas and leather bags.
“We have some really creative people on staff, so we’re already probably months out in development in the pipeline,” Worrel said. “So (we’re) just going to keep adding styles, adding fabrics. Lots of variety to come.”
The Southwind line can be purchased online and this month at Made in KC Marketplace stores, but Worrel has hopes of expanding onto the shelves of big-box retailers in the metro and nationwide.
“I’m seeing endless potential,” he added.
All the items in the line will also come with a lifetime guarantee, he noted.
“They can send it in for repairs or we will replace it if it’s a manufacturing defect,” he said. “If it’s normal wear and tear, we can’t cover that.”
In the sewing shop, Worrel said, designers are also working on another in-house line — United Legacy — which will focus on custom design and production for museum stores and gift shops.