As its name implies, OTA member Esperanza Threads brings hope through the gift of sewing.
In 2000, returning to Cleveland, Ohio, after working in Native American missions in Montana, Sister Mary Eileen Boyle (pictured right) contemplated what she would choose for the next step in her life’s calling. An Ursuline Sister of Cleveland—an order whose mission is to transform lives through contemplation, justice, and compassion, she wanted to start something that would transform lives while respecting the earth and follow a holistic philosophy.
The result: the establishment of Esperanza Threads, which produces apparel and goods such as t-shirts, hand and bath towels, sweat suits, and onesies for babies using organic fibers. The products are then often sold at churches, art shows, and other local trade fairs.
However, its mission is way more than that. In fact, in addition to manufacturing goods using organic fibers to support its existence, it trains individuals for jobs in industrial sewing in Cleveland. These trainings are aimed at refugees and immigrants who relocated to the metropolitan area of Cleveland as well as area citizens who are underemployed or unemployed. Here, they learn the basics of industrial sewing and how to transform fabric into apparel, towels and pillows to give them a way to earn a living within the Cleveland sewing industry.
It was the vision of Esperanza Threads to use organic fibers—generally organic cotton but sometimes organic wool. The organic and eco-friendly fibers used are made into apparel under fair wage and fair trade conditions.
Lucretia Bohnsack has served as Esperanza Threads’ Executive Director for the past three years, but has been involved there since its inception 15 years ago, even serving in the past on its board. She notes that about three-fourths of the trainees are refugees or immigrants from such countries as Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Honduras, El Salvador, and small African nations.
Although the original idea was to help encourage women taking part to start their own businesses, it has evolved to train them on the basics of sewing so that they can find jobs in the local economy, Bohnsack says.
“People taking part feel appreciated and are trained to have a skill. They then go out and find jobs,” she adds. In fact, this past year, Esperanza Threads achieve a 72 percent placement rate for those who went through training, obtained positions, and were able to keep them.
Esperanza Threads’ manufacturing is done by people who have sewing experience or have graduated from the company’s trainings. It also does contract sewing for others. Sister Mary Eileen oversees the trainings, which teach six to seven people in industrial sewing at a time. Volunteers who help include retired home economics teachers and others who have sewn for years. These intensive trainings provide 48 hours of basic industrial sewing skills, with trainees then prepared to get a job and get further specialized on-the-job training.
Its manufacturing operations help pay the rent, cover administrative costs, utilities, and buy more materials for future sewing. The organic fibers it uses are domestically produced and sourced from the Carolinas. Bohnsack said supply is limited.
“It is difficult to find organic fiber. We would use more if it were available,” she says.
Esperanza Threads has some dreams—such as actually opening up a little retail space rather than carting around its products to different sales, and improving its website, www.esperanzathreads.com, to have the capacity to take online orders.
For now, it continues to fulfill its mission, giving hope and providing skills to those it serves in its community while expanding the use of organic fibers. //