Stitching lives together

Mitchell’s Plain Sewing Academy, based in Beacon Valley, is bursting at the seams.

A registered non-profit company is bursting at the seams as it aims to help participants sew their lives together, one stitch at a time.

Mitchell’s Plain Sewing Academy, founded by Maria Brander, in Oval East Beacon Valley, teaches basic dress making skills to unemployed youth, people who had fallen prey to gangsterism and drugs, and those who want change their lives (“Stitching lives together with sewing training”, Plainsman April 5).

Ms Brander, a former clothing factory supervisor, has partnered with PepClothing (PepClo), where these graduates are employed in a factory to make garments.

She also works with Pastor Hector Ortiz, from Potter’s House in Beacon Valley, to help people reform their lives.

Ms Brander has seven domestic machines set up in her house which she uses to teaches people to sew. The students share the few machines they have, waiting their turn to take up a place on the plastic milk crates in front of the sewing machine. They also have limited table space.

“I don’t want anyone to give up hope. We want people to at least have a skill or something against their name to show the employer,” she said.

Participant Yolandi Rutledge, 31, from Eastridge, who lives with her daughter, 13, in a room, is hoping to be permanently employed so she and her daughter could move into a separate entrance.

“Me getting a stable income would mean we can move into our own space and have privacy,” she said.

Since joining the programme in July, Ms Rutledge has also introduced her daughter, who is creative, to sewing.

“What I love about coming here is that even if we have a R2, we share the little that we have. We put together during our 15-min break to buy a little sugar or coffee,” she said.

She was one of 15 of Ms Brander’s students that passed PepClo’s standard dexterity and trainability testing for learner or basic machinist.

They are currently employed as basic machinists with PepClo.

She is permanently employed and receives all the company and industry benefits associated with this position.

Brümilda Julies, PepClo head of employee relations and talent acquisitions, said they were gathering “off cut material” to donate to the sewing school in order for Ms Brander to better train her students on the fabric type they work with in the factory.

In addition, their maintenance team has secured the free assistance, from their electrical service providers to do some rewiring at the academy to better equip the machinery that will be donated.

“Our health and safety team will provide some signage and a fire extinguisher to assist her with health and safety.

“Although we have nothing formally signed, we would like to eventually put signage on the premises to proudly announce our ‘partnership’ and perhaps in the future grow our relationship,” said Ms Julies.

For now Ms Brander gets the students “factory ready”, as are given the same tests as any other potential applicant.

Ms Julies said the benefits of this pipeline of students is that they already show commitment as they are required to attend a certain amount of classes with Ms Brander before she passes them along to for testing.

“This shows us that they are committed and serious about securing employment and in turn are more reliable,” she said.

Ms Julies said that they have noticed that these students achieve higher than normal standards in their training school which alleviates the amount of time spent training them, leading to shorter training periods and therefore they are able to contribute to the production lines sooner.

They also plan to give her an industrial sewing machine converted for household electricity so that the students can practice speed on this machine before they come to the factory.

Ms Brander will also attend training on their Training School Induction so that she can use that at the academy.

She will also receive a dexterity toolkit and training on how to do the dexterity test as well as their inhouse trainability test so that she can perform these tests and prepare the students better for when they go for screening at Pep Clothing.

Franzette Kohn, PepClo head of learning and development, said all of this was to shorten the assessment process of pre employment and reduce the basic training period when the new candidate starts.