CITY OF NEWBURGH — Lisa White was an at-home seamstress.
Cha’Harry Faison taught herself to sew to make clothes for her daughter.
Stitch by stitch, each woman is now helping to repair the torn fabric of what used to be a thriving fashion production industry in the City of Newburgh.
In June, the Orange County Accelerator announced that made-to-order activewear company Ziel would begin producing garments out of a former clothing factory at 605 Broadway.
To meet the company’s demand for skilled seamstresses, the Accelerator and its partners are now holding the second in a series of training courses for local residents interested in the $15-per-hour jobs.
Faison and White are part of a cohort of nine trainees with varying levels of experience meeting three times a week in a ground-floor space at 605 Broadway.
Five of the nine people who took the first training course accepted jobs with Ziel, said Laurie Villasuso, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, the Accelerator’s parent organization.
“One of the issues that we faced is that fashion production doesn’t really have the skill sets locally that we used to have,” Villasuso said.
“Recognizing that in order to bring those kinds of jobs and the kind of company that Ziel is to the area, we started putting this together ourselves.”
Sewing was Newburgh’s biggest industry in the mid-1900s, especially after World War II, city historian Mary McTamaney said.
In addition to handbags manufactured by Regal Bag and work clothes by Cleveland-Whitehill, Newburgh teemed with smaller shops where seamstresses made coats, dresses and other fashion items, McTamaney said.
“You could hear the click-click of the sewing machines through open shop windows along most of our streets,” she said.
Ziel, which makes clothing for brands like Everlast, will occupy 14,000 square feet of space at a former factory whose businesses have included hairpin and clothing manufacturers.
The Accelerator first sought out existing training programs at local institutions to find skilled tailoring help, but nothing of that type existed, Villasuso said.
So it decided to create its own training program using funding from the Workforce Development Institute and sewing machines belonging to TSEC, an economic development organization.
Former Mayor Nick Valentine, who has for decades run a tailoring shop on Broadway, was one of three professionals who trained the first group for the Accelerator.
“I think it’s a beginning of a rebirth of factory life coming back to Newburgh,” he said.
White, from Pine Bush, took the training after seeing a posting on the Accelerator’s website.
Faison, a Newburgh resident, was already designing and making children's and women’s clothing under her own “Forever Bougie Lifestyle” label before friends sent her Facebook messages about the class.
Atenea Castellanos, having never sewed, is starting from scratch.
“I didn’t even know how a machine even looked,” said Castellanos, of Newburgh.
“I was curious to learn something new — also even help myself to fix my own clothes.”