She put them on social media, and started receiving order requests within minutes. A few days later, there were so many requests that both her teenage daughter and her husband had to help manage the inbox, and within two weeks, it became so much that Street had to create a website.
The next day, she says, she was led to her sewing machine and was compelled to start to making facemasks out of the leftover fabric that was lying around her home.
A year and a half later, Street has expanded her mask-making endeavors into Project Sew United, an environmentally responsible e-commerce business that sells masks, apparel and home décor in vibrant colors and bold prints, and teaches people how to sew and then monetize their new or refined skill.
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Sewing skill sparks lifelong interest
She is now looking for a space to sell and teach that she plans to call her Sew-op, a play on the cooperative work space she hopes to create.
Street has been making money off of her own sewing skills since she was in high school in Hanua, Germany, where she learned the history of fabrics and how to make her own patterns in a home economics class.
“It’s a subject that’s often glazed over, but it taught me lifelong skills,” Street, of Akron said. “I can mend anything for my family, and in high school I did alterations for extra money.”
Street dreamed of being a fashion designer with her own label and was accepted into Kent State University’s fashion program, but ultimately decided to study fashion merchandizing at University of Akron so that she could save money on room and board by living at home. She ended up spending most of her career in marketing, and started her own company, VineWorks Marketing.
She also started the now-closed BABE (Black and Brilliant Entrepreneurs) Magazine, that ran quarterly for three years and provided tools and resources to Black women entrepreneurs; and co-hosted the entrepreneurship-focused Make Life Rich Podcast with Tara Jefferson. Demand for masks creates opportunity to share craft
When COVID came to Ohio in March 2020 and Street became overwhelmed with her cloth mask orders, it was no surprise that she used it as an opportunity to encourage entrepreneurship in others. “I began leveraging the help of other Black women in the community who had been displaced from work or furloughed due to COVID,” she said. “Sewing created a safety net, because in the start of the pandemic, we were jolted into this idea that no matter how secure of stable you think your job is, it may not be depending on what’s going on in the world.”
“Now she has the opportunity to fire it up and do what she wants creatively, mend clothes and have additional income if she wants,” Street said. “Another woman was a retiree who who was distanced from family and this was an opportunity to stay connected and feel like her work was valuable and meaningful and helping this big, giant problem.” Regardless of their skill level, Street hired them as paid contractors, and as her remnant fabric depleted, Street began figuring out the aesthetic she wanted Project Sew United to embody.
Some had sewing experience, but others did not — so Street created a remote learning module to teach them how to make her quality-controlled products. She even went shopping to help one woman find the right kind of sewing machine. One woman, for example, was a massage therapist who had zero demand for her services. Another lost her job in hospitality.