There are no seamstresses on the battlefield.
And so upon enlistment, one of the first things issued to a new marine is a sewing kit. It’s used to repair damaged gear, mend buttons, patch holes. Five years ago, Steven Matsumoto—former U.S. Marine, erstwhile marketer—set out to mend an entirely different kind of hole.
Matsumoto had witnessed Seattle designers struggling to find reliable distribution advice, networking tools, fabric sources, and affordable production space. A habitual problem solver, Matsumoto dove deeper into the design world, launching the Seattle Fashion Incubator as a way to provide those missing resources.
After a start online and a small first location, the incubator landed in a 3,600-square-foot former hair salon in Renton in October 2014. The spot was convenient both for its size and for its new neighbor, the Compass Veterans Center, a housing alliance that provides shelter and support services to homeless vets and their families. Matsumoto reached out to Compass program manager Roger Shands about using the incubator to assist fellow veterans in a state where unemployment tops 6.4 percent for former military.
“To me, ‘No man left behind’ is more than just a tag line,” Matsumoto says. With Shands on board and a donation of eight industrial sewing machines from Filson (no insignificant gift; Matsumoto believes the new machines would have cost nearly $20,000) SFI launched its veterans apparel production division.
The program serves both as a free training course to prepare veterans for work at local manufacturers—like Filson, which posts open positions on the incubator’s job board—and as a sewing-for-hire system where designers can contract qualified vets for custom work. Resident designer and tailor Amanda Cobb heads up the training, starting with a basic course in sewing dust covers for handbags. Matsumoto ultimately intends to bring on other instructors to drill vets on more complex techniques.
For now, out of the half dozen inaugural students, two have scored interviews with Filson. A strong start toward mending that hole.
More photos from the Seattle Fashion Incubator’s workshop: