Industry Member Spotlight: ISAIC
This article will appear in the July/August 2022 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read past issues online.
When you look in your closet, unless you have a passion for American fashion, you're not likely to find much clothing that was made in the U.S. While we’re fortunate to have iconic Michigan-made clothing brands such as Stormy Kromer and Carhartt, it’s estimated that less than 3 percent of the apparel worn in the U.S. is made domestically.
Thankfully, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC), a Michigan-based 501c3 nonprofit with a fundamentally new approach to talent force development and economic stimulus, is committed to changing the dynamic of domestic apparel and soft goods manufacturing. ISAIC can best be described as a learning factory.
“We started planning ISAIC in 2017, and we've been operational for two years,” says Jennifer Guarino, ISAIC President and CEO. “Our goal is to simultaneously advance skills alongside technology solutions. We believe this leads to a much healthier supply chain.”
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We can have a lasting impact on an industry that needs to get better for people and the planet.
They considered postponing ISAIC's opening until after the manufacturing shutdown caused by the pandemic, Guarino says. But they quickly found that their resources were needed to pitch in with the production of personal protection (PPE) products. “We concentrated on PPE for the first nine months,” Guarino says.
Guarino's early career focused on fashion illustration, creative direction, product design and development but, after transitioning to business development, she became a key player in the manufacturing world. She was named Minnesota Manufacturing Awards CEO of the year in 2012. She then came to Detroit to create Shinola’s leather manufacturing unit.
ISAIC’s learning and manufacturing factory is located in the heart of Detroit, in a space donated by Carhartt, and it is far from the stereotypical manufacturing environment.
“Training and production happen under large skylights with music playing,” says Guarino. “There are a lot of windows and plants and an onsite cafe.”
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As a contract manufacturer, ISAIC produces the highest quality garments for major clothing brands. They also have alliances with industry leaders like Autodesk, Juki (an equipment manufacturer) and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, to help them test and implement emerging technologies in the soft goods manufacturing industry.
But ISAIC's true focus is always on people and the planet, paying attention to diversity, equity and inclusion as well as responsible manufacturing practices and sustainability. They start their education process by offering a Fundamentals of Industrial Sewing and Production certificate, and their curriculum is being used by community colleges, other nonprofits and manufacturers in nine other states.
ISAIC offers paid apprenticeships for sewing personnel at all skill levels in their own factory. They also partner with industry leading soft goods manufacturers to help ensure that their production teams are trained in traditional skills with the latest technologies, they are paid a living wage with benefits and they have access to advanced training and upward mobility.
“If people are not attracted to your industry, you have to look at why. When you understand why, then you can begin to change that,” Guarino says.
Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) is an MMA Industry Member and has been an MMA member company since December 2021. Visit online: isaic.org.