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‘Planting stitches’ aims to improve area

REGION-When Brian Taylor began his masters degree program at the University of Alabama he came in with a plan that had the potential to make a big difference in the Black Belt. So far his project “Planting Stitches,” of which he is the executive director, is on pace to do just that.

Taylor was inspired to launch the project by layoffs in North Alabama from clothing companies. He had visited the Black Belt and felt this may be a chance for them to put their skills to use.

“I was working on a project and I saw that a lot of people in the area were able to work from home,” Taylor said. “I came back to Alabama to work on my Masters Degree and felt this was a way people in the Black Belt could make money.”

“Planting Stitches” works to match talented hand sewers in the Black Belt with companies that market entirely handmade apparel. In doing so they provide economic development opportunities for women living in the Black Belt region.

The project has gotten the attention of the University who recently announced funding assistance for the program. The money provided by The University is expected to affect the lives of more than 125 female-owned small businesses in Sumter, Pickens, Greene, Hale, Perry, Marengo, Choctaw, Dallas, Wilcox, Lowndes, Macon and Bullock counties.

The program is involved in a cooperative business venture with Project Alabama; a for-profit apparel company located in Florence which designs and produces 100 percent cotton, entirely handmade apparel, sold internationally to 70 exclusive retailers.

Taylor, who is a graduate student in the College of Human Environmental Sciences’ clothing, textiles and interior design department, is very active in the training and recruitment of women to work with the program. Taylor goes into the communities to train the women on how to become business owners. He said he has gotten a great reaction and support from the communities.

“The Black Belt Designs meet each week and they have let us use their space,” Taylor said. “All the stitchers also have to have business licenses, which they have been able to get pretty easily so it has been no problem so far.”

The need for such a program is enormous. According to studies the poverty level for the Black Belt is 29.5 percent, which is 13.3 percent above the national average. There are 118,454 women in the Black Belt, 5,074 of whom are unemployed.

So far, Taylor has gotten five women in on his project and hopes to see those numbers grow by the end of the year. Taylor said once he gets his Sumter County group rolling the door will be open to expand to the rest of the Black Belt.

“I have five stitchers now and hopefully we can get 15 to 20 by the end of the summer,” Taylor said. “Once we get Sumter County going and get them to a point where they can operate independently we will move on to some of the other counties.”

For more information, go to the program’s web site, www.plantingstitches.org.