GarCo sewing program makes reusable market totes

Reducing plastic and paper bag use in grocery stores may seem like the environmentally friendly way to go. But if it requires buying reusable bags made in China and shipped halfway around the world, the movement starts to take on a paler shade of green.

A new sewing-education program in Rifle has sprung up in response to this concern.

Local bag-ban proposals prompted the formation of an effort to provide a local source of reusable cloth bags while training people in the textiles field.

The GarCo Sewing Works program is a partnership involving Garfield County, Colorado Workforce Centers, and Go2Work and Gateway-Women in Transition, two programs sponsored by Colorado Mountain College.

Beth Shaw, dean of business and industry for the college, said the latter two are designed to help people learn skills that can help them get back on their feet financially and career-wise. They work primarily with single parents referred by the county’s Human Services Department.

“It just seemed like a perfect thing to teach industrial sewing and create bags locally,” Shaw said.

She praised the support from Garfield County, including about $28,000 for purchase of equipment. The program will be housed in the county-owned Henry Building in downtown Rifle, and the county remodeled the building for it.

The partnership also works with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, the organization pushing for restricted bag use in the Roaring Fork Valley. The group is taking donations of fabric for the program, including a large contribution by Big Agnes, a Steamboat Springs maker of sleeping bags, tents and other outdoor gear.

Training of the first students begins this week.

“We are hoping that by the end of the year, we’ll have trained 20 to 30 people,” Shaw said.

Doreen Herriott, who has lengthy experience in the garment industry in California, will be the program’s primary trainer and in-house designer.

Besides providing sewing and design skills, the program will teach students all aspects of running any small business, from accounting and payroll to marketing and shipping.

“We’re hoping to spin off some small businesses as a result of this program,” Shaw said.


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