Before One Spark, the 2013 Jacksonville crowd funding event, Kristin Keen and her team toiled away in a warehouse on the west side of Jacksonville, working hard to get the chance tell a few people at a time about her vision. One Spark gave her the chance to tell tens of thousands about her vision. They listened and they voted; at the end of the event, Rethreaded had won first place in the art category and won $6,768. They also received the most votes overall among 50,000 votes cast for over 400 projects.
The money went toward hiring more women at her warehouse located just off West Beaver Street. Rethreaded, which now employs one seamstress, provides a four-month holistic training program for women in Jacksonville who are coming out of lives of addiction, violence, human trafficking, and prostitution. Many of the women leave prison with felony records, creating significant challenges to employment. The women learn to sew products like baby clothes, scarves and bags from donated tee shirts. They are paid $8.25 an hour during the training period, in which they also receive counseling and life skills education in partnership with City Rescue Mission. They earn $10 an hour when they begin full time work.
To strengthen her financial management skills, Keen decided to enroll in the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center’s (JWBC) Financial Matter$ mentoring program in 2012. The program paired her with with two volunteer business mentors: an accountant and a banker. They focused on helping her understand, manage and report on her financial assets. By design, JWBC’s unique business mentoring programs provide women business owners a learning environment where they feel free to ask any question without fear of being judged for lack of knowledge.
Keen says that the program “helped me learn how to read my financials sheets and get a better idea how to really manage my money. Before Financial Matter$, I would be really intimidated to even look at my financial reports, but now I can sit down and really understand where my company is and how we can move forward.”
She also says that the program helped her understand business in general. “One of my biggest takeaways is that I am not alone in trying to make a business work. When starting a new business, we are all trying to figure it out, we are all learning, we are all making our best educated guesses. It gave me more confidence to move forward knowing that I didn’t have to have it all figured out in advance. I am thankful to the JWBC for providing a community where we could learn together how to make our dreams come true.”
Keen began her mission after working with women in India who were trying to rebuild their lives after escaping the sex trade. Her original mission trip was four months; she returned on her own to spend five years on the work. She and a partner co-founded a company that trained women how to sew products from recycled saris. Sari Bari (The word bari means “home” in the Bengali language) now employs 80 women who put their name (and “freedom birthday”) on each product that they craft. See their products here.
Reusing materials to create new goods, or “Upcycling,”a term first coined in 1994, is a hot trend in retail now, driven by consumers who deplore the idea of disposing of millions of tons of objects we no longer need or want each year. Reusing items allows us to reduce the waste sent to landfills and reduce the amount of new raw materials required to manufacture goods. As of 2011, the number of product descriptions on Etsy (www.etsy.com) that included the word “upcycled” stood at nearly 167,000, an increase of 450 percent from the year before.
Keen’s sales strategy to date has consisted mostly of home parties and invitations to her “open warehouse” afternoons. She’s now looking for a distribution strategy that will get her handcrafted products into retail outlets where mission-focused consumers can purchase them. You can find her products at www.rethreaded.com
How You Can Connect with Rethreaded
Donate Tee Shirts
The public can donate tee shirts to be used as materials during “Open Warehouse Wednesdays” between 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Products are also available for purchase.
Volunteers help sew, finish and assemble products on Tuesdays between 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. at the warehouse. Email Kristin Keen for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.