Julie Metakunda works at her station at Common Thread at the Dana Warp Mill. The school takes on about 10 students at a time. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — A free textile school at Dana Warp Mill wants the City Council to sign off on funding to create a business incubator for students’ entrepreneurial endeavors.

The success of Common Threads, which teaches the fundamentals of sewing and textile work, inspired owner Dory Waxman to expand so students have a place to launch their own businesses. She requested $25,000 from the Rock Row Tax Increment Finance fund earlier this year to pay for the expansion. Her request was given unanimous preliminary approval and is slated for final approval Monday.

Common Threads, which recently applied for non-profit status, already provides students with entrepreneurial skills, Waxman said. “It teaches independence and not dependence. Our students are learning skills to work but also to create a business of their own and grow, which is really the spirit of trade skills and Maine in general. Tradespeople are scarce these days but we hope to bring some textile trade work back home.”

While the program is open to anyone, it is particularly popular with new immigrants in search of work. And, it is just as beneficial for the textile industry, which struggles to find trained workers, Waxman said.  The influx of  new Mainers can help fill the void, she said.

Waxman, owner of Old Port Wool & Textile Company,  founded Common Threads in 2015 when she found herself struggling to find workers. She said she soon found that each student was driven and would either end up working for her or another textile company in Maine.

She moved Common Threads to the Dana Warp Mill in 2016.

“We have had around 81 students so far, 91 including this current class,” Waxman said. “I’d say over 70 have good jobs in textile now. Some working for us and many for companies from here to Bangor. We have job fairs as well, so we kind of flip it so that the businesses are coming and asking for applicants, as opposed to having our students go out job hunting.”

Julie Metakunda, a Portland resident and immigrant from the Congo, said she had been sewing for more than 10 years before coming to Common Threads, but “but this has really taught me more.”

“It’s great because the people here are so patient and good to work with,” Metakunda said. “English isn’t our first language so it is important to have someone with the patience to work with us and teach us.”

Common Threads also provides math and English classes to its students and provides transportation.

“It’s good for our overall lives, and will help us in taking a good job right here,” Lucie Mbini said, a Portland resident from Congo.

Dan Stevenson, the city’s economic development coordinator, said workforce training and talent recruitment “is our No. 1 economic obstacle in the state of Maine.”

“What’s really special about what Dory is doing is that she is training commercial stitchers and their employment rate is nearly 100%. So there’s a growing need for that and shes filling a real need,” he said. 

 

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