By Kevin Collison
Rightfully Sewn, a nonprofit started in 2015 to teach women how to succeed as seamstresses in the fashion industry, has found a permanent home in appropriately, the Crossroads Arts District.
“Our goal is to create jobs and opportunities in Kansas City through the business of fashion,” said Jennifer Lapka, founder of Rightfully Sewn. “I believe fashion is art and the Crossroads is the epicenter of arts in the metro.”
The organization has leased 2,200 square-feet on the second floor of a building at 1800 Wyandotte owned by Dan Meiners of Studio Dan Meiners. Lapka once worked for Meiners, and the deal came together following a casual conversation at a party.
“Nine weeks later, we had our space,” she said.
Lapka, who looked the part of a fashion devotee on a recent dreary morning, was showing off her organization’s new space, which at this point is empty and unfinished but filled with natural light and promise.
By June, Rightfully Sewn plans to have banks of home and industrial sewing machines plus specialized stitching equipment installed to teach its first class of 10 women the art of becoming a seamstress.
Until now, Rightfully Sewn has used borrowed space at the Paseo Academy, Kauffman Foundation Conference Center and two retail partners, Finefolk in the Crossroads and Anaphora at Prairiefire in Overland Park.
The first pilot program taught six women, four who were refugees and two who were previously homeless. Four landed full-time jobs the Monday after their Saturday graduation.
The new Crossroads space, to be called the Rightfully Sewn Atelier, will allow the classes to expand to 10, and be offered three or four times a year.
Lapka is originally from the small town of Gorham in central Kansas. She earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from Fort Hays State University, and then traveled to England where she earned a master’s degree at Newcastle University.
Her original goal was to manage an art museum by the time she was 30. At first, her career took her in that direction with stints at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Along the way, Lapka learned a lot about fundraising, which would is now coming in handy at Rightfully Sewn. The organization is planning its largest fundraising initiative to date for its new space.
It was while working for foundations sponsored by philanthropist Henry Bloch that Lapka found a new direction for her talents.
“We received grant applications from Rose Brooks (Center), Catholic Charities and other organizations,” she said. “It opened my eyes to the social services sector.”
Rightfully Sewn was established to help women who had been homeless, former prostitutes, addicts, victims of abuse or refugees new to this country learn the seamstress trade.
Lapka said introducing immigrants to the garment trade is particularly fitting in Kansas City. At one time, the city was the second largest garment-making center in the United States and immigrants had a major role in building the industry here.
Besides being the center of the arts in Kansas City, Lapka said the Crossroads was a good, central place for students to reach and a safe place at night when they’re leaving class.
These days, Kansas City is seeing a resurgence of fashion designers, and on April 12, Lapka will moderate a seminar on the topic being held as part of Kansas City Design Week, an annual event organized by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
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