Rightfully Sewn Helps Women Through Fashion

Fashion-focused Rightfully Sewn looks to assist at-risk women in KC and foster emerging designers’ talent.

Consider Jennifer Lapka Pfeifer a chic, modern Superman: By day she works for the H&R Block Foundation and the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, giving to arts organizations, health centers, educational centers and social services agencies, but on her off-hours, Lapka Pfeifer is a style hero, serving as co-executive producer of the West 18th Street Fashion Show and a major proponent of KC’s fashion community.

Her two worlds converge in Rightfully Sewn, a charitable organization she founded that aims to increase the number of local women entering the design and fashion sectors.

“I just see so much potential, and I see so much energy—the energy being in the fashion industry and so many young designers wanting to stay in Kansas City and make a living here,” she says. “But in order to do so, to work here full time in Kansas City, they need more opportunities for design, they need access to cutting-edge fashion technology, and a lot of them need studio space.”

Rightfully Sewn has two missions: providing seamstress training for at-risk women with barriers to employment, 67 percent of whom will relapse to their harmful situations within three years without community support, she notes, and residency opportunities for local fashion designers. By January 2016, the organization plans to be in full capital campaign mode and by the end of the year, Lapka Pfeifer hopes to be in a building, where a pilot program of two to six women will receive between three and six months of seamstress training.

She envisions the organization having a fleet of sewing machines used by students during the day and by local designers during off-hours, providing them with resources so that they might one day be able to employ others. Currently, locally based companies such as Elevé Dancewear, WomenSpirit and Dolyn Bags need seamstresses but can’t find them because of the skills gap that exists in KC, Lapka Pfeifer says.

Prominent members of KC’s design community also see the value in the fashion-oriented work training program. Rightfully Sewn has already attracted top tier local talent including Heidi Herrman, who will serve as programming and designer technology advisor, and Whitney Manney, one of Rightfully Sewn’s ambassadors. Partners include Midwest Women’s Business Enterprise Council, Lee Jean’s, Missouri Sewing Machine Co. and One KC for Women, along with its alliance members Women’s Business Center and Women’s Employment Network, an important part of Rightfully Sewn’s plans.

“Their expertise is to work with women and discover what their skills and interests are, then help them with job placement,” Lapka Pfeifer explains. “We would be another outlet to the work that they do, and they can help us find the women who have the natural ability and interest in being a seamstress. They can come to us for training, and they can also access all of the other services that Women’s Employment Network offers. ”

Until the organization is up and running in a building, Rightfully Sewn is finding other ways to help, including possible off-site seamstress training and an Oct. 16-17 event for local designers at the Mohart Multipurpose Center. The two-day fabric tradeshow brings a much-needed range of textiles at showroom prices to designers, and a full day of professional development focuses on the needs of fashion designers on Oct. 17. (Tickets are $20 for the tradeshow, $50 for the seminar and $65 for both. Student pricing is also available.)

The event doubles as a benefit for the organization, which is also currently trying to raise $9,000 by October 30 through an Indiegogo campaign. Funds will be used for marketing, trademarking, legal and grant writing expenses, and backers are encouraged to donate a modest $16.

“We’re very keen to get more people involved at this level so there’s a sense of ownership at a wider range,” Lapka Pfeifer explains.

The number also has special significance: It’s a nod to 2016, the year Rightfully Sewn hopes to move into a building, and a tribute to the woman Lapka Pfeifer calls the organization’s hero, Nell Donnelly, who sold her first Nelly Don dresses to Peck’s General Store in downtown Kansas City in 1916 and went on to sell 75 million.

She’s part of an impressive history of fashion in Kansas City, one that Rightfully Sewn looks to bring into the present.

“There is no organization like ours in the nation,” Lapka Pfeifer says. “Our vision is to lay a path to a contemporary version of Kansas City’s 20th-century golden era of garment design and manufacturing.” –Kelsey Cipolla