ISAIC Builds a Model of Ethical, Domestic Garment Production 

The nonprofit runs its Midtown factory above Carhartt’s flagship store
ISAIC teaches metro Detroiters industrial sewing techniques through courses and paid apprenticeships. // Photograph courtesy of John F. Martin photography

The fashion industry has a long and ongoing history of relying on overseas garment production in developing countries, where labor and overhead costs are low and worker exploitation is widespread. The Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) is positioning Detroit to be a counter to that as a domestic resource for garment production that’s part of a growing effort to bring manufacturing back to the States. Founded in 2017, the nonprofit manufactures garments for local and national brands and also serves as a training center.

“Manufacturing in general is in our DNA [in Detroit],” says Jen Guarino, CEO of ISAIC. “We understand the general principles of manufacturing, logistics, and distribution. We understand that manufacturing has to constantly be innovative. There’s not very many regions where you see that.”

From its Midtown factory above Carhartt’s flagship store, ISAIC provides eight-week courses and paid apprenticeships that train people in industrial sewing techniques. From there, students can join the ISAIC team as a full-time sewing specialist or machine technician specialist. 

And ISAIC has been put to the test. Last year, it worked with its company partners to produce nearly 100,000 isolation gowns and other personal protective equipment for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and some of the state’s biggest health systems.  

ISAIC uses an on-demand manufacturing model, rather than the usual mass-production approach, steering away from traditional wholesale manufacturing, which can result in significant waste. ISAIC’s own line of T-shirts are made in-house using 100 percent organic cotton sourced in the U.S. The tag on each shirt bears a QR code linking to tips for keeping the garment out of landfills.

“We really believe that the industry has been irresponsible in its lack of investment in people — the people that make the product,” Guarino says. “We can create that bridge that makes on-demand manufacturing more viable. On-demand manufacturing is the future of apparel.”

This story is featured in the October 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.