Category Archives: Client Success Stories

Ernestine Winston Puts Sewn Products Training and Entrepreneurial Education To Use For Two Business Ventures

Well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ernestine Winston is on an entrepreneurial journey she never envisioned for herself. With over ten years of experience as an independent hair stylist, Ernestine is now on a dual mission: she is growing her styling business, while also building a new enterprise offering textiles and other products with custom designs—and several Women’s Business Center courses have played a key role in setting her on that path. 

Ernestine Winston has been an independent hair stylist since 2009.

Creative by nature, Ernestine Winston had long dreamed of being able to provide for herself and her family through self-employment. “I’ve had a job since I was 14. I always worked for someone else because the security of a steady paycheck was important,” she explains. “But I always wanted to be my own boss.”

STEPS TOWARD SELF-EMPLOYMENT

Ernestine began chipping away at this goal in 2009, attending cosmetology school at night, while maintaining a full-time corporate job and raising three children, aged 10, 11, and 13. After graduating, Ernestine did hair part time and built a client base while working various full-time jobs, including two years teaching sales classes at the cosmetology school she had attended. Eventually, a full-time job at ULTA Beauty led to a 5-year hiatus from independent styling, due to the possibility of conflict of interest—but when ULTA shared the news of company-wide layoffs in October of 2020, Ernestine took it as an opportunity. 

“I signed up for the [Women’s Business Center’s] Entrepreneurship Empowered course with the intention of getting a running start at self-employment,” explains Ernestine, who first discovered California Capital’s services as a manager at ULTA looking to improve her managerial skills. “[The instructor] Natasha Palumbo helped me set up a business checking account, build a business plan, and basically get prepared to run a business.” 

SEWN PRODUCTS TRAINING OFFERS PATHWAY TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Around the same time that Ernestine was taking the steps toward full self-employment through styling, another business opportunity was percolating. In September of 2020, Ernestine enrolled in the Sewn Products Manufacturing Training course offered by Agee Fashion Institute through the WBC. Knowing how to sew personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and hospital gowns seemed like a good way to earn supplemental income, says Ernestine, if subcontracting opportunities 

Bags with a custom design by Ernestine.

ever became available. But the skills she gained in the 4-part course—sewing, cutting, reading and creating designs—dovetailed conveniently with another “pandemic-project” she had recently started. 

“While we were stuck at home, I had started dabbling with my husband’s heat-press, mostly pressing vinyl designs onto t-shirts,” says Ernestine. “It unleashed a new side of my creativity.” As she got more comfortable with the press, Ernestine began taking orders from friends, and applying what she had learned during the Sewn Products Training. Being able to create and manufacture designs from scratch—including scrunchies and hair bonnets—has allowed her to create products that are made with high quality material and fully customizable, creating a competitive edge over similar businesses who print on mass-manufactured textiles and positioning her to operate at a higher price point.

Ernestine went on to take advanced prototyping courses at Agee Fashion Institute, and now works as a trainer for the same Sewn Products classes that set her on this new avenue to self-employment. Ernestine is quick to point out that, prior to the first course she took, she had never touched a sewing machine. Now, not only has she gained employment as a sewn products instructor, but building her

Ernestine’s self-designed scrunchies.

technical manufacturing skills has been key to her entrepreneurial inspiration. “Now I know how to take an idea, turn it into a prototype, and create a product I can sell. I am always thinking of new skills or processes I can incorporate to make manufacturing easier or create more unique products.” 

ENTERING THE STARTUP LANDSCAPE

With a strong manufacturing skillset, Ernestine set out to develop her business acumen, signing up for the Women’s Business Center’s first Startup to Success Generator series. During the 16-week Startup to Success series, Ernestine joined a cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs and worked with instructor Natasha Palumbo to develop a business plan, position financial projections, and prepare for the competition of the startup ecosystem. 

“What I love about [Ernestine] is her eagerness to learn and her ability to execute on what she has learned. She is a lion! And a very talented one at that,” explains Natasha Palumbo, who has continued to work with Ernestine since the course concluded and provided key insights on how to manage the growth of both of her businesses. “And though this journey hasn’t been the easiest, she has continued to show up week after week and put in the work. There is no stopping Ernestine.” 

When the course wrapped up in mid-June, Ernestine joined her cohort in a Pitch Competition, putting to use the pitch deck she created and getting a first look into what the process of securing funding will look like. 

“She truly shined during the pitch competition,” says Natasha. “Her energy was by far the best of the bunch and she gave an incredible pitch. 

Starting and operating a business takes remarkable resilience and patience, but Ernestine is optimistic that the services she offers will continue to pay off. “This is the first time that I know for certain I will be able to have an income just working for myself,” Ernestine explains. Her immediate focus now is creating a high-quality website for her design business that streamlines the ordering and customization process for customers. Further down the road, she says, her goal is to find a brick and mortar location from which she can operate both of her businesses. But for now, she continues to research and learn about the business landscape and let her creative side get the best of her as she dreams up new ways to put her manufacturing skills to use.

Meet the Winners of California Capital’s First “Startup to Success” Pitch Competition

JUNE 22, 2021 |  In March, a survey conducted by Yelp revealed that nearly half a million new businesses opened in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting that the entrepreneurial spirit is difficult to quench. Illustrative of that fact is the Start-Up to Success Generator series offered by California Capital Business Consultant Natasha Palumbo, which just wrapped up its first 16-week run and saw a cohort of students graduate with a comprehensive startup business plan.

 As a first foray into the culture of entrepreneurship, the course wrapped up on Friday, June 11 with a “Pitch-Off”: each student presented their business plan to a panel of guest judges, fielded questions, and worked through feedback. Judges selected the top 3 pitches for recognition. Meet the winners of the first Startup to Success Pitch Challenge, and stay tuned for more information on the next offering of the course. 

MARINA ONACA, BOBA WITH ME

Marina Onaca is a mother of three whose business idea sprouted in response to a need she saw in her community: more spaces where teenagers and pre-teens can socialize, express themselves, and enjoy the boba beverages that are climbing in popularity among that demographic. Parents in the community, like Marina, who wanted their children to enjoy these benefits were regularly driving 15 to 20 miles several times a week. As an answer to the gap in the local market, Marina decided to start Boba With Me, a boba cafe designed as a safe space for community members of all ages to gather. Marina spent much of the Covid-19 pandemic exploring the resources available through the Small Business Administration (SBA), and working with Natasha Palumbo to develop a thorough business plan. Boba With Me’s flagship location opens this summer, and Marina has high hopes for the future. 

What are your dreams for your business? 

We see our business as a place where ideas will be generated, artists will be promoted, friendships will develop and community will come together, which is why we look to grow to many new communities and open our doors to friends all over the state. We see our concept embraced by each community looking for a positive environment in which our young generation can interact and collaborate. Our goal is to open a new store every six months.”

JUNE ARMSTEAD, BRAIDZ N’ THANGZ

June Armstead is the owner of Body, Soul, and Spirit Salon in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose latest venture, Braidz N’ Thangz,  is a nonprofit beauty school that will provide young women from underserved Bay Area communities the opportunity to develop professional styling skills and secure apprenticeships. The inspiration for this mission-based organization came when June, a Bay Area native, began working in the beauty industry and notice that her first clientele were young women Black in need of opportunities for gainful employment. She made it her mission to create pathways to entrepreneurship in the formal sector for at-risk youth, and has self-funded the training program for 20 years. Now, seeking funding as a 501c3 non-profit, June plans to expand her offerings and elevate the impact in her community.

What are your goals for Braidz N’ Thangz?

“Our salon and training facility has a dedication to education and empowerment. We are targeting 16 to 24-year-old females at risk, and we want to build employment skills within the natural hair industry because they are far too often turning to sex work. We provide a pathway to success with a career focus, and our vision is to be the leading cosmetology training institute for black youth and young adults in Northern California. Our program values Power, Purpose, and Poise!”

LAMERE CARTER, NEW MILLENNIUM DRONE RACING 

Lamere Carter is the founder of New Millennium Drone Racing, a premium drone racing startup currently in its planning phase. With the ultimate goal of being self-employed, Lamere spent years searching for a passion he could tap into to bring that goal to life. Eventually, with support from Natasha Palumbo (a.ka. “Professor P”), Lamere landed on drone racing, and began researching the market, from industry leaders to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. He hopes to spend the next year scaling up his capacity, launching a web presence, and have New Millennium Drone Racing off the ground by summer of 2022. 

Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs? 

“Be consistent. So many people start then stop. I’m guilty of this bad habit as well. Secondly,  business is all about problem solving, that’s a majority of it. Forget solving your own– can you solve someone else’s problem? If you can answer this question, congratulations you’ve taken your first step to being an entrepreneur.”

California Capital Clients Gain Contracts With Sacramento International Airport Retailers, Highlighting Opportunities For Other Small Businesses

Two small business owners recently found success after a California Capital matchmaking event that connected them with large retailers at the Sacramento International Airport (SMF). While their stories showcase individual success, they also highlight the ways in which minority-owned small businesses can expand through unique avenues, and the growing breadth of airport-based concessionaire opportunities. 

California Capital clients Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes began talks with international retailers Marshall Retail Group and Travel + Well, respectively, last month. The opportunities each business pursued are part of the Sacramento International Airport’s broader efforts to connect local business owners with airport retailers—an outreach strategy that was reflected in a Small Business Working Group (SBWG) event in February. The virtual event, hosted by California Capital and the Black Small Business Association of California (BSBA), allowed small business owners to meet with representatives from the Sacramento County International Airport and learn about procurement opportunities with airport concessionaires. 

“Through our concessionaires there are many opportunities for small businesses to sell their products,” explains Renata Romero, Airport Economic Development Specialist at the Sacramento International Airport. “We conduct outreach events to reach the small business communities and partner with local agencies to promote our available opportunities.” 

Procurement an Avenue for Expansion

Selling at the Sacramento International Airport was of particular interest to LaQueanya Henry, who founded Sugar Coated Cupcakes with her daughter Mechiala and is focused on contracts with companies or government agencies as a way to expand beyond e-commerce. 

“I have been looking for a storefront for us for a while, so I reached out to [Airport Economic Development Specialist] Andrew Durkee who suggested working with established vendors,” explains Ms. Henry. Mr. Durkee put Sugar Coated Cupcakes in contact with the owner of the Travel + Well kiosk, and once the relationship was established, business followed. “He really went above and beyond facilitating that connection.” 

Similarly, Truthful Kernel co-founder Jon Jew recently expanded his capacity, and was looking for ways to reach more markets with his health-conscious popcorn snacks. Having worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center business counselor as he built the foundations of his brand, Mr. Jew knew that California Capital would be a valuable resource for leveraging growth.

“California Capital put me in contact with Marshall Retail Group’s local sundries buyer, and everything clicked right away,” explains Mr. Jew. “We’re starting off by selling at their locations at Sacramento International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Who knows how far this will go?”  

Community-Focused Buying

Facilitating the expansion of small businesses in localities across the country is a key element of Marshall Retail Group’s operations, says Renee Ellis, Local Sundries Buyer. “The Marshall Retail Group prides itself on being part of every community we are given the distinct honor to be part of. We firmly believe in promoting small business in the area and helping them to grow. We currently work with over 300 vendors across the US and in Canada and that list grows everyday,” explains Ms. Ellis, emphasizing that Marshall Retail Group also works with their vendors to expand beyond their community, as they have with Truthful Kernel. 

In many ways, Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes are examples of typical Sacramento entrepreneurs: ambitious, resourceful, and dedicated to the quality of their product, often  leveraging the Sacramento region’s farm-to-fork culture to source local, fresh ingredients. And this homegrown ethos was a perfect fit for SMF. 

“The Sacramento International Airport strives to highlight local businesses in our retail and food and beverage programs. We have been participating in local outreach events in efforts to become more visible to the local community,” explains Ms. Romero, whose team is also currently revamping their website to include resources and guides for businesses interested in selling at the airport.  

Business Opportunities Through Partnerships

A valuable resource in building business connections are events such as the Small Business Working Group, which inform business owners of the opportunities available and put them in touch with the necessary decision-makers. 

“Through these partnerships [with community-based organizations], small businesses become aware of the opportunities and gain insight into the process. With the assistance of the resources provided, small businesses are better prepared and equipped to compete for the available opportunities,” explains Ms. Romero, adding that while many businesses do not think of airports as a viable location for their operation, the traveling public are a dynamic population, and opportunities to sell a variety of products and services will evolve and increase as air travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. “From 2022 through 2026 we will be issuing Food & Beverage and Retail Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that will effectively open most of the airport concessionaire spaces to new concepts. Now is a great time for local companies to learn and prepare for doing business with the airport to ensure they are competitive in the upcoming RFP processes.”

With communities across the nation returning to air travel, the express commitment of large entities like the Sacramento International Airport to increase participation of small businesses—and particularly small businesses that hold Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certifications—will be crucial to elevating small business ecosystems across the nation. By working with organizations like California Capital to complete the ACDBE application and stay up-to-date on RFPs, taking advantage of these evolving opportunities can be a reality.

Vive Cosmetics Brings Authentic Latinx Representation to the Beauty Industry—And With a Loan from California Capital, They’re Expanding Their Impact

May 28, 2021 | When Leslie Valdivia and Joanna Rosario-Rocha started Vive Cosmetics, the beauty industry was overdue for change. What has grown into an acclaimed national brand with a wide range of lip products began as a problem the pair knew they could solve: the need for authentic representation of the diverse Latina and Latinx communities that constitute the make-up industry’s largest consumer demographic. Now, as their influence grows, the founders are using a loan from California Capital’s Lending Center to expand their reach and continue effecting change.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP INSPIRED BY WOMEN

Leslie and Joanna met through their partners—now husbands—, who have been friends since high school. The two became friends, but did not have designs to enter into business together—until  2016,

L-R: Joanna Rosario-Rocha and Leslie Valdivia. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

when Joanna accompanied Leslie to BlogHer, an annual conference for Latina business owners, bloggers, and social media influencers.

“There was a lot of energy around creating digital content and being online at that time,” says Leslie, who was working in social media and attended the conference every year. “There was innovation happening, and Joanna was interested in learning more.”

During a session where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas, the pair shared an “aha moment”. Participants framed their businesses as solutions to problems they had yet to see anyone tackle, and one entrepreneur in particular stood out. She preferred to dress conservatively because of her religious faith, and was frustrated by the lack of options that were both cute and modest.

“At one point she said, ‘Why should I have to compromise?’,” explains Leslie. “That’s when it clicked. Joanna and I looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something’.”

A NEED FOR BEAUTY CON CULTURA

They immediately began to brainstorm around their shared passions, and quickly landed on make-up: Leslie has been a beauty enthusiast since middle school, and Joanna even had a make-up tutorial channel during the early days of YouTube.

Two models from one of Vive Cosmetics’ first campaigns. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

From there, a vexing question naturally presented itself: Latinx beauty shoppers outspend other demographic groups by nearly 30%, so why was it so difficult to find Latinx representation in the industry? Why aren’t their cultures celebrated authentically?

What Joanna and Leslie saw the more they researched the industry they had supported for so long was a system that relied on stereotypical and narrow depictions of Latinas to make a profit, ignoring the differences in ethnicity, skintone, gender, and shape that exist amongst Latinx beauty aficionados. What’s more, they struggled to find cosmetic or beauty brands that were founded, owned, or operated by Latinx entrepreneurs. It was clear that the industry could do better—Leslie and Joanna were no longer willing to compromise. They would create a brand to speak to and represent the Latinx beauty community as a whole.

VIVE COSMETICS: A LABOR OF LOVE

Joanna and Leslie got to work quickly, researching all elements of what it takes to develop, produce, and sell high quality beauty products. They worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center Business Counselor to develop a business plan, all while maintaining their full time jobs.

Initially, the learning curve was steep. Neither founder had a background in beauty, retail, or even e-commerce—they were starting from scratch in a $62 billion industry.

“The biggest challenge was finding a manufacturer,” says Leslie. “It’s extremely difficult for small brands to even get a response most of the time, because so much is based on having the right contacts to get traction.”

Eventually, they connected with a manufacturer from New York, and continued to leverage resources

Vive Cosmetics Liquid Lipsticks. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

for business development available in the Sacramento community. They put their business plan into action, and received a start-up loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration via Opening Doors, a Sacramento-based nonprofit. With their first line of product ready, Vive Cosmetics was officially launched in 2017.

BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY: GROWING TOGETHER

Vive Cosmetics launched as an e-Commerce shop with a website and social media presence to live up to its mission of beauty con cultura—and beauty shoppers responded. To this day, the company has not invested in paid advertising or public relations campaigns, but their Instagram profile has grown to have over 40,000 followers—and was even highlighted by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last fall. As a result of this organic online success, Vive Cosmetics has been featured in Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, and “O” The Oprah Magazine, among other national publications.

“We are built for community, by community,” Leslie explains, reflecting the role that social media, and Instagram in particular, has played for them over the past four years. “The way folks have responded to

Vive Cosmetics finds much of the talent they work with via social media. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

what we’ve offered has made us realize that it’s going to work. We’re doing the right thing.”

Vive Cosmetic’s digital presence, which now includes growing YouTube and TikTok profiles, has become central to the brand’s existential project of honoring Latinx communities and building equity in the beauty industry. Followers and online shoppers are able to see lip products modeled by Latinx talent that represents a range of skin tones, body types, and ethnicities, and browse lines that are “created with inclusivity in mind” . Moreover, they are invited to participate in the process of inclusivity.

“We find so many of the models, photographers, and creative directors we work with through Instagram,” Leslie says. “We’ll put a call out to our community when we’re working on a campaign and need talent, and we will get hundreds of people tagging their friends or reaching out themselves.” That’s one way, says Leslie, that Vive is working to increase opportunities for BIPOC beauty professionals on all sides of the industry. “Representation does not just mean on camera or in campaigns.”

NEW PRODUCTS, SAME PURPOSE

Thanks to their quick success since the 2017 launch, Leslie and Joanna were able to pay off the start-up loan. Now, their ever-increasing fan base is eager for new products. But the nature of product-based businesses means that new offerings must be formulated and developed before they can be

Samples from Vive Cosmetics’ Cremosa Matte Lipstick Line. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

sold, so any hopes for expansion would require a good deal of up-front investment. Still, explains Leslie, innovation is crucial.

“Looking at our metrics, we understand that when we launch new products, our customers come back,” she says. “We need to do new things. That will in turn help us grow our revenue and expand the company.”

Luckily, they had stayed in touch with California Capital, often having their Business Counselor review their applications for grants or pitch competitions—so they knew where to look when the company was ready for a larger capital infusion. They worked with California Capital’s Lending Center to apply for a sizable loan, and were approved for the full amount in February of 2021.

“It was a thorough and intense process, which is understandable given the amount we were applying for,” Leslie explains. “We had to create financial projections for the next three years, which was tough in the middle of a pandemic. But when we applied, our sales were growing, so we were confident that it was the right time.”

Collaboration Over Competition

Now, with capital to work with and a clear picture of their financial goals, the founders are busy expanding and planning for the future. Leslie now works for the company full-time, and they are working with a product development consultant who is providing valuable guidance as they create new products and reformulate some of their traditional offerings. They have already launched a new line of tinted lip balms, and collaborated with Brujita Skincare, a Latina-owned skincare company out of Los Angeles, to create a Rosewood Hibiscus Facial Mist.

As they seek to continue innovating their products to meet the changing needs of customers—including a foray into product lines beyond lipstick, and revamping their packaging to make it more sustainable—, synergy with other Latinx beauty companies will remain a priority. Since 2017, they have seen a shift in how many Latinx-owned companies are around, and that has come with different types of representation and different stories being told.

As they seek to uplift the Latinx community as a whole, the focus will be on collaboration rather than competition—staying true to their passion for beauty con cultura.

LISTEN: LESLIE AND JOANNA SHARE THEIR STORY ON LA RANCHERA SUPERSTATION (IN SPANISH, ORIGINAL AIR DATE AUGUST 8, 2021)

 

Resolute Circles Group

As a professional fitness instructor, Riva Jean-Paul knew that the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 would call for adaptation. With operations focused mainly on in-person classes and live events, Riva turned to the WBC’s Empowered Entrepreneur course for guidance in pivoting her business to an online platform.

“I saw that there was a need to keep people happy and healthy from home,” Riva explains. Using the Empowered Entrepreneur book, accompanying workbook, virtual group sessions, and weekly one-on-one counseling, Riva expanded her offerings and developed an online membership platform. Within weeks of launching the new program, Riva had members signed up and new interest every day. Being able to pivot her business to respond to the unique needs of her community has allowed Riva to grow and thrive as an entrepreneur. “My business now supports women emotionally and physically impacted by COVID-19 in a way that is smart, intentional, and empowered,” she says. “I am an empowered entrepreneur.”

Constance Agee Creates Pathways to Entrepreneurship Amid Pandemic

Constance Agee, founder and Executive Director of Agee Fashion Institute, believes that entrepreneurs are the key to bringing sewn products manufacturing back to the United States—but her own entrepreneurial journey began largely out of happenstance.

As an 18-year-old in the United States Air Force needing organizational patches attached to her uniform, Constance was not interested in using the alteration shop on the base. 

“It seemed like a lot of money, and I knew how to sew,” she explains. “So I decided to do it myself.” 

Seizing Opportunities, Creating More

When people began asking how she got her uniforms altered so quickly, the spark of a business idea was ignited. Constance began offering her alteration services, providing competitive prices and marketing by slipping flyers under the doors of the dormitory of others on base. 

While continuing her career in the Air Force working in transportation logistics, Constance gained experience in the sewn products manufacturing industry by volunteering at an Alterations Shop on the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base in Suffolk, England. After completing her Air Force service, Constance returned home to California and started a home-based alterations business contracting with the then-McClellan Air Force Base in North Highlands. She continued to broaden her knowledge base, studying for two years at the Academy of Art in San Francisco in Apparel Manufacturing and completing another two years of school in merchandising. 

Enterprise-Building For Impact

Eventually, a successful contract with the Travis Air Force Base allowed Constance to put her manufacturing training to use. She created and produced a line of activewear, and in search of more information on selling her services to government entities, she discovered California Capital FDC’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). After listening in on a webinar, Constance began working with a PTAC counselor. 

“They really helped pull everything together,” Constance explains. “They went above and beyond.”

Constance’s varied backgroundher knowledge of transportation logistics, art school education in design, technical education in manufacturing, and experience in content creation from years working at Delta Dental in training and developmentultimately led her to establish Agee Fashion Institute (AFI). Combining her background with the technical assistance of California Capital, Constance launched AFI as a vocational institution designed to help its students create and discover career pathways in design and manufacturing. 

In fact, this goal is at the heart of AFI’s unique Education-to-Employment curriculum

“[Education-to-Employment] is the process of developing a pathway for students to be introduced to and discover the technicalities of a particular career field, to then work in that field,” Constance explains. 

Forging Community Connections

At the outset, Constance used AFI as a resource for youth in the Greater Sacramento Area to access unique training and opportunities. Working with the Folsom Cordova Community Partnership, the Met High School, and the Sacramento City Unified School District, AFI conducted outreach and welcomed individuals as young as 12 to programs and internships that introduced them to career pathways that are often underrepresented as options for high school graduates. 

“Everybody’s not ready to go to college at the same time,” Constance says. “But that doesn’t mean that you cannot gain the experiences to succeed.”

AFI students gain training and certifications in vocations such as Fashion Merchandising, Pattern Engineering Skills, Prototype Developer Skills, and Industrial Cutter Skills. Graduates of these programs have found success in different avenues towards employment, including higher education and internships with AFI’s resource partners. 

Collaboration For Expanded Offerings

Two such partners are SynByo Prototyping Guild and AMW Design, which have provided crucial support and access to a makerspace for AFI students. Through these partnerships, AFI was able to add 3-D Printing and Industrial Cutting to their curriculum, and graduates have the opportunity to continue their pursuit of employment in the various fields of sewn products manufacturing.  

“Sewing is a process in itself, and in the context of manufacturing it is often ignored or undervalued,” says Mike Bell, the CEO of Synbyo. 

An advocate of manufacturing overall, Mike looks to the partnership with AFI as a way to create an integrated network of designers and manufacturers that are able to approach production processes holistically.

That’s why Synbyo’s network building takes an interdisciplinary approach, building out a comprehensive Sewn Products Manufacturing training that seeks to empower individuals to develop technological skills—like 3-D printing, laser cutting, and Computer-Aided Designthat can ultimately be translated into an enterprise in a number of product sectors. 

With these partnerships, a continued relationship with California Capital FDC, and an ethic for empowering community members to create their futures, Constance was positioned to respond to the unique needs of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

After setting up a Sewing Lab at Synbyo’s Makerspace and working with California Capital’s Women’s Business Center, Constance offered a Sewn Products Training course featuring a hybrid model with virtual instruction on manufacturing and in-person technical training. The first Sewn Products Training was held during the Fall of 2020, and proved to be a successful pilot of the program. 

Constance knows that soft product manufacturing is a huge opportunity for empowerment in underserved communities. While the pilot of the Sewn Products Training focused primarily on the production of PPE masks, the ultimate goal is to bring soft product manufacturing back to the United States. Students are trained to use their home sewing machines to create prototypes and also have the opportunity to access industrial training in areas such as pattern engineering and CNC cutting. 

“It really solidified for me that this is a viable option for people,” Constance says. “Students were receptive of what they wanted to do. Suddenly they were able to say, ‘This is something I’ve thought about for a long time, and now this whole dream of mine is coming true.’”

Many of the students were women from underserved communities, who have historically lacked access to capacity-building opportunitiesincluding the technical assistance and capital needed to start an enterprise of their own. Funding their businesses is a challenge, but can be leveraged as an opportunity to connect with community development financial institutions like California Capital. 

“The minimum they need is a sewing machine,” Constance says. “When they expand, they may require some other funding.”

Creating Pathways to Entrepreneurship

This desire for opportunity is one that is echoed across different communities Constance has spoken with. With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many women back into the home, the chance to operate an enterprise safely from their homeespecially one with the possibility of expansion like soft product manufacturingis empowering. Several students from the first Sewn Products Training went on to assist as instructors in subsequent series offerings, and many have other aspirations for applying their new skillset. 

I took the training initially to learn how to sew but I was quickly introduced to such a vast wealth of knowledge about the Sewn Product Industry that I decided to stay longer and keep with it,” says Pachia Vang, the Business Navigator of Hmong Youth and Parents United Covid-19 Collaborative. 

“Moving forward I hope to use the skills I learned to operate my very own small business and start a blog to experiment with new ways of making Hmong textiles.” 

Dedicated to Sustainable Success

Constance and AFI have been a resource to students unduly impacted by the pandemic, too—students like Nusheen Baig, whose studies at the Fashion Institute of New York were upended in the spring of 2020.

Nusheen began studying at AFI when she was 16, building a portfolio for her art school application. Going through AFI’s fashion program and engaging Constance as a mentor created a pathway for Nusheen to pursue fashion school in New York, a supplementary program in Italy, and a practicum with Levi Strauss & Co jeans.

“She’s always treated me as an equal and expected a lot out of me,” explains Nusheen.

“But that is because she’s doing everything she can to make sure I can succeed.”

Indeed, AFI’s commitment to its students’ sustainable success became clear when Nusheen’s studies at FIT were ended prematurely due to Covid-19 restrictions. She returned to Sacramento, and because her working relationship with Constance had remained strong, she found a role at AFI. As returning to New York to finish school became less likely for Nusheen, Constance worked with FIT to create an accredited internship through AFI that will allow Nusheen to complete all of her credits and graduate on time with the degree she has been working towards for years. 

Designing An Innovative Sewn Products Sector 

When discussing her work, Constance readily offers the statistic that sewn products make up 90% of our lives. A sewn product is anything that requires stitching, both soft products and hard, both retail and industrial. With this in mind, it is clear that manufacturing an array of soft sewn products can lead to plentiful opportunities for aspiring designers and entrepreneurs—all they need is the training.

Faced With Covid-19 Challenges, California Gold Kettle Corn Pivoted Their Business With A Loan From California Capital FDC’s Lending Center

For Allison and Larry Carlson of California Gold Kettle Corn, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed some unique challenges. In 2019, their young business was gaining momentum, and they planned to spend two years taking their kettle corn tent to as many fairs, festivals, and events as possible. They would spend carefully and save thoroughly and, in 2022, pay outright for a customized food trailer—but when Covid-19 took hold across the country, news of cancelled events started flooding in. 

Time To Readjust 

Without the event-specific permits allowing them to operate their food tent, they would need a Mobile Food Facility Permit to stay in business. This meant buying a food trailer before they had planned, and it led them to California Capital FDC’s Lending Center

Allison Carlson of California Gold Kettle Corn with their fresh, all-organic kettle corn.

“[Allison and Larry] came to California Capital with a detailed business plan, well thought-out projections, and knowledge of the permitting process, ” says Judy Fletcher, California Capital FDC’s Chief Lending Officer. “She shared with us that at first, she and Larry were devastated by the impact the pandemic had on their business. But being resilient, they were not going to allow the shutdown to shut them down.”

Mission-Based Lending Supports Sustainable Success

With decades of entrepreneurial experience, The Carlsons know what it takes to grow an idea into a highly demanded product and a thriving business. Still, Allison reveals, they appreciated the diligence of California Capital’s lending team. 

“For them to be able to make me think even harder [about my proposal] is why I think that program is one of the best out there,” she says. “I actually have someone who is going to test my theory, test my projection.” 

To be sure, the Carlson’s dedication to securing a loan was not the only area in which their entrepreneurial tenacity was revealed. 

“At a time when shelter in place forced many closures and modified work schedules, it made it very difficult to schedule appointments with the CHP office to clear DMV inspection and the Department of Health when so many fires had threatened Northern California,” explains Daisy Po’Oi, Loan Documentation and Closing Officer. 

“Through it all, Larry and Allison found a way to capitalize on an opportunity in the mobile food industry that has now driven many businesses to explore even more so than ever before.” 

Ready For What Comes Next

With the support of their sons, minds that are constantly working to envision the next opportunity for their enterprise, and ongoing support from California Capital, The Carlsons are poised to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever. The food trailer will allow California Gold Kettle Corn to have a presence across the state, and Allison is hoping to begin onboarding new employees beginning this summer. Having spent the last three years mapping the landscape for mobile food sales, the family business is ready to focus their time at the events that promise the highest impact.