When Sharie Renee shared her idea to use sewing education and outreach to serve the community, she was instead encouraged to open a for-profit business. That was fifteen years ago, and thankfully she never lost sight of her original mission.
Her storefront, Cosmic Bobbins, sits in the heart of Shaker Square, with goods for sale from local entrepreneurs and artisans, as well as in-house embroidery, screen printing and sewing services. These revenue streams, along with key community partnerships, enabled Renee to found the Cosmic Bobbins Foundation in 2015 to offer more educational programming for underserved populations.
Despite the growing success of Cosmic Bobbins, the organization has faced some serious setbacks the last few months. The storefront was broken into four times in a six-week period, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Ever the optimist, Renee’s outlook is one of hope.
“The gentleman that was breaking in was stealing T-shirts, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘Could this be someone we could be serving through our programming?’” Renee reflects. “I had to ask myself, ‘Are we part of the solution or are we still part of the problem?”
This outlook will shift the organization’s trajectory in 2018. Cosmic Bobbins plans to scale back on the retail business to direct more attention to their educational programming and nonprofit initiatives. The new year also will see the first official class of Cleveland Sews participants, a group of women preparing for the workforce and the next step of their sewing journey.
While Cosmic Bobbins’ storefront has experienced multiple break-ins, Renee says there are a lot of active, passionate community members who want to see Shaker Square grow and thrive, which is a major reason why she wants to continue being part of this community.
“We are so grateful for the support [from community partners], and to continue to be able to do the work we do is a tremendous honor to reach women, youth and be an important part of the Shaker Square community,” Renee says.
Cosmic Bobbins is currently working with refugee and immigrant populations from the Bhutan, Congo, Iraq and Syria. The organization also serves individuals with special needs and youth. They are connected with Cosmic Bobbins’ mentorships and foundational sewing skills courses through collaborations with Northeast Ohio-based Asian Services in Action, US Together, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning and Cleveland Public Library; and the U.S. Committee of Refugees and Immigrants.
In 2016, the Cosmic Bobbins Foundation earned the Enterprise Community Partners Nurture an Idea award for their Cleveland Sews workforce model.
While the program aims to offer apprenticeships and connect graduates with full-time employers in the sewing industry, the first mission lies in the Cosmic Bobbins Foundation’s Bridge Program, which is designed to address barriers to employment, such as caring for small children, elderly parents or language barriers, before participants are ready to enter the workforce. The Bridge Program also increases participants’ self-esteem, self-awareness and empowerment.
“While we’ve been really excited about Cleveland Sews and what it can bring to the community, the direct workforce pipeline is not always practical when you consider there are multiple barriers to employment,” says Renee. “We really need to meet the populations where they’re at.”