Meet the future of manufacturing: IDEALAB 2019

People are making things again.

There’s a movement of artisans, craftspeople, makers, and producers creating high-quality goods by hand, a movement that started small but is growing. And it’s happening in urban neighborhoods like Cincinnati’s West End, where two women began designing and making apparel on the first floor of a 100-plus year old factory.

Sew Valley was the inspiration of Shailah Maynard and Rosie Kovacs, who not only produce made-to-order, high-quality clothing, but have created a space for others to get started on their own dreams.

Sew Valley is an example of the impact small-batch manufacturing can bring to the city’s core neighborhoods, a topic that will be explored in the 2019 edition of IDEALAB.

IDEALAB reMaking Industry is a half-day event meant to engage entrepreneurs, thought leaders, community leaders, and anyone interested in reviving the urban core. The idea is to promote a new era of manufacturing, a movement that holds promise for continuing the renewal of the center of Cincinnati and other cities.

IDEALAB reMaking Industry is the third in the IDEALAB Cincinnati series, following 2016’s IDEALAB: People Power, which focused on cutting-edge philanthropy; and 2017’s IDEALAB: Movement Makers, which explored fostering innovation and creativity.

This year’s edition will dive into an old-school industry — manufacturing — with a new purpose: creating and nurturing jobs and businesses and sustaining communities.

"There's a thread of the intentional impact that can happen with manufacturing,” says Matt Anthony of the IDEALAB 2019 theme. Anthony is a founder of CoMADE, a Cincinnati initiative to foster urban manufacturing through education and collaboration.

IDEALAB is geared to anyone interested in improving the urban core, including community activists, economic development leaders, investors, non-profit organizations, philanthropy professionals, students, urbanists, artists and craftsmen, urban planners, urban community leadership, and social entrepreneurs.

The IDEALAB lineup includes thought leaders from Detroit, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, as well as new data from a survey conducted by the Urban Manufacturing Alliance. The survey tapped in to small manufacturers in six cities, including Cincinnati, to gain insights into their markets, customers, and plans for growth.

Key among the survey findings was confirming that most of the makers had plans to grow and to grow in their urban neighborhoods.

That’s certainly the case with Sew Valley. The business began operating in March 2018 and was the brainchild of Kovacs and Maynard, Cincinnati natives who had already started their own businesses, but saw that other designers and producers needed help getting off the ground.

“We wanted to see if we could fill a void in the region,” Maynard says. “Do small-batch manufacturing as well as provide opportunities for designers and entrepreneurs working in the fashion sector.”

They set up shop on the ground floor of a 150-year-old manufacturer located in Cincinnati’s West End, the National Flag Co. The location was serendipitous. The two were touring the flag maker’s facility to learn about its production when they found that the first floor was vacant and available.

“They have large cutting tables and are set up for sewing,” Maynard said. “It was exactly what we needed.”

They set about creating a space where entrepreneurs in fashion and design can find affordable studio space and equipment. Memberships are available that give people access to machines and production services such as pattern making, prototyping, sample making, all the way up to actual production. Workshops are regularly offered, including a current, one-day class, Introduction to Industrial Sewing.

The current membership includes Tessa Clark, who with her luxury brand Grind and Glaze, is currently featured on the Bravo reality series Project Runway.

“There is a demand and a need for a facility such as this,” Maynard says. “I think there’s a potential for even more.”

Launching a clothing line can be prohibitively expensive, she explains, because production space and equipment is costly. “We thought other designers might need our services,” she says. “Turns out we were right.”

Sew Valley became part of Cincinnati’s ecosystem of small, urban manufacturers. Nurturing and expanding that ecosystem will be a central theme of IDEALAB 2019.

The Idea Foundry in Columbus is a 60,000 square-foot facility that is part workshop, part co-working space and part learning center located in a once-abandoned factory in the neighborhood of Franklinton, also known as “The Bottoms.” Its founder, Alex Bandar, will share how he created and built the Idea Foundry so that today, there is momentum to transform the neighborhood into one that attracts creative young professionals.

“I think every city, every neighborhood, should have a center of gravity where you have that place where you go if you want to make something,” Bandar said.

The Eastern Market is an urban success story in Detroit, serving as both a popular marketplace and a 185-acre neighborhood with a variety of food businesses. Its president, Dan Carmody, will share how the Eastern Market District became a regional food hub and the role the nonprofit Eastern Market Corp. plays in making the district an engine of economic growth.

From Pittsburgh, Adam Kenney will speak about that city’s Craft Business Accelerator. It connects manufacturers with markets and buyers and finances artisan businesses, maker enterprises, design/build shops, and entrepreneurial artists. Kenney is a glassmaker with 20 years of experience and has served in leadership positions for regional arts and cultural institutions.

Lee Wellington, the executive director of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, will present data from the six-city manufacturing survey, including information about the state of small-batch manufacturing in Cincinnati.

“Manufacturing is a very significant driver of economic growth in Cincinnati,” she says.

Rich Kiley, CoMADE’s president, will give an update on that initiative, a project that will connect workers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs under one roof. CoMADE is creating a 100,000 square foot facility in Avondale that will be part workplace, part workshop and part classroom, similar to the Idea Foundry in Columbus.

The 2019 edition of IDEALAB will begin at 11:45 AM On Thursday, May 9 at Xavier University’s Center for Innovation. It will close across the street with a happy hour at Listermann Brewing’s beer garden.

IDEALAB reMaking Industry is made possible with support from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty, Issue Media Group and Soapbox Media. The cost is $35 per person or $17 for students and includes lunch. Purchase tickets at Eventbrite. Parking is free next to the Xavier University Center for Innovation venue.

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.