Made In Michigan: Stormy Kromer

FLINT (WJRT) - (11/11/15) - It's a brand of vest and clothing that dates back to 1903 - and it's keeping people warm all over the world.

The best part? A hard working team right here in Mid-Michigan is doing its part to make it happen, all while improving their own lives along the way.

It's a high end, wool vest for men that's being shipped all over world. Stormy Kromer is headquartered in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and get this, as of early November it's sewn and assembled in a gym at St. Luke's N.E.W. Life Center in Flint.

"I feel like being part of something that's starting, and to me, when you're part of something that's starting off fresh, it just gives you all the more joy and honor to be part of it," said Tameka Davis, production supervisor.

Over the last year, Stormy Kromer's sales have been going through the roof, and its owner was struggling to keep up with demand.

"He was telling the director of the MEDC that he was going have to go to Wisconsin or some other place to try to get seamstresses because there's nobody in Michigan, and he said to him, 'You haven't talked to the sisters,'" said Sister Judy Blake, NEW Life Center co-founder.

Those sisters at N.E.W Life received the call mid-summer, and a few days later, a crew of the center's all-star sewers headed off to the U.P. for training in Stormy Kromer's primary production facility.

"Our ladies, most of them haven't been out of Flint, Michigan, and to drive all the way from Flint up to Ironwood was a real trip," Blake said.

"It was a little intimidating because it's a much bigger atmosphere than what we're used to, 'cause you go up there and you see two or three different almost like manufacturing rooms," Davis said.

A talented team of six were quick to learn the "Stormy Kromer Way" and their success could pave way for long term employment. That's the mission. In fact, for many, The N.E.W. Life Center is providing them with their first jobs.

"Folks who haven't been able to get their GEDs because life didn't leave the space for that, those who may have a felony, at risk youth and people with other mild handicaps. That's who we hire, and that's all who we hire," Blake said.

Jessie Cummings is one of those seamstresses, and she's still a little surprised to be working on such a big product line.

"Sometimes I don't believe it, I say 'whoa', I say, 'whoa' to myself sometimes. Coming in, I was always saying, 'I can't do this', and 'I can't do that', but Sister Carol was always saying you can," Cummings said.

Cummings is looking forward to the day when she possibly spots someone wearing her finished product on the street.

"We made it at the N.E.W. Life Center. I was a part of making this vest," she said.

Each one of the men's Stormy Kromer five pocket vests that are being made at the N.E.W. Life Center sell for around $150 each. The goal is to be able to crank out nearly 100 of them each and every week.

Next up for the N.E.W. Life staff - sewing Stormy Kromer gloves and mittens, and with that could bring more Flint-based Stormy Kromer jobs, something that Blake likes the sound of.

"This is the beginning. There's so many other products that he has that we could really expand if we get the women interested in learning how to sew and sewing up to quality that we need. This could be big for Flint down the road," she said.

As their relationship with Stormy Kromer grows, St. Luke's N.E.W. Life Center hopes to grow to the point where they'll be able to move production out of their gym and into an actual plant in Flint.

For more information on Stormy Kromer products, click the link in the 'Related Links' section of this story.



 
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