In the midst of the 2020 global pandemic, INTERFORM’s founding focus on art and design saw an opportunity to pivot towards an endeavor that grew from supporting the local community. The organization’s viability as a sustainable non-profit came into question and like many others it moved all its creative power into creating masks. Now at a time when the world and local communities are returning to business as usual, what started as a necessity has turned into an essential part of the culture and pragmatics of INTERFORM.
“The organization believes in a self-sustained, design-led, state-of-the-art fashion industry here in Northwest Arkansas,” states founder and CEO, Robin Atkinson. “ Among the pillars of our organization, professional development has played an integral part in achieving the sustainable business we envision. In leveraging the talent nurtured across our programs we are able to supplement the manufacturing labor shortage in the region.” INTERFORM is beginning to establish a true sewn-goods production sector in the Northwest Arkansas community as the first step towards this effort. By incubating design talent alongside the education and training of small batch and cooperative production talent, they have activated the local workforce and enabled regional brands and designers to create an ecosystem that is both creatively expansive and financially self-sustaining.
MAKE is the term INTERFORM uses to define this sector of their organization and it suggests an action of creating something. In January of this year, they officially launched the MAKE department with the intention of propelling their designers forward, doing so by bridging the knowledge and resource gap between design and production. Their model of design and professional development includes product development for apparel and sewn goods, Technical Design, Pattern Making, Sourcing and Sampling which are all offered to the public
The MAKE department is composed of a group of skilled apprentices led by Richard Cotto, Senior Director of Small Match Manufacturing and Production. The apprenticeship program includes an introduction for participants to the professional workforce while still being trained at manufacturing industry standards. After the six month apprenticeship, participants have a trajectory to enter the competitive workforce with a dedicated and tested vocation. As part of their commitment to equality and fairness, INTERFORM leads by example in the fair labor front by providing participants in the apprenticeship program above industry standard living wages in efforts to close the gap of poverty in the community. “The main and most important takeaway from the apprenticeship program is that the participants leave the program with an efficiency that competes head to head with the industry,” says Cotto. “Throughout the length of the program participants develop their efficiency across commonly produced categories like
t-shirts, trousers, and under garments making them a valuable addition to any workforce they decide to pursue.”
As a fully realized business model, the employees aren’t the only top of mind focus. Cotto believes the secret to any successful apparel business is its ability to react to market demand as quickly as possible. At INTERFORM they employ state of the art operational lines setup to allow them the ability to deliver product at a weekly, biweekly and monthly basis, giving their customers the power to have access to production faster than the market standards. “INTERFORM.MAKE proves that a sustainable model can be created to reshore apparel manufacturing to the United States. By focusing on training and connecting apparel businesses to a highly skilled and trained workforce, we are able to offset the cost, competing head to head with overseas manufacturers,” shares Cotto. “Imports, duties and supply chain issues can have a significant impact on cost and production. Made in the USA is the future of apparel manufacturing. INTERFORM.MAKE strives to serve the community and local businesses with a sustainable and affordable path to success.”
INTERFORM.MAKE is currently running out of downtown Springdale with five apprentices and six apparel brands under contract that they gained in less than a year . The partnership between Robin Atkinson’s pursuance of local change and sustainability with Richard Cotto’s manufacturing industry expertise and detail orientation marry together something never before seen by Northwest Arkansas. As they continue their work, their only expectation is growth and expansion. With ten more contracts pending, a pop-up boutique opening in November, and more apprentice positions opening in 2023, the expectation doesn’t seem like a far reach.
“Now, more than ever, we see the need and urgency to set ourselves up to produce locally,” expresses Atkinson. “ By focusing on local production of small batches of high fashion, high quality garments we build and sustain a local industry that has been off-shored for too long. The challenges ahead will require dedication, deft marketing that listens to our audience and demonstrates the value of the brands we launch, cutting-edge production and manufacturing technology, innovation, and commitment to the community of creatives that make this all possible. We vouch to move away from the word factory and rather call ourselves artists and manufacturers in apparel, after all we create pieces of art.”