reid miller

Sew it begins: How Reid Miller hopes to bring back the textile industry in WV

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Reid Miller has a vision: Women buying custom-fit garments sewn right here in West Virginia, using fabric and dyes grown here in West Virginia, creating good-paying jobs up and down the supply chain right here in West Virginia. 

“People are making up to $55 per hour right now for alternations and custom sewing work,” she says. “I could go to Los Angeles or New York to get the work done, but I’m in it for jobs in Appalachia.” 

Miller moved from Durham, North Carolina, to Princeton, West Virginia, several years ago to work towards making her vision a reality. 

“Princeton is a really great place to start a business,” she says. “In years past, they made all sorts textiles and garments in West Virginia, including Maidenform bras in Princeton. Today, we have five artists in our studio working on textiles in Princeton.”  

But Miller isn’t just pitching her own business; she’s working to revive an entire industry in a place she thinks has the perfect ingredients to pull it off.

“The big story is that there’s a regrowth in the textile industry. Between WVU, our history of quilting, our family farms, businesses like mine, and Coalfield Development, it’s all here.”

Diane Browning, who has worked in the industry for years out of the Greenbrier Valley, agrees. “There’s economic viability to this industry.”

In order to actualize all that potential, Miller is working from several different angles at the same time. 

“I split my time between running my business and helping with Coalfield Development,” she says. “It’s a nice balance to do the long-term development work and then go sew a blouse. It keeps me grounded.” 

As a textile consultant for Coalfield Development (a nonprofit organization that fosters innovative economic development in West Virginia), Miller hopes to provide a foundation for a new generation of textile workers and businesses in the state. She sees her role as connecting the dots between various players. 

“Sewing manufacturing is the basis of the industry and the first piece of the strategy.” she explains. “That simply means someone takes pieces of fabric and sews them together, such as pants or a furniture upholstery, and doing it here.”

She explains that Professor Beth Shorrock at WVU is trained to teach a sewing curriculum developed by Carhartt that allows students to learn how to sew professionally. Her program begins this fall. The plan is for her to train trainers, who can then train students in community colleges across the state.

“The second piece of the strategy is natural dyes,” she says. “Indigo can be grown here, we know. But will it produce enough to make it worthwhile?” They plan to use abandoned mine sties, which haven’t been chosen yet, to grow the indigo which can be used as a natural fabric dye. 

Jordon Masters, a research assistant at WVU from Greenbrier County, works to support the project in two ways. “He is the dye expert,” Miller says, “and he also teaches digital pattern-making software, which allows you to fit a garment virtually without making a sample. That cuts costs enormously for producing custom garments.” 

Lisa Jones (left), program coordinator for the WVU Extension Small Farm Center Program, and WVU researcher Jordon Masters examine a spinning machine that could help small producers process wool more effectively. (WVU Photo/Brian Bornes)

WVU has a farm to fashion initiative, which Miller believes is the perfect vehicle to launch the various pieces of their textile comeback strategy. 

Both Miller and Masters will be in Lewisburg to take part in a fashion show, run by the Greenbrier County Democratic Women, on April 20 at the Lewis Theatre at 3pm. The fashion show will include a presentation on the statewide textile redevelopment strategy by Miller.

*Author’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the potential return of the textile industry to West Virginia. Stay tuned.


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