Jarret Schlaff founded Pingree Detroit, an apparel company with a heart for providing honorable work to members of the Detroit community. A hardworking group of socially-minded individuals, Pingree Detroit inspires us with their ambitious creativity. Jarret and Glenda, one of Pingree's talented makers, are a part of what makes this community so great to be a part of.
Rebel Nell: What does Pingree Detroit do?
Jarret: Pingree Detroit is an L3C worker owned social impact company in Detroit that trains and pays a living wage to community makers and US veterans to hand-make bags and footwear using sustainable materials and leather reclaimed from the Detroit auto industry.
RN: How did you get started with Pingree Detroit?
Jarret: In the fall of 2014, I met two homeless men in the same week who both lived a life of service and were very capable, yet couldn't find work. I transformed my immense frustration into action with a little help from my friends. A small, but committed group of veterans and civilian volunteers started meeting once a week with the mission to create employment that directly advanced neighborhood resiliency and addressed the root cause of homelessness. We decided to create sustainable bags and footwear in our pursuit of hand-making products that embodied the toughness, style, and resilient spirit of Detroit. We launched a six month listening campaign where we sat down with countless individuals at shelters and on the street to let them tell us what they needed and wanted instead of us assuming we knew best. We found folks were lacking a sense of community and basic opportunities to share their full selves in a job that paid them a fair wage and valued their humanity. So Pingree Detroit was born and harnessed the models of community production and worker ownership to create a different kind of business that was rooted in neighborhoods and served the community, worker, and our customers equally.
Glenda: I met Jarett through a mutual friend who knew about my sewing skills. I applied, and he hired me and I have been working for him for about a year now.
RN: What has been the proudest moment of your work so far?
Jarret: There was a profound morning in November 2017 when I looked around my buzzing workshop and saw with new eyes my team of four fully employed veterans and community makers hustling, smiling, and hand-making our new urban utility tote bags that embodied the literal vision that seemed impossible for so long. At that moment I got really present and filled with gratitude, pride, and awareness of the impact that my last three years of hard, unpaid work had created. Together we were not only paying a living wage but reimagining what it means to wage a living.
Glenda: When the employees I've trained say that I am a good teacher with patience.
RN: What does it mean to you to be successful?
Jarret: Success looks like the small wins every time someone on our team expresses their best self. We are succeeding every time someone new participates in our work by becoming a customer or shares our work with those in their circle. Success is the constant state of improving processes and efficiency of production while maximizing the well being of our workers, environment, and our customers. Success on the macro scale looks like being part of the cross sector collaborative work of creating the circumstances and access to resources necessary for people across Detroit and the Lake Erie watershed to define for themselves and their communities what they need to survive and thrive and be able to claim it. Success looks like being part of creating a paradigm shift so that instead of working to live better than others, we reimagine what's possible when communities organize themselves around every being living well.
Glenda: It's not the financial factor, but seeing the positive impact on an individual from what I have taught them.
RN: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about your work?
Jarret: Believe that anything is possible and focus 80% of your energy each day on the two most important priorities that will make the greatest impact.
Glenda: To not be so hard on myself, and what I think might be bad work, may not be so for others.
RN: Are there unique qualities about the community around Pingree Detroit that have helped you be successful thus far?
Jarret: The community and collaborative support system around Pingree Detroit is remarkable. From businesses like Rebel Nell introducing us to veterans we should be in touch with and events we may want to be part of, to mentors coaching our leadership team and keeping us guided in the right direction; relationships are our most important currency. Everyone we connect with agrees it's unacceptable that veterans or other members of our community are experiencing homelessness. So we seek out collaboration more than competition and I'm finding even in the broader cut and sew realm in Detroit people and organizations like Detroit Denim, ISAIC, William + Bonnie, and the Empowerment Plan go above and beyond to support those around them because we share a common goal to advance the community we are all part of serving.
Glenda: Detroit is still in the renewal phase. The surrounding community is so welcoming with advice and suggestions that we are just grateful.
RN: What is your next big goal for your business/organization?
Jarret: We are really excited to finally unveil our footwear line fall 2018 after developing, testing, refining, and doing more testing and prototyping over the past 3 years.
RN: And because we're Rebel Nell - Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
Jarret: There are so many strong supportive women in my life it's hard to pick just one. The woman who is a large part of who I am and how I lead is my mum. She has demonstrated in so many ways what perseverance can look like, encouraged me from a young age to stay curious, share my passion, lead from my heart not the ego, and that you can always go beyond what you think you are capable of if you believe in something strong enough.
Glenda: Rosa Parks, she was a maker (in her time, they called her a seamstress). She did things with her hands that clothed, fed, and supported her community. Seamstresses are only relegated to dresses. I would like to do likewise, because my community needs more than just my hands.
RN: The theme of this year's International Women's Day was "#PressforProgress" – a call to unite all walks of life to think, act and be gender inclusive. How do you think about gender parity and equity in terms of your work?
Jarret: We are committed to #PressforProgress and work towards ways of living, working, and being that maximize well being and advance equity in the workplace and in our community. Women have been the bedrock of our organization from it's inception. From our first volunteers, to our first mentors, to our first employees and the core of our leadership team, we are who we are because of the power, vision, and perseverance of strong women in our organization. It's unjust and disrespectful to pay women less than their male counterparts. One way we're creating equity at all levels of Pingree Detroit is through worker ownership. Every member of the Pingree Detroit team is on a pathway to co-owning the company after one year of being with us, which translates into profit sharing, leadership development, expanded decision making in multiple arenas including participating in decisions regarding compensation.
Glenda: Gender parity still has a long way to go. I fortunately just happen to work for an employer that values me for my contribution at the workshop and in the community. Pingree Detroit believes in giving a person a chance to prove themselves with their deeds rather that their outward appearance.