Kansas City native Michele Dawbarn has utilized her sewing skills throughout her life, even creating a kids clothing line called Squeaks and Beeps when her two children were younger. Now, Dawbarn and her husband Johnny have combined their creative minds to create SewKC, an apparel and lifestyle brand that emphasizes K.C.’s cohesive community.
Kansas City Spaces: What’s the mission of SewKC?
Michele Dawbarn: Sewing has always been my love and my background. When you sew, you bring two things together, and that’s what we do with our community. We take local people that produce product; we have a local print shop that continues to print our stuff now. We try to source as much as we can here in town. SewKC started because I’m obsessed with Kansas City. We took it to a more meaningful place than it started.
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KCS: The shirt designs started as a hobby. How did it develop into a business?
Johnny Dawbarn: I left my job at Hallmark, and I said to Michele, “How do you want to treat this? Do you want to treat it as a hobby and something you love doing on the side, or do you really want it to be a business? Because I do believe there’s white space in this.” And she said she was serious about it, and we sat down and talked about what is so great about Kansas City besides the icons. We were working out of our basement to begin with. We got invited to do some trade shows at some of the convention centers, and those did extremely well. Then we got invited to do a popup for a month and a half at Park Place. From that point, they worked with us and really wanted us to do a brick and mortar shop.
KCS: How do you translate your love of the city into designs?
MD: When Johnny came on board, he helped us define what we love about Kansas City. We love the Crossroads—we’ve been coming here for 20 years together. So he took that idea and created one of our first designs, the crisscross. And that’s what the lines represent—how we’re all intertwined.
KCS: How is SewKC different than other local apparel companies?
JD: It’s more about the community and the role you play in the community. We did a whole collection just based on those ideas. We found a lot of success in that, and started calling out different roles, like Kansas City teacher and Kansas City nurse. Even if it’s a small role you play, it’s an important one. That really resonated and started to really click. We started to celebrate the connections we make. If you live here long enough, everybody knows everybody. We started doing designs that captured that, but if you didn’t know the story, you still liked the design.
The Dawbarns have expanded their business to include a new space in the Crossroads Arts District that will house ten to twelve other artisans who will collaborate together. Collective EX, which is scheduled to open in September, will allow creators to make items for other businesses as well as their own.
“It was a project that I always wanted to do,” Johnny says. “We actually utilized SewKC as an opportunity to test that model out.”
Located at 519 E. 18th St., Collective EX will include retail space in the front of the building, along with grab-and-go meals from Olive & Sage and vintage letterpress equipment. Other makers include Benten Design, Commonwild and NOMAD Metalworks.
“The idea is you can come into the space and see what we’re capable of,” Johnny says.