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Apparel business builds interest

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

Despite a number of challenges, a fledgling clothing manufacturing company continues to push forward, fueled by the enthusiasm of current and potential employees.

The positive response to job openings at Creative Eye American Apparel's Paducah location outweighs the handful of hurdles the company is experiencing, business development director Raj Singh said.

"We have had excitement and buzz. That's the part that keeps making us move forward," he said.

After holding a job fair in October at West Kentucky Community & Technical College, the company hired about 30 workers, and applications continue to flood Creative Eye's office.

But very few applicants are qualified to work in the garment industry, as these types of manufacturing jobs have only recently started returning to the United States, Singh said.

That means that applicants must go through 132 hours of training at WKCTC, with additional time spent learning on the factory floor once they're hired. The workers are being paid full time at $11 an hour while they train, Singh said.

"The problem has been how to support that interest financially," he said. "Just training everybody from scratch is like running a school, a school at a cost. That's not quite capitalism."

At this point, Singh would qualify the workers as about 40 percent knowledgeable - hardly enough to begin production. In another 12 to 16 weeks, he believes they'll be at 80 percent.

Financial support from the state or local government could help cover the training costs, he said, but that has not been forthcoming.

And when it comes to more advanced jobs -such as pattern design, cutting and production management - no amount of training can make up for the years of experience needed to perform the task correctly, Singh said.

The company has put out ads for these positions, but has yet to receive responses from anyone who meets the requirements. Some five to seven workers would be needed to run an operation of 50 sewers, which is Singh's short-term goal for Creative Eye. Although the company seeks to hire from the area, it may have to extend its search beyond the commonwealth  to find more skilled laborers.

"We're trying to do as much as we can in state, in the city. (But) to run this operation, we'll probably have to bend somewhere," he said.

Other issues, including winter weather and furniture being held up in customs, have played a role in delaying Creative Eye's grand opening, he added.

Still, Singh and his employees believe that Creative Eye will be up and running soon. The atmosphere in the sewing room off Wayne Sullivan Drive is one of excitement.

Employees say the wages and the chance to get in on the ground floor of a new business drew them to Creative Eye.

"Now that I've gotten the training, it has drawn me in and really revitalized my knowledge," said employee Barbara Weatherspoon of Paducah, who sewed for a living years ago. "It's the atmosphere that makes you just want to jump in and keep at it."

Fellow employee Julie Grizzard said the drive from Mayfield to Paducah every day is worth it, considering the starting wage. She worked in a sewing machine factory in the past, but says it's been about 15 years since the area has had any clothing factories.

"I'm excited about the fact that it's an American-made product," she said. "There was a large boom in the manufacturing business (locally) in the '90s ... then it went away. And we're so glad to see it come back."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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