By Erin Randel
What would happen if you combined three stylish alumnae of John F. Kennedy High School, a love of sewing, and a love for their community? Something powerful—Oh Sew Powerful, Inc.
Paula Coggins, Suszanne Clay, and Nadine Matlock met as schoolgirls in the Lee-Harvard area and became friends through sewing classes at JFK. Yearbook pages show these members of the class of 1974 proudly modeling their creations from basic, intermediate, and advanced sewing classes, including a tailoring course that focused on winter coats and evening gowns.
“It was just a fluke that we had all these classes. All three of us were in college prep,” says Coggins. “Back then, if you wanted sewing as a vocation, you went to Jane Addams.” Friends who graduated from that program found career opportunities in New York’s fashion industry, and with Bobbie Brooks and Richman Brothers in Cleveland.
Sewists are still needed by local employers, but after fulfilling careers in accounting and education, these three friends find that working with textiles is empowering, and provides a green, creative outlet that is often overlooked in our new ‘buy it now’ culture. Plus, it keeps you busy.
They reconnected with that truth during the early months of the pandemic. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” says Coggins, with a laugh. The healing and peace they experienced while creating led them to found Oh Sew Powerful in August, 2020.
The nonprofit holds classes in person and online to spark creativity. They encourage their students, from elementary schoolers to senior citizens, to see the possibilities in all kinds of materials.
“We want to broaden horizons.”
Their interest in mending and repurposing led them to Circular Cleveland, “a 30-month initiative to develop and implement circular economy strategies and programs in Cleveland. A circular economy is a comprehensive and sustainable approach to provide community-wide benefits by designing waste and pollution out of our economic system, keeping products and materials in use as long as possible, protecting and regenerating natural systems, and creating new jobs.”
Small grants allowed Oh Sew Powerful to teach classes, and build skills to allow their community members to repair the fabric of their lives, along with their environment.
Fast Fashion = Vast Waste
In 1970, the U.S. generated 2,040 tons of new textiles, less than 3% of which were recycled. The rest was landfilled.
As of 2018, more than 17,000 tons of new textiles were produced for the U.S. annually, and only 14% were recycled. That’s over 11,300 tons of fabric, primarily discarded clothing, sheets, and towels, that ended up in landfills.
To learn more and to sign up for an upcoming class, follow Oh Sew Powerful on Facebook, call 216-926-3391, or visit their website: