Tatjana Hutnyak ’96, M’03 is passionate about creating employment opportunities. She went back to earn her master’s degree in International Business to improve her own job prospects.
Now, 10 years removed from speaking at her Saint Mary’s University graduation ceremony, one of Hutnyak’s nonprofit ventures is gaining worldwide attention for its work in revitalizing a job field that many have forgotten.
The Maker’s Coalition is a network of businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organizations that is focused on rebuilding the American industrial sewing industry. Since 2012, Hutnyak has served as a co-founder on a volunteer board of directors that has established a sewing training program at Minneapolis’ Dunwoody College and has connected graduates with companies in need.
The idea for TMC came about after Hutnyak met Jennifer Guarino, then the CEO of J.W. Hulme Co. The 100-year-old leather goods company was in desperate need of skilled workers after most of the jobs had gone overseas decades ago, and the majority of remaining industrial sewers were facing retirement.
“Companies don’t want to manufacture overseas anymore, but they can’t find workers,” Hutnyak said. “The jobs historically went overseas, so you don’t really find industrial sewers in America anymore. A lot of people who are producing locally are 60 or older, so there’s this generational gap in the industry.”
After speaking with Guarino and identifying her company’s needs, Hutnyak saw an opportunity. Hutnyak works for Lifetrack, a nonprofit human services organization that serves children, families and adults facing life challenges. Many of these adults were unemployed, and Hutnyak wanted to find a way to provide them with professional training to fit the needs of these manufacturing companies.
So a partnership was born. Lifetrack wrote a grant to start a sewing program at Dunwoody, and The Maker’s Coalition’s began training 18 students in January of 2013. After the initial course ended in June, Minnesota companies in contact with the Coalition competed to hire the graduates. Trained sewers continue to be in high demand across the state and region.
“These jobs are coming back, and we need to train a workforce,” Hutnyak said. “Here’s a perfect opportunity to bring a big industry back nationally. The goal is to grow nationally and to expand strategically so it becomes a standard profession again across the country.”
Hutynak recalls when she needed some help of her own. She didn’t know English when she first came to Saint Mary’s in the early 1990s, and she spent a summer at the DeLaSalle Language Institute to refine her language skills. She graduated in 1996 with a degree in psychology and went on to earn her master’s degree in 2003 at Saint Mary’s Twin Cities campus.
“I became really focused on helping people find careers,” Hutnyak said. “The main reason I got involved with TMC was to help people find jobs and to produce locally. I really, genuinely believe in doing things the right way.”
Expansion on TMC’s mission has already begun, as Guarino left J.W. Hulme in 2013 and headed for Detroit where she is now heading Shinola’s leather division. There, she is also getting a foot in the door with automakers, as you can imagine the need for sewers to work on cars’ interior fabrics.
While the chair emeritus for TMC’s board of directors is networking in the Motor City, Hutnyak will stay in Minneapolis, watching as a new class of sewing apprentices goes through Dunwoody’s course. This group is even more diverse, something that encourages Hutnyak.
“We are even getting kids with college degrees coming back to get a job as a sewer,” Hutnyak said. “We’re seeing young entrepreneurs, kids who want to own their own company and create clothing or other sewn products locally. It’s a new movement of people doing things with their hands.”