This Success Story is the first in our new series inspired by the indomitable women entrepreneurs in our MARKETPLACE.
Building on Career Skills to Follow Her Dream
Constance Agee learned about the importance of logistics during her career in the Air Force. In art school she’d excelled at design and product development and on her return to civilian life she decided to put her administrative skills to use and build on her passion, creating her own business in the sewn products sector.
Connie had personally experienced how hard it was for design graduates to find relevant jobs in the fashion world and she wanted to find a way to help other fashion grads overcome that hurdle. She created the Agee Fashion Institute (AFI), to do just that, building a vocational institute focused on providing education leading directly to income generation in the sewn products industry. Connie calls her process Education to Employment and AFI’s curriculum focuses on sewn product manufacturing, sales and entrepreneurship.
Benefiting from Business Mentors
Connie had never run a business of her own when she launched AFI, and she knew she had a lot to learn about contracts, paperwork and the ‘behind the scenes basics’ of leading a company. Fortuitously she connected with a business counselor at California Capital’s Women’s Business Center and they got to work, developing an alliance that’s grown and evolved over the years.
With the encouragement of California Capital, Connie has also become a leader in Sacramento’s Maker community, partnering with Synbyo Prototyping Guild and AMW Design to enhance AFI’s curriculum by introducing 3D Printing and industrial cutting, bringing speed and scale to the sewing and manufacturing process.
COVID Spurred Powerful Partnerships
In March, when COVID hit full force, the partnership flew into action supporting the local community by setting up a new Sewing Lab in Synbyo’s Makers Space. This quick, timely and innovative action generated much-needed jobs for displaced workers, particularly women forced to take on full-time caregiving when schools shut down. With the strategic support of California Capital they’ve generated substantial PPE for Rancho Cordova Sacramento and helped a large number of workers across the Sacramento Valley pivot to work from home.
Connie is an active member of California Capital’s Online Marketplace for women business owners in Sacramento and Northern California and has connected with a network of women business owners along with a wealth of resources offering practical support, advice and inspiration. She was featured in the Marketplace’s Spring Online Showcase for Women Entrepreneurs, sharing her strategies for pivoting, growing her business and supporting workforce development during these turbulent times.
Paying it Forward
Most recently Agee Fashion Institute and California Capital’s Women’s Business Center ** have been working to help underserved local communities. Seeing a unique opportunity to expand much needed soft product manufacturing in Sacramento during and post COVID, they’ve partnered to bring the **Sewn Products Network Online, offering a five-week course training people in Sacramento to make sewn products at home. Graduates who complete the program can get to work immediately.
This powerful response to COVID has been a real boon to diverse communities in Sacramento with graduates generating an echo chamber, creating businesses of their own. From manufacturing to online stores, they’re opening the door to new work opportunities among Afghan, LatinX, Hmong and African ethnic enclaves and circling back to California Capital for business guidance along the way.
Connie stresses that 98% of our lives involve the use of sewn products of some kind. Moving forward she and her partners have begun developing a new line of products including youth masks, isolation gowns, safety bags, shields and agriculture grow bags, for start-ups, and in response to government contracts. With her eye on the future, she’s always on the lookout for partners with a similar mission, where teamwork generates synergies supporting local communities.
COVID RESPONSE: Registration for the newly launched merchandising program opens November 2, 2020 for Spring 2021. Visit AFI’s website at: www.ageefashioninstitute.com for more information.