About six years ago, serial entrepreneur Taylor Shupe founded San Clemente, Cal-based FutureStitch to make knitwear using a circular, zero-waste system. Now, he’s introducing a program to recruit and employ formerly incarcerated women at a new manufacturing plant in Oceanside, Cal. Working with nonprofit San Diego Workforce Partnership, he’s also providing a curriculum, coaching and housing support.
“We can foster an entrepreneurial mindset and confidence, along with soft and hard skills that can lead to better employment,” he says.
Hiring Justice-Impacted Women
Shupe founded FutureStich in 2017 to make knitted products based on a highly automated process he calls “circular knit”. That produces a zero-waste system that also allows him to hire less labor and operate a manufacturing plant in the U.S. He’s also aware of the conundrum: how to operate facilities with fewer employees, while also running a company with a social mission. That’s one reason why he recently introduced a justice component to his 10,000 square foot Oceanside plant and plans to do so in future U.S. factories.
About six months ago, Shupe launched his justice program. There are 14 justice-impacted employees now with a goal of reaching 50 by next summer. (The company has a total of about 500 employees). Two have already been promoted to a management position.
The goal is to “empower individuals who have been left out—or even pushed out—of the system,” says Shupe. The result for the company, he says, will be increased retention, the ability to attract better talent and higher productivity.
How He Got the Idea
Shupe says that, as a teenager, he “did some things that could have landed me in juvenile hall.” But his father was a lawyer and he’s white, so he was able to avoid getting into real trouble. About six years, after he founded his first company, Stance, he and his wife started looking around for ways to give back. They learned about a group called Lifeline Prison Ministry in Detroit, which takes children to visit their incarcerated parents. They ended up buying a bus to transport the kids to and from the prison.
That emotional connection, along with a chance to blend a for-profit with a social mission, led him to start thinking about starting a program for formerly incarcerated women at his current company. According to Taylor, there around 3 million incarcerated and 20 million justice-impacted people and there’s also a high recidivism rate. “You have this huge labor population that’s been forsaken. We knew we could create something that would empower them,” he says.
A New Platform and Curriculum
The Oceanside factory will make products not only for big brands, but also for a direct-to- consumer platform, Socki, to be introduced early next year. It will allow customers to upload their own art work and logos and create their own custom socks in two days. The platform’s target audience includes small brands, artists and musicians. Employees will learn a wide range of skills, like operations, sales and marketing and other jobs, that will ultimately pay more than manufacturing work.
The curriculum rests on what Shupe calls “an entrepreneurial mindset.” To that end, it starts with a survey getting at each woman’s aspirations—number one for everyone so far has been to own a home—and the skills they want to develop. (When they accomplish their objectives, the company will make contributions toward their top goal). Then the company sets the women up with Chrome Books, which provide access to curriculum aimed at teaching basic computer skills, like using Google Docs and writing emails. It also maps out the skills they need to learn to enter the career path of their choice. Employees learn how to build their own web sites, which are used to track progress.
At the end of a course, like public speaking or doing a certain number of community service hours, women earn “merit badges”. That earns them awards like gift certificates. Some of the curriculum is drawn from online sources like TED talks or other public speakers. There also are meetings with psychologists and life coaches. Ultimately, Shupe wants to introduce the system to other companies.
The effort has also had a big impact on the company’s culture, he says. In the San Clemente office, the employees aren’t justice-impacted, since they were hired before Shupe introduced the program. But, he says, their engagement has soared. Plus he’s attracted managers to the Oceanside factory who wouldn’t have considered working there otherwise.
Next in the U.S: plans to open more factories in California. According to Shupe, California has a particularly high recidivism rate. That’s thanks to the state’s process, with multiple visits with parole officers, mandatory drug-testing and other requirements, making it difficult to find full-time jobs.
He also plans to open a larger factory in Dallas, working with nonprofit Envision, focused on giving jobs to visually impaired individuals. With more space, he anticipates being able to hire many more workers than at Oceanside.
The company’s other plants include a LEED Platinum certified knit factory in Shanghai. It also runs a joint venture in Ankara, for serving the European market.