A hundred years ago, the City of Newburgh was a thriving, bustling industrial hub, as prosperous a city as could be found along the banks of the Hudson.
Among its best-known attractions were its clothing industries. Cloth was spun here. Clothing was designed. Those designs were cut and stitched and sewn into countless dresses and shirts and pants and caps that were worn with pride by the men and women who, as recently as the 1950s, strode down Broadway in those locally made outfits, on their way to jobs they believed would never leave them or the city that gave them their livelihoods.
Time has been cruel to Newburgh. It barely made it out of the ’50s before the rise of shopping malls, the birth of the ’burbs and a never-ending supply of cheap gasoline conspired to gut the heart of the city. The final indignity may have come when the government shut down Stewart Air Force Base, just west of Newburgh, in 1970, shuttering its brick barracks, leaving them as empty as the promise of economic prosperity that so many had taken for granted for so long.
Robin Hayes of Gardiner is keenly aware of those days. She grew up in a town – Wappingers Falls – that suffered the same economic plight. But despite its sad familiarity, her awareness is colored by optimism. She and her daughter Eva have recently launched a tiny clothing business that they hope will be a harbinger of better times for manufacturers. And they’re doing it in the Town of New Windsor, next door to Newburgh, in one of Stewart’s once-abandoned barracks.
Lucky Bug Clothing Company came to life in late 2015, when Robin caught sight of a rose-pattern design created by her son Samuel, a freelance animator in Manhattan. She asked for a digital file of it, printed it out on fabric and created for herself a dress. She made some outfits for the children of a friend; one thing led to another, and before long she and Eva found themselves spending most of last year researching what it would take to launch a clothing business.
Eva, as it turns out, holds a degree in Environmental Science and International Affairs: areas of study that have come into play as the women conducted their research. They felt that they needed custom-printed fabric, so they were going to source it – find someone in New York City to do all the sewing. As they envisioned it, it would be a small-scale, home-centered business plan.
Then Robin was introduced last fall to the Accelerator, the Orange County Industrial Development Agency’s business incubator, and everything changed. “I walked in the door and explained our plan, and they said, ‘How would you like to do your manufacturing here, and rent space here?’” When they told Robin and Eva that they could rent a 400-square-foot space for $250 a month, Lucky Bug was on its way to being more than the women had believed possible. The Accelerator, it turns out, is in the business of trying to attract manufacturing-based businesses in the areas of fashion design and production, bottling, artisan manufacturing and artisan foods by providing below-market occupancy costs, workforce training, mentoring programs, easy access to experienced professionals and a host of other resources.
The Hayeses are in the process of finding funds for their all-important digital printer. It will allow them to move their printing operation from its current site in China. But that won’t be the end of the China connection for Lucky Bug: The fabric used for the children’s clothes is made of bamboo. “The only place bamboo is grown for textiles is China,” explains Robin. “It’s a different kind of bamboo – not what you picture a panda eating.”
Bamboo fabric is not only incredibly soft, it’s also a renewable resource (bamboo being the fastest-growing plant on Earth) and it’s organic. It requires no pesticides nor fertilizers, and needs very little water to grow. Those aspects of the fabric appealed to Eva, whose Environmental Studies have gotten her interested in what she calls “sustainable fashion.” Learning about how cotton requires enough pesticides and fertilizers to make it the second-largest polluter of water in the US convinced the women that bamboo was the way to go.
The Hayeses are intent on keeping the manufacturing part of the business local, which is where training programs from the Accelerator and SUNY-Orange factor into the equation. Five local women are currently enrolled in the 40-hour industrial production training program that will culminate in jobs for the trainees. Just as the closing of Stewart Air Force Base’s barracks was a harbinger of hard times, Robin and Eva Hayes hope that their new business is a happy portent of better, homegrown prosperity to come.
For more information on the Lucky Bug Clothing Company, visit https://luckybugclothing.com.