• ,

ChangeWorks: Cottage industry with colorful promise

NolaVie partners with Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation on this series of articles focusing on New Orleans entrepreneurs devoted to social innovation. Today we interview a textile designer who is teaching women in transition how to sew.

Textile designer Camilla Bissett

Textile designer Camilla Franklin

At one point in New Orleans’ history, there was quite a thriving textile production industry here. But, like so many other industries faced with a withering economic assault driven by low-wage competitors in China and India, it could not survive. The major manufacturer here, Blumenthal Print Works, closed in 2010.

Camilla Franklin was part of that economic turmoil. It has been almost two decades since the British-born design artist moved to New Orleans to be the VP of Design and Global Sourcing for Blumenthal Print Works. She stayed with them until their closure, and says she never seriously considered leaving the city she had come to love.

For the past few years, she has had to remake her professional life. And so she has become an entrepreneur and an educator, starting her own small business and teaching her skills to women in transition, giving them vocational training that helps them become independent.

Camilla, skilled in the use of digital technology, first put all of her professional expertise into designing and printing textiles. She created designs for herself as well as for others who wanted unique fabrics, be it one yard or hundreds of yards, always with the goal of helping other textile businesses achieve similar results.

Now she has moved into a more individualistic sphere: fulfilling her dream of being an innovative entrepreneur with her own product line. She is turning her personal designs into decor and fashion products, from pillows to chair covers to scarves to bags.

Franklin uses eco-friendly inks in her fabrics.

Franklin uses eco-friendly pigments in her fabrics.

“My company, Blisset Textiles, has developed a line of products and home accessories, using eco-pigment inks only," Camilla says. "We print exclusively on natural fibers like linen, cotton and silks up to 64 inches wide. We've also opened an online store at etsy.com for other artists and crafts people to sell their products.”

For Camilla, shifting into entrepreneurship also provides a way to express her deeply-rooted social conscience. So she is working with Hagar House, a project of First Grace United Methodist Church, which provides a safe space for women in need to transition to sustainable housing. There Camilla is educating some of the residents in the skills of manufacturing eco-friendly products. It’s social innovation at its best.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to work with women in need,” she says. “I just never have known how to actually do it. Then I discovered that one of the women at Hagar House really knows how to sew. So she and I are training others there to help make the products. It’s in the early stages, I know, and it’s a small operation. But I think it could grow into other things.”

Working through the St. Claude Avenue Main Street program, she has placed the Blisset Textile creations in a pop-up space at the Bywater Art Gallery, 3700 St. Claude Ave. The pop-up will be open Thursdays through Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. until October 31.

So stop by and take a look at these colorful, beautifully printed objects. Or go to www.blissetttextile.com for more information.

ChangeWorks is a partnership between NolaVie and Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation. Send feedback to [email protected] or [email protected]

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]