Recycled and refurbished sewing machines from the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) Rifle campus, dating back to the mid-2000s, are now central to CMC Aspen’s new soft-goods manufacturing program.
Maureen Stepp is CMC assistant dean of instruction for Glenwood Springs, Spring Valley, Carbondale, and Aspen. She explained: “We had industrial sewing equipment in storage from a program in Rifle that is no longer running, and Steve Skadron (Dean for Aspen and Carbondale dean) said he wanted all of it for an idea.”
Skadron was concerned that “85% of used textiles end up in the landfill while the pre-owned gear market is exploding. An outdoor-industry, sewn-goods program puts CMC students at the forefront of small-scale manufacturing and the principles of a circular economy: wear-repair-repeat.”
Small-scale, soft-goods manufacturing has been very well received in makerspaces popping up across America in schools, retail locations, and food halls. The makerspace movement, while not a new concept, will now be present at the CMC Aspen campus with two rooms that have been transformed into design studios for the program.
Makerspaces are labs, classrooms, warehouse spaces, etc., that encourage users to design, experiment, build, and get creative.
Skadron’s idea of a recycled, refurbishing program is grounded. His vision of an ecosystem of reuse and upcycle started with the new generation of Rifle’s sewing machines.
“Ralph Power Sewing Machine from Denver was the original company that sold us the units, and they sent one of their technicians to Aspen to tune them up,” said Stepp.
“Outdoor brands are building new retail channels that focus on selling upcycled clothing because it’s good for the environment and good for the bottom line,” Skadron said. “Our program gives students a new path to excel in Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy and nurtures a small-scale sewn goods industry in our mountain communities.”
He continued, saying, “Statistics point to the pre-owned, outdoor-gear market generating $75 billion in 2025. CMC will integrate this emerging business while embracing the concept of small batch.”
Patagonia created their Worn Wear program, which encourages customers to recycle Patagonia gear, so it may be repurposed and resold.
“This program is very much designed to parallel Worn Wear’s platform,” added Skadron.
The new certificate program focuses on small scale manufacturing, supply chain management, entrepreneurship, rural economic drivers, and a circular economy. (The latter term typically defined as production that embraces renewables and ways to repurpose, rather than discard waste). The 16-credit, six-class program, aims to put garments back into the supply chain instead of the landfill.
The program’s courses include Entrepreneurial Operations, Garment Sewing and Design, Global Action-Sport Business, and Introduction to Sustainability.
Lead soft-goods instructor Cecilia Metheny has an extensive background in New York City’s garment industry. She said the basic sewing and design skills students will learn will help them seek internships at companies like Patagonia, Obermeyer, Big Agnes or North Face — or start their own clothing business.
Skadron noted a shift in consumer preferences: “People are interested in buying on a smaller scale and feeling a connection to product and brand. They are willing to pay $10 more for locality and authenticity.”
The soft-goods manufacturing certificate offered in the Roaring Fork Valley reflects Western Colorado tourism, sports, and wellness. It’s a complement to the Steamboat and Leadville programs.
Currently, CMC Steamboat Springs is home to an action-sports industry academic program, with certificates and degrees focused on the ski and snowboard business, studies that encompass sports media, merchandising, marketing, and more.
The Leadville campus offers an established ski operations degree whose scope includes the study of avalanche science, ski area planning, snowmaking operations, trail grooming, and over a dozen electives.
CMC’s Stepp said students will learn both big-picture ideas about the global sports business as well as zeroing in on lessons about how new clothing is developed, from the initial designs to sewing to recycling and repair of secondhand goods.
Classes begin Aug. 21. Enrollment instructions and additional information are available at coloradomtn.edu. To link directly to the new soft-goods manufacturing program site, visit coloradomtn.edu/programs/outdoor-soft-goods-manufacturing.