This month, Behind the Seams is featuring "rising stars" in the sewn products industry. SPESA President Michael McDonald nominated Sarah Krasley of Shimmy Technologies to the list. Sarah and Michael have worked closely together to address the issue of workforce development in our industry, including teaming up on a submission for the XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition.
In the short time we have known Sarah, she has proven herself as a genuine leader who cares immensely about the sewn products industry and those who work within it. Read the Q&A below to learn more about Sarah!
What is your current job position? And what does your role entail?
Sarah Krasley: I’m the CEO of Shimmy, a 20-person industrial ed tech start-up that uses video games to get the next generation excited about technical careers in our industry. I set our company and product strategy, forge good customer and partner engagements, QA our products, mentor our interns, disinfect office equipment — all in a day’s work!
How were you first introduced to the sewn products industry? What attracted you to it?
SK: I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the 1980s and played in the shadows of the abandoned silk mills down the street from my house. I used to imagine there was a whole bustling city under those rooftops.
Later, in 2013, I spent a sabbatical in Bangladesh and Cambodia shortly after Rana Plaza with factory trainers so I could assess technology’s role in helping turn the RMG sector around. I fell in love with the people, the sounds of the factory, and felt like it would be a good place to apply my skills in digital transformation.
What is the most important thing you have learned in your current role?
SK: When people show you who they are, believe them.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about the sewn products industry?
SK: How many people it employs — nearly 100 million worldwide. That’s bonkers.
Is there someone in your life who has inspired you to “reach for the stars”? How has this person been influential in your life?
SK: I had the idea for Shimmy’s training apps on a plane home from San Francisco. Earlier that day, I had my hat handed to me in a pitch meeting and was feeling very uncertain about the future of the company. I decided to watch a movie. On the little screen on the back of the seat in front of me, I saw Octavia Spencer play the role of Dorothy Vaughn in Hidden Figures.
For those who might be unfamiliar, Dorothy Vaughn saw a trend before anyone else did, that the work in her department at NASA was going to be automated soon and she and her peers — in her case, black female computers at NASA — would be eliminated.
Instead of throwing her hands up in the air in despair, she taught herself how to program the IBM mainframes coming in to automate the paper and pencil computing and then she taught her entire department. She saved hundreds of women from being made redundant. I had an Aha moment that night. I wondered if Shimmy could be a kind of Dorothy Vaughn for our industry. So we set out to find new ways to train people so workers can upskill and stay relevant as factories drive efficiency and further automate processes over the next decade, while highly focusing on the value of the humans on the lines.
What is something you have accomplished during your career that makes you proud?
SK: I visited with the first cohort of sewing operators we trained 18 months after the training session. I was so scared that they would tell me we did nothing for them, but the opposite was true. They told me, in chronological order, every single game they played in the training and how it helped them all become multi-skilled machine operators and earn more income. I remember asking them, “Are you sure?” and the emphatic nods they gave in response. We tried a really outside-the-box approach and it worked. I knew we were on to something. It was one of the best moments of my life.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known when your career first began?
SK: Absolutely everyone is winging it.
Are you working on any projects right now that you are excited about (and can share)?
SK: Yes. We are scaling trainings in H&M factories throughout Bangladesh right now in a very interesting collaboration with CARE, The Asia Foundation, and BBC Media to deliver technical and leadership trainings so female workers are supported and can enter into jobs traditionally held by male workers with confidence and tools for success. This set of trainings has made it incredibly clear that the impact of upskilling stretches beyond the workplace to worker villages and families in exponential ways.
We’re also just starting to introduce a new set of mobile games designed to excite American Gen Z and millennials about becoming machine technicians. We’re focusing on building a platform that allows users to learn at their own pace and on their free time with their mobiles as the only required tool. We’re also building supporting content to keep them excited and show them a (small) glimpse of what a career as a machine tech could look like. Additionally, a recruiting platform connects these certified users to factory jobs so that exciting, well-paying jobs don’t go unfilled. It’s been fun to think through how to make repair and maintenance sexy. I’m sure some folks reading this have some ideas on this front and they should waste exactly no time in telling me all about it!
What are your long-term career goals?
SK: I want to continue to grow Shimmy to become one of the major industrial software companies — one that operates in every major garment-producing country. I want industrial historians to look back at this moment as a pivotal one — where the sewn goods industry changed course, set aside old habits, invested in new approaches, and became one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing segments with people clambering to start their careers with us. I want Shimmy to have played a significant and pioneering role in creating that change and I want to be at the helm of Shimmy for as long as I have the right skills to assume that role.
Do you have an idea where you want to be/what you want to be doing in 5, 10, 20 years?
SK: It’s hard to imagine out that far after the last 15 months of tremendous uncertainty. I do know that I am an extremely curious person with a growth mindset and I am committed to making a difference in this industry and helping it avoid the pitfalls I saw befall my hometown and also the other industries I worked in prior to sewn products.
My team at Shimmy is doing a lot of work right now helping folks nearing retirement to be able to leave legacies of their knowledge and experience to our industry. Shimmy’s gifts are taking technical content and making it exciting and sticky for the next generation and it’s been amazing for our instructional design team to learn from these folks. I’ll hope I’ll have some knowledge to leave to the industry like they are doing.
Thank you to Sarah for chatting with us and inspiring us!
Shimmy Technologies is a women-owned Industry 4.0 company preparing the apparel industry for the future of work by developing upskilling and reskilling applications.