As a professional seamstress Kacie VanderZon has many tricks up her sleeve for making repairs, but these days it’s one particular trouble spot that’s occupying much of her time.
“Right now it’s zipper, zipper, zipper,” she said. “This past month is like everybody’s getting their coats out of storage for the winter.”
VanderZon sees a lot of broken zippers, rips and tears as the owner of JH Sew Pro, a business she started in January. She specializes in repairing outdoor gear: puffies, pants, backpacks, horse blankets, boat covers, tents, sleeping bags — “pretty much anything to do with the outdoors.”
She’ll do nips and tucks on your ski jackets and ski pants if you’d like to look sharper on the slopes, but she’s not the person to go to when you need a pair of dress slacks hemmed, a business suit tailored or a wedding dress altered.
“There’s a couple other places like Teton Tailoring in town that seemed to be doing really well at that, and I didn’t want to infringe on anybody else’s business,” VanderZon said. “And I really found my niche and my happy place working on outdoor gear.”
She enjoys tackling the challenge of fixing a jagged tear in a difficult place. It’s fun, she said, to work with various layers of material, cope with waterproof seams and make a repair that looks perfect on the outside but is nice and soft on the inside.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” she said. “You’ve got to piece all the little layers back together and stitch it up just right.”
VanderZon came to sewing through her family and honed her skills during 10 years in Amish communities in Michigan and Tennessee.
“My grandma taught my sister, and then my sister taught me,” she said.
And in the Amish community “we sewed every piece of our clothes from pants and shirt for the guys and all our dresses and all our undergarments. Everything gets sewn from scratch. So I did a lot of sewing. And that’s where I learned all the techniques that I know now.”
She has a certain nostalgia for the old-style process of the Amish.
“Since we were off the grid we used treadle machines,” she said. “You run them with your feet. You pump the treadle back and forth, and that’s what runs the sewing machine.
“I kind of miss that with modern machines, because it’s really easy to adjust the pressure, like how fast your needle is going and how fast you’re sewing, when you’re doing it with your foot. It’s got that more intuitive feel.”
At first her family was just around the Amish, and then her parents joined an Amish church.
“We lived that way for 10 years,” VanderZon said. “So from age 7 to 17 for me, we were horse and buggy and doing all kinds of fun stuff.”
The family started skiing in Michigan and loved it, even though the girls had to do it in dresses. When VanderZon moved to Jackson, she said, “my parents ended up moving out with me. So we all left the church together.”
Now in Jackson she doesn’t miss being away from that.
“If you’re not Amish they call you English, no matter what nationality you are,” she said. “And they speak Pennsylvania Dutch. … which I never learned.
“I never really fit in, and I always kind of felt like an outsider. So it wasn’t as hard for me to stray away from it as I think it would be for somebody’s who’s born into a community.”
But the Amish way of life instilled in her the values that inspire her work.
“Community and sustainability was my big takeaway,” she said. In towns with a strong sense of community “everybody is putting their unique skills and resources together to help each other.
“And that was my idea behind starting JH Sew Pro: to bring that service to helping people fix their favorite outdoor gear.
“I try and visit with every client that comes and build that community feel.”
Right now she’s working out of her home south of town, but she and her boyfriend are building a tiny house in Daniel.
“I don’t feel like I need a big house to run the business,” she said. “And just taking up a small place on the earth and just enjoying the natural beauty and Jackson — that was really important to me.”
Repairing outdoor gear jibes with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethos of sustainability.
“It’s really amazing how many garments you can keep out of the landfill by keeping them and repairing them,” VanderZon said.
“So many clients have commented, ‘I would have just totally thrown this away if it hadn’t been for you here, because I didn’t know you could even fix this kind of thing.’
“So it’s been really exciting for me to see less waste and less new things being consumed because broken or torn things aren’t getting thrown away.”
VanderZon uses social media to spread the word about her business and said she also has customers referred to her by Teton Mountaineering and Skinny Skis.
“I do most of the sewing myself, but I have one local gal that helps.”
To reach JH Sew Pro call 699-3131 or visit JHSewPro.com.