Handmade in Tacoma

Craftsmen breathing new life into Nalley Valley

20160524_TacomaManufacturing_0130The building at the heart of Tacoma’s Nalley Valley under the freeway stands as a testament to the city’s industrial history. A port city that thrived in part by people who worked with their hands — creating things.

The old Harmon building was once home to a handcrafted furniture factory. Now it’s home to Tacoma Mfg. Co. where a small group of people is making quality handmade goods like bags, wallets, and drink coasters. They design and create products for clients. The office is abuzz with people sewing, cutting, binding, and listening to podcasts.

“I’ve always been a maker at heart,” said Danielle Hunich, a fulltime employee, as she sat at a sewing machine working on a saddlebag. Hunich works at Tacoma Mfg. to support her family and supplement her career as a singer-songwriter. She loves the environment that’s all about team effort and craftsmanship.

“My passion for creating things has only grown,” she said.

Hunich has been at Tacoma Mfg. for less than a year. Like many employees, she came in with no sewing experience, and was taught by owner Stephen Jones. He likes to hire people without experience so he can teach skills. He loves knowing he’s a job creator at a growing business.

“I was able to be taught pretty much from scratch,” said Luke Guptill, another full-time employee.

20160524_TacomaManufacturing_0177And it was Jones who taught himself, buying a sewing machine after a trip to Afghanistan. An Air Force veteran, Jones bought the machine on auction at Fort Lewis. He knew he wanted to create goods, but wasn’t sure where to start. He turned to the internet.

“I didn’t know anything … so I got on YouTube,” said Jones.

Now he is the teacher. Right now waxed canvas and leather are on trend, but that might not always be the case. Jones wants to make sure his band of makers is ready to make the finest goods — no matter the style. “We’re building a brand,” he said.

Jones is a student of industry, always reading about ways to improve his manufacturing company. It’s not so much about fashion but more about the craft at his office.

The first company Jones started was called Black Anchor, a leather goods company that makes bags and leather camera straps. Black Anchor is now a client of Tacoma Mfg. Co. His business originally raised $38,000 on Kickstarter. Jones wasn’t expecting that, and it left him with a dilemma; he was sitting with tens of thousands of dollars and only six months of sewing experience.

“(I thought,) this is no joke, I’ve got to figure this out,’” Jones said.

20160524_TacomaManufacturing_0056Through trial and error with Black Anchor, Tacoma Mfg. was born. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. Less than a year ago, it was just Jones, an intern, and a full-time employee. Now there are four full-time and two part-time employees. And it seems like it will only grow. Jones hopes so, and he hopes Tacoma Mfg. can be part of a larger trend of manufacturing rebirth in Tacoma.

His employees are all in.

“It seems like it’s ever-evolving into something bigger,” said Hunich. “There’s so much future here.”

Learn more about Tacoma Mfg. Co and its team online.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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