In Ace Lane’s family, sewing was always taboo. When her great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, all of the women in the family were immediately put to work in sweatshops. So they told their children that they and their granddaughters and great-granddaughters would not sew.
Lane and her mother, however, ignored this. Lane, a UNC graduate and former Girl Scout, has been sewing her clothes since she was around 10. In even greater defiance of her great-grandparents, Lane founded Chapel Hill-based Shearless, a startup that focuses entirely on sewing.
Although in its early stages, Shearless will offer an online user-driven exchange for digital sewing patterns—which can be used with laser cutters to cut digital patterns out of fabric with Makerspace technology—as well as sewing forums and blogs. Altogether, the Shearless team is working to create a sewing community while combining sewing with innovative technology and leading the craft into the future—a far cry from the sweatshop work Lane’s ancestors did.
“Sewing is one of the most widespread crafts ever,” Lane said. “So many people sew, and one of the impacts we were thinking of having was to bring technology and sewing together, because it’s very gendered right now. It’s like, ‘ah, it’s a woman’s craft. It doesn’t have anything to do with technology. It’s at home.’ But it’s an incredible way to teach young people about STEM, about engineering, and it’s also a really important craft in the growing Maker movement.”
Shearless was founded in February from an idea Lane had while working at UNC’s BeAM (Be a Maker) space, part of the Maker ethos that puts a tech spin on DIY artisan culture. Lane found it to be a pain to cut patterns out of fabrics that didn’t behave very well and envisioned how she could retrace her sewing patterns in Adobe Illustrator and then cut them using the laser cutter.
Lane’s experiment was a success. She told a friend who was a developer, and the next week they entered Shearless into UNC Eship Center’s Makeathon. The Makeathon is a competition that accelerates ideas into tangible prototypes promoting positive social impact. Shearless won first place in Best Early Stage Digital Product.
Now the startup has expanded to integrate additional technology into sewing, but fostering a sewing community is also at the forefront of Shearless’s vision, said Sabrina Cheung, the company’s UI/UX designer and also a recent UNC graduate.
“It seems like a lot of people don’t have sewing communities,” Cheung said. “I think of circles of older women, tight-knit communities that are hard to break into. I bond with a lot of other creatives of color and they’re such welcoming spaces that I want other people to be able to have that too, people who are from marginalized communities who aren’t commonly incorporated in these movements. So that’s my social-justice approach and hope.”
The five-person Shearless team hopes to launch the platform by the end of this year.
“We just want to create a common community for sewists because right now they’re very segmented,” Lane said. “They’re cliques. There’s the quilting people, there’s the cosplay people and there’s the people who make clothes for their babies. But they’re not really talking to each other, and I think this would be a great way for people to exchange ideas.”
Beyond building a sewing community, Shearless is working on creating an interface that enables users to enter measurements and make basic sewing patterns that are tailored for a specific person.
The team is one of 10 in Cohort 12 of the Launch Chapel Hill Accelerator. The accelerator provides programming, mentorship and office space for early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs ready to scale their businesses.
“I feel so inspired,” Cheung said. “I never thought I could be an entrepreneur before. I guess anyone can be an entrepreneur, but I just didn’t see myself pursuing that at all.”
For Cheung, this is now a reality and she finds there is so much to learn at Launch Chapel Hill.
“I feel really pushed to be the best version of myself and keep exploring new things in this space,” Cheung said.
Lane also feels she’s benefited from the energy from the other companies there.
“A lot of it has just been bouncing ideas off of people that are sitting near us and off of people who are here to help us,” Lane said. “It just feels like such a privilege and a help to be able to be in this space that is here to foster us.”