• Bridget Driscoll

Groovystuff visits Industries of the Blind

Reclaimed teak manufacturer works to bridge gap between organization and residential furniture sector

IOB TourOn the factory floor, bright yellow tape sections off work stations where employees deftly work sewing machines, meticulously closing seams on shirts and other soft goods. The most incredible part? The majority of them have some form of vision impairment.

This was the scene that met Chris Bruning, the president and owner of outdoor furniture manufacturer Groovystuff, and I at The Industries of the Blind (IOB) in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bruning's goal: to form a connection between the organization and the residential home furnishings market.

"The proximity of such a vastly untapped human resource to the High Point Market—the heart of the residential home furnishings market—was enough for me to encourage the development of a bridge between the Industries of the Blind's sustainable job creation programs with the future of residential home furnishings," Bruning said.

Bruning visited the facility to determine the feasibility of partnering with the organization to create a flat-pack style of furniture. The collaboration is still in the works.

The Organization

The Industries of the Blind’s mission is to provide job opportunities for the visually impaired through its manufacturing facilities. The first North Carolina work program for the blind was created in 1933, known as the Guilford County Association for the Blind. It was one of the first associations to pair with the National Industries of the Blind. In 1962, the IOB landed its first $1 million contract.

IOB TourPart of the tour included visiting work stations.

"Originally the Industry of the Blind created brooms and ropes," said William Royal, business development, IOB. Today the workers make clothing, soft goods, school bags, upholstery and more for a number of buyers.

There's a wide range of vision impairment among the workers. One man is completely blind and works on folding and packaging shirts, while others have some vision and work on sewing machines and assembly lines.

"We even have some sighted people working here," Royal added. During the tour, he explains there are two requirements to be considered sight-impaired. The first is that you could have no better than 2200/20 vision in your best eye with a corrective lens, and your field of view is less than 20 degrees.

The Process

IOB TourBruning tries on a military jacket, one of the many goods created by employees at Industries of the Blind.
As part of the tour, we learn how the workers use guides to feel where the fabric for shirts should be to sew together pieces. Most of the workers who are visually impaired have plastic or metal guides to line up the fabric they're working with to allow them to accurately sew seams.

Desks are lined up in a row so that shirts and other goods can be handed off, assembly-line style. Two people work on a line, and they collaborate as a team to create large quantities of shirts. The sewing machines and other heavy-duty equipment are often programmed to help complete certain tasks the workers can't handle themselves.

The tour of the organization helps solidify Bruning's goal of connecting the Industries of the Blind with the nation's furniture capital—High Point Market.

"The ultimate goal is to put food on the tables of families that have traditionally been considered as unemployable," he said, "and in the process, introduce them to the residential home furnishing manufacturers both here and abroad for job creation contributions to our industry."

Bridget_DriscollBridget Driscoll | News/Online Editor

Bridget Driscoll is the News and Online Editor for Casual Living. Previously, she worked for online marketing companies such as Get You Found and Mainstreethost, focusing on content writing and Search Engine Optimization practices. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in English, with minors in Psychology and American Sign Language. She is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing through Southern New Hampshire University.

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