Meet Your Maker: Introducing Karen R

by Katherine Ehrlichman

Kitsbow gear is made by humans, not machines, and not by labor that is exploited. Our gear is made by people re-inventing the production of premium apparel in America as a team activity, combining their artisan skills with team-oriented problem-solving and product creation. This is the story of one of our makers, Karen.  

Karen Rodgers was born and raised in McDowell County, and her family tree is deeply rooted in McDowell County and goes back several generations.  


A family that Sews Together… 

Karen came from a family that wasn’t afraid to make what they needed – in fact, it was their way of life.  She has been sewing since she was four years old and remembers sewing with her Grandmother.  “Granny had one of the old pedal sewing machines.  My cousins and I used to get underneath the machine and work the pedals.  She would tell us when to slow down or go faster.”  Karen would later help by cutting out paper patterns and made her first dress when she was 12 years old.  “I grew up sewing, always loved it, and still do!”

Craft beyond the sewing machine 

Karen brings a lifetime of craft & skill to Kitsbow along with a decades worth of experience working in the hospitality industry managing historic bed and breakfasts and hotels.  Through the years, she has made things ranging in complexity from curtains to wedding dresses and is currently working on the “Stretchy Bottoms Line” at Kitsbow, the line that produces all the compression shorts: Coleman Valley Bibs, Zen Ven Liners, Tsalis, Lanana, and the Tights (Rockstacker, Connector, and Tempest Tights).  

She recently  finished building a deck for her camper! “Granny taught me how to sew but all the men in our family were carpenters, roofers, plumbers, electricians, so it rubbed off.” She's also refinishing an antique car! 

A Southern Appalachian Love Story 

If you know anything about Appalachian heritage, you might have heard tales of distilling moonshine in the mountains and bootleggers transporting it to risk-taking customers willing to buy.  Karen’s parents met running moonshine down the Old Number 9 HWY.  Karen’s Grandpa was the one who distilled the spirits until he eventually “found religion and turned preacher”.  Once there was no longer a job bootlegging, Karen’s mom got a job sewing in the local sock factory.  But not just any factory, she began working in Parker Hosiery in downtown Old Fort.  The factory that was previously operated in the building that is currently Kitsbow Cycling Apparel.  

Two Generations Sewing at 59 Commerce Street 

“It’s surreal to be working in the same building, just 40 years later and in a completely different place in time”.  Karen points down the street from Kitsbow and says, “I was in first grade, and after school I’d walk to the Soda Fountain that use to be up on the corner and wait for mom to get off work from Parker Hosiery.” 

Embracing Growth & Change

“My sister and I were talking recently about what we thought our grandpa would say about Old Fort becoming a bicycle town”.  We have a very eclectic & diverse group of people who work at Kitsbow and I enjoy getting to work with all of them.  Everyone is out & not hiding who they are which is so different than how it was… 

Karen enjoys learning new styles & working with different fabrics because it keeps things interesting! Karen has embraced change on many different levels.  She’s embraced and welcomed the change that is happening in Old Fort, and has also handled the constantly changing environment of Kitsbow, from PPE to apparel.  “Sometimes I’m a ping pong ball and I just go wherever is needed”.  


Thank you, Karen, for helping Kitsbow change an industry!


If you're interested in learning how to sew in an industrial setting like Kitsbow, you can apply for the Old Fort Sewing Academy.  Students are paid $15.00/hour during the initial 4-week Academy. 

If you're interested in working with Karen, there are many open positions where you will have the opportunity to help us change the apparel industry in the U.S.