Meet The Staff
CEO & Founder
From a small town, with massive visions, Janay has successfully made her purpose full and vibrant. Janay Brower is the founder and CEO of Public Thread with immense amounts of compassion and integrity.
Growing up in a smaller, more rural area of Michigan, Traverse City, she found herself wrapt in her imagination and nature surrounding her. Her passions grew as she left home and moved to the city of Grand Rapids. Janay experienced a life vastly different from her peers, ultimately leading her to find her passion for systemic change.
As a high school student Janay had a unique experience for West Michigan. She began her education at a school where students of color were the majority. Positive and energized by her experience, Janay’s ideals shaped by the students she surrounded herself with. As a young teenager, she moved to a very different environment, a school where students of color were a minority. Janay quickly noticed the difference from her previous experience. Dynamics were different at her new school. She noticed a lot more division between Black and Brown students and White students. Janay realized she had not experienced so many White students in school together, a vast difference from the diversity in people, languages, and culture present at her primary school. Uncomfortable with this reality, Janay sought to learn more about why situations like this were so common.
High school to college, and book after book, Janay found that her calling was in Systems Change Work. Fighting the social norms and constructs, she found herself challenging others to see the problems at hand. With this, she found that it was difficult for her to fit in with others. She says that “the hardest thing for you to figure out is who you are and who you aren’t.” Knowing either one is as important to personal growth.
In time Janay has become a social and environmental activist with a heavy emphasis on equity as she continues to push the boundaries further. She loves being able to hear all perspectives and bounce ideas off of people. As a passionate civil rights activist, Janay’s goal was to make a difference in her community.
After years of working with a coalition to end homelessness, pouring her heart and soul into change work, she knew she needed to expand on what was lacking in her life – creativity. With her passion for people and the planet, Janay came to find the vehicle as to how she would make her voice heard.
Public Thread came to her one evening at a Chamber of Commerce event and from that day forward planning and prepping went into full swing. From her kitchen table to a massive facility, Janay can finally say she has made steps towards her largest goals in life. But, this is just the beginning. Janay sees Public Thread as an example for future generations and business models holding various events, people, and talents. She aims to teach and serve through this platform and urges as many as she can to do the same. Her passion is vibrant and unconditionally effervescent. Janay intends to continue her leadership as a teacher, hopefully shaping young minds into thought-provoking, diligent, and talented people.
Lisa Knight is one of the most versatile women to walk through our company doors. To call Lisa a jack-of-all-trades is an understatement to her undeniable adaptability to her work and environment. A mother of nine, Lisa has always been keen on doing various occupations and past-times to fill her life with enjoyment and prosperity. Undoubtedly a hard worker, Lisa is currently the CEO of DV Apple Logistics LLC (one of the numerous companies she's created), owner of LMK Consulting, and the COO of Public Thread.
Lisa has had a passion for music and theater ever since she could talk and walk. Her first play, at four years old, forever set her connection with singing and performing. Her vibrant character brought her to the spotlight competing in talent shows, singing contests, and performances. To this day, Lisa is an amazing singer, traveling all over the United States and the world working with brands for commercial voice-overs, performing on Caribbean cruise ships, in Chicago, and Japan. Lisa embodies this passion and drive saying, “I could be me and express something through my voice that nobody else could touch because it was very different.”
Growing up very quickly and at a very young age, Lisa has endured various challenges, trials, and tribulations. In the transition from a younger girl, living in the countryside surrounded by nature to a woman leading work across the city of Grand Rapids, Lisa challenged the constructs and ideas that were presented in her daily wake. With judgment and inequity around each turn, she embodied her ideals of the theater saying, “there are no judgments in theater, there’s a place for everyone, you have something that is needed.” It especially radiates as a significant catalyst to the culture and atmosphere of Public Thread.
Lisa, a water lover, found herself tuning into the sound of the ocean every chance she got and laying under the stars for hours to see the immaculate beauty. This in tandem with her upbringing in the countryside made her connection and appreciation for the Earth so intimate.
“Unapologetically,” being yourself is something she’s found great pride in. She carries this attitude with clarity and vibrance. The spark of Public Thread came to her one day when she met Janay at a work event. After some conversation, they had an urgency to fulfill PPE orders when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. They pulled together and shifted existing production to protective wear. Since then, Lisa has become increasingly inspired to do more through Public Thread. Lisa is excited to say she sees Public Thread as the sustainable catalyst in this community and worldwide while setting a precedent and a pattern for people to follow. However, her main focus is on the people she impacts. “It’s not just about the products. Public Thread is able to add to a valuable employee life and to see the gifts and talents of other people. This is the core intersection between Janay and I in leading our mission and team.” She treats everyone with dignity and respect and is creating opportunities for people who may have not had the chance to excel.
Lastly a quote from Lisa, “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do - we owe people the best of who we are. Everyone has a place.”
There really is no combination of words that can describe, in-depth, the fantastic and brazen character that Maeve embodies. Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, Maeve Young has had the ability to experience art in various forms and cultures. Starting at the age of four, in her mother's modeling agency, Maeve was a successful model which then turned into fashion runway modeling. Her experience and determination allowed her to navigate her own contracts and conditions. With this, Maeve has been exposed to copious amounts of clothing, fashion trends, but most importantly the process in which clothing is made. As an analytical philosopher, her intuition drove her to understand the processes in which people think about clothing and the impact it has on the environment. Maeve identifies herself as a Precision Hawk, meaning that she is extremely meticulous with her work and loves to create with her hands. The idea of craft led to understanding the mechanics of fashion – she is the one to sew and take apart and rebuild the sewing machine itself. The intimacy of her relationship with fashion and philosophy has molded her opinions, decisions, and actions that propelled her into the sustainability portion of manufacturing clothing.
Throughout her modeling career Maeve found that she wasn’t wearing anything she liked. Given her nature, she figured she would just create her style which developed into the philosophy she lives by. Maeve practices veganism, but through the lens of harm reduction rather than purist ideology. Maeve explained that when you use faux furs and leathers, it's actually much more harmful than using the authentic material itself. She concluded that sweatshop workers for fast fashion are exposed to toxic chemicals and fibers that ultimately degrade their health over time, many of whom are simultaneously not being compensated with living wages and safe working conditions. With intense dislike towards this reality, she shaped her life in a way that would combat this problem. As an avid second-hand shopper and family heirloom collector she understands the magnitude and power that individuals hold around purchasing decisions and the ethics of fashion itself. She says, “if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself,” and that’s exactly what she did. Maeve expanded her passion when she attended her favorite designer's event, Savage Beauty by Alexander McQueen at the MET in New York City. She found herself entranced by his romantic-gothic nature which led her to pursue her own philosophy of fashion.
Working as a bartender at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, she came in contact with the owner of Public Thread, Janay Brower. Immediately Maeve found that her passions aligned with the values that Janay has set for the company. As a part of the DEI committee at her previous occupation, Maeve came into Public Thread with the intention of furthering the company ethically. Maeve passionately teaches and manages production at Public Thread as she says, “You realize that investing in clothing is investing in the people around you and yourself.” Maeve firmly believes that fashion and the ethics of fashion transcend the manufacturer and consumer to deeper areas of consideration – the environment, and especially the “why and how” of creating art in the form of clothing. Maeve sees the future of Public Thread as an educational and outsourcing facility that will help students learn how to create products and activate people with compromised records from criminal history and the underserved community in general. She’s thrilled to see Public Thread as a place to gather and see art and talent – a place where designers will actually have the means to be able to create a collection.
Lead Designer and Creative Director
Have you ever wondered about the capacity held by the design world? Well, take it from our Project Manager and Product Designer, Lily Cho, as she firmly believes, “art and fashion are everywhere.” She’s right. Lily is more formally known by her creative name Eunjin, a name given by her parents stemming from the Korean translation of grace and truth. She has offered Public Thread invaluable design insights and unique creativity. Lily was born in South Korea and grew up in Albania. She immersed herself in drawing and the arts at a very young age.
Lily finds her inspiration in everything – furniture, clothing, architecture and so much more. Her creative abilities have transformed from initially pursuing a Fine Arts degree from an art school in Delaware, but then decided she wanted to pursue a more particular career. Lily decided to attend the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lily mentioned, humorously, the particular difference between her time in Albania and the United States are the larger eating portions! She is now able to eat the full amount that Americans are accustomed to. On a more serious note, she found that systemic racism is a much larger issue in the United States, more so than at home. She says she appreciates, greatly, the time and effort that her company owners, Janay and Lisa, put into helping their employees understand these topics. She loves how passionate they are about social reform and how they engrain these important issues in the workplace. Lily has learned a lot about the importance of equal treatment, living wages, and the idea of sustainability. She mentions that this value has transcended into her personal life and she lives a much more environmentally conscious life.
Lily started her career at Public Thread from a connection through her professor at Kendall. Immediately, Lily fell in love with the location and atmosphere of Public Thread. She says that the workplace is great for creative thought and brainstorming. Lily has a very good relationship with her co-workers and executives. She says that she appreciates the creative freedom and attentiveness of Janay when she creates a new design for the company. “It’s nice knowing that my ideas and designs are being noticed and valued,” she says. Lily really enjoys the close-knit community aspect of not only her work environment but the company’s relationship with the Grand Rapids area. Eunjin feels that these close relationships with her team are of utmost importance. She says, “big companies and fancy names do not matter if you’re only doing something pretty. If you don’t have a purpose, it’s not as valuable in my eyes.” Lily is very excited about the future of Public Thread as she sees great potential in the company.
Fulfillment Specialist and Sewist
“Anyone who is remotely interested in textiles or design could definitely get down with what we are doing,” says Hannah, one of our valuable seamstresses and designers. Hannah Tschirhart grew up not too far from Grand Rapids, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She found that design and the industry of creation have always been at the forefront of her mind. Although Hannah was unsure of the specific path she would take leaving home, she knew confidently that she would be creating for the rest of her life somehow and someway. She started as an engineering student knowing that she loved to build and design new concepts and ideas. From there, Hannah found that her interests were leading towards the fashion industry. As a self-taught seamstress from the age of ten, Hannah was driven to find a company that allowed her to flourish and learn more about the industry she connected with.
Hannah has been inspired by the art in her hometown and all of the events that accompanied it. She found herself more drawn to color and aesthetics after she spent some of her time building robots with specific guidelines and criteria. She said she enjoyed doing this, however, she wanted more room for expression and to be able to share her own designs. One of her favorite artists, Iris van Herpen, connects technology with fashion in a way that focuses on mixed media while intentionally pushing visual movement and fluidity. As a leading inspiration, Hannah knew that her ability to create technologically would be adaptable to create in the fashion industry. Knowing this, Hannah decided to attend Kendall College of Art and Design located in the heart of Grand Rapids for Fashion Design.
After attending her new school for some time, she found herself wanting more. Hannah started looking for any textile or design positions that aligned with her beliefs and values. It's safe to say that she found it. Hannah started at Public Thread amidst the global pandemic, COVID-19, as a volunteer seamstress sewing masks for the surrounding community. Through this, she was offered a position to become a full-time seamstress. Since then, Hannah has been able to freely express her designs and ideas and feels that she is able to create products she is passionate about. Hannah describes the atmosphere of Public Thread as “super conducive to creative flow,” as it is important to her to be able to share questions, comments, and design ideas with her co-workers. One of Hannah’s favorite characteristics of Public Thread is the emphasis on social justice and reform. Hannah has been an avid supporter of trans-rights and the current Black Lives Matter movement, so finding a company where she can see her beliefs flourish is very valuable to her and many. Environmental sustainability has also been very important to Hannah as well. She works tirelessly each day to divert textiles from the landfill and create unique pieces of art out of these excess materials. Hannah hopes to continue her work with Public Thread as long as she can as she sees massive growth and expansion within the business. She is very excited about the future of Public Thread and looks forward to its successes.
Designer and Sewist
Quite easily one of the most humorous souls, Zizi Matanda brings light into the world each day that she walks in. Zizi, born in South Africa is one of the seamstresses at Public Thread. Full of years of experience and knowledge, Zizi never forgets to remind everyone to be grateful for what the world has to bring to us each day. Growing up in a small village, her favorite beauty to admire was the wildflowers that bloomed all over the area. She is quite known to be a jack-of-all-trades. Pursuing her creative talent, Zizi has practiced as an art teacher for many years, a preacher, and self known as a great character. Inspired by her father, who worked in the textile industry, Zizi started sewing from a very young age. She spent time with fabric design and created various forms of art. Not only is Zizi graced with a terrific eye for design, but she is also very in touch with the capabilities that each person embodies as an innate artist.
Zizi’s philosophy of beauty stems from her connection with nature and what the world has to offer us. As an art teacher, she challenged her students to create original work that each of them identified with. Zizi says, “everyone has the ability to shape the world that they want to see,” moreover, “everyone is an artist.” Her creative passion stems from her connection with simply making the world a better place. Her soul’s desire is to create a utopia that can be enjoyed by everyone which stems from her years of experience in various places and people across the world. A true believer of connection, Zizi embodies the ability to share laughter, insight, and ideas that would be found interesting by all. Her ability to share wisdom in a way that captivates your mind is unprecedented. In fact, when Zizi is talking, everyone stops what they're doing to listen to her input – each and every time you walk away with a new thought or idea. She is definitely one to make you think just a little bit more about seemingly mundane ideas.
Zizi’s mission is to create and harbor beauty whether it’s derived from the Earth or in our minds, she will be the one to melt the gap between creativity and the mundane human mind. In mending the two, she sees the potential of what people are capable of creating and problems they could potentially solve. Zizi hates to see the violence, danger, and harm that the textile industry historically and presently holds. Her goal is to change the construct in which art is produced. Zizi loves the mission of Public Thread. She enjoys her ability to create beauty each day alongside people who root for her and her successes. Zizi sees the practical foundation of Public Thread as a model to the way that the textile/fashion industry needs to turn. She believes that Public Thread is, “the future and the consciousness of society.” Her individual goal is to help push this idea in the most progressive way possible. Zizi sees her mission as a commitment to nature and the future world that our children will grow up in. She seeks to have this place be full of beauty, creation, health, and prosperity.
Designer and Sewist
“When you grow up in the woods surrounded by nature, you really do feel a special connection to it,” agrees our environmentally conscious designer and seamstress, Emily Keller. Emily started young as a self-taught designer in Northern Michigan and moved to New York City in her early 20s to pursue a dual degree in fashion design and environmental sustainability from The Fashion Institutes of Technology. Emily appreciated the contrast of NYC to her small hometown and Grand Rapids, where she also lived for a few years – her favorite part being the diversity and culture that the big city nurtures.
Going into the fashion industry, Emily knew she wanted to work to change the industry’s wasteful and unethical practices. But, working as a designer in NYC, she got to see first hand the toxic practices which helped fuel her mission to create positive and impactful clothing. Emily successfully runs her zero-waste clothing company, EmmyKApparel, where she creates entirely from materials diverted from the landfill. Basically, the fashion industry’s “trash.'' One of her favorite designs is a parka that consists of 100% pre- and post-consumer recycled materials. It has a charging port in the pocket that connects to solar panels in the hood and was inspired by scientists who do environmental research in the arctic.
Traveling and living in new places is something Emily enjoys, and her best friend, Maggie (a golden retriever), has been by her side throughout her travels. They recently settled back into Grand Rapids to be closer to their favorite place, Lake Michigan, and Emily discovered Public Thread when looking for companies that aligned with her passions. Emily loves the challenge and freedom that a startup company gives room for. She loves her ability to create freely and enjoys the relationships she has made throughout her time here. Emily says, “Public Thread isn't just sewists, it’s people new to the industry, people from all backgrounds who want social and environmental change.” As a simple, happy human who is trying to change a challenging industry, she sees the benefit that Public Thread can bring to the community. She also sees the company’s potential in assisting other companies to make sustainable decisions when it comes to textile disposal, in turn changing the construct for future decision making. One challenge Emily has for you is to be more conscious about what you wear, where it’s from, and who made it. Never rule out a consignment store, you have no idea what treasures you may find.
Mariam Al Swiadi
Designer and Sewist
Our forever seamstress, Mariam Al Swiadi, has submerged herself in the textile industry since she was a young girl in Iraq. She started sewing at 16 years old working for various small companies in her area. Her talent and company grew to work with larger facilities like hospitals and hotels. This experience grew Mariam’s ability to sew basically anything. As she grew her strengths in the sewing industry, she and her husband came to the United States to try something new. Her husband, an employee of the United States Army, initiated their move due to the tension caused by the relationship due to the concern of the Arabic people and the connection with the United States. In doing so, they had a brand new start nearly 40 years later. Mariam found that she loves the kindness and compassion shown by most of the people here in the U.S. She claimed that she was nervous about the move since she had become so settled in her home country, but is now enjoying it here much more.
Mariam loves the atmosphere of the sewing industry. She finds that it is just the right amount of fun and structure. Her husband, as one of her main supporters, finds her work to be quite wonderful. He loves seeing the products she gets to create. Mariam loves to be around good people, she follows her personal saying, “Be good with people and people must be good with you.” Practicing this, Mariam has built some valuable relationships throughout her time in the United States. Mariam lives a simple life in the United States and is thrilled about the relationships she has built since she has been here.
Mariam came across Public Thread through a mutual friend that Janay, the founder of Public Thread, and Mariam knew together. Mariam has worked with Public Thread since the start at Janay’s kitchen table. Mariam has received multiple offers from companies all over the area but chooses to stay with Public Thread because she loves the values and personality that Janay built as the foundation. She says that she loves the group of people she gets to work with each day and is excited about the future of Public Thread. This company is all that she has been looking for, and she is excited to see what the future has in store for her and her creativity.