Mawrter Made: Mali Petherbridge ’04

Stitching together a vocation at Butcher's Sew Shop

In 2014, Amalia (Mali) Petherbridge ’04 founded Butcher’s Sew Shop, a studio in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood where people of all ages and backgrounds can learn how to sew professional-looking items at home.

The idea: After graduating from Bryn Mawr with a major in physical anthropology, I worked for AmeriCorps VISTA and then Students Run Philly Style for six years. Leaving that job was a moment to figure out what I was really passionate about.

I always admired my parents’ very untraditional paths—my mom’s a pipe organ builder, and my dad is trained as a bookbinder—and I asked myself what was something that I love doing and want to know more about. Sewing was one of those things—I’d learned to sew and knit when I was probably 7 or 8.

So, I enrolled at Moore College of Art & Design and completed their two-year certificate program in garment construction. Those years at Moore were all about following my curiosity. I just loved it so much and wanted to know everything.

Next steps: I started teaching friends at my house. Then I found a shop for rent; it had been Guarrera’s Quality Meats, open for 80 years with three generations of butchers from the same family. It had the original tin ceilings and marble tiles, and I could tell it had been this beautiful place that someone loved. I signed the lease, and my Bryn Mawr friends showed up almost every weekend for months to help me renovate.

My vision for the studio was primarily adult classes, with a focus on garment making—a place where people could learn to build a handmade wardrobe—supplemented by kids’ after-school classes and summer camps. But really it turned into half and half, the kids’ program becoming much bigger than I initially expected.

Early success: Building a student base happened very fast. I made everything that I’d put into the business back in the first month. We’re in a neighborhood with lots of families and five local schools.

Many of my adult students in the beginning were people my age with curiosity about making things for yourself, being part of the process of the things you consume. I think my generation is wanting to bring that back, and with the pandemic, it’s grown even more.

Pandemic pivot: The month before we had to close was our best ever. We reopened after four months, and things were kind of normal, but then we had to close again, and I just took a break. It was a lesson in work/life balance. I feel good about where things are now. I think they’re actually better than before.

Online classes helped us bridge the gap, but when we went back to in-person, I stopped them because I wanted my teachers to focus on the thing that brought them joy—being in-person and making people feel welcome and comfortable to take risks and make mistakes.

Bottom line: The reason I have had success is because I understand how to build a team and make it feel supported, and I learned that skill on the soccer field and track at Bryn Mawr. I had wonderful women with me on those teams and great coaches. Bryn Mawr always felt like a place where I felt really supported and able to take risks. What I’ve tried to do is mimic that environment. When I’ve gotten it right, that more than anything else has been the predictor of success.

Visit Butcher’s Sew Shop at
800 S. 8th St., Philadelphia

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