By Jarrid L. Smith
The first thing to know in this story is that Dorian is Seminole from Florida and Wendolynne is Quechua from Peru. Next, they are the husband and wife owners of Panther Sewing & Crafts. With their journey’s beginning on separate continents, just how did they come together, and what makes their business unique? Read on to find out.
When you visit the website of Panther Sewing & Crafts it’s easy to see that they provide quality fabric, ric rak, and bias at a good rate. What’s not so obvious is the story of its owners Dorian and Wendolynne, who are the husband and wife duo that power the business. These two indigenious business owners bring their own unique cultures into their business, and this serves to make Panther Sewing & Crafts into a venture unlike any other. By the end of this you’ll see that the story of their business isn’t really a story at all, but rather something closer to destiny being fulfilled.
Understanding Their Past
When Wendolynne was seven years old, she immigrated to the United States from Peru with her mother, grandmother, and younger brother. They were later joined by her father and two sisters. To know why the family moved you first have to have a sense of who the Quechuan people are, and how life is for them in Peru. The Quechua language has existed since time immemorial, and it is used by many Indigenous tribes across South America. In spite of the long history of the Quechua language, the reality for many who speak it and wear traditional clothing in Peru is a life of being marked as a lesser person. This discrimination is pervasive and has led to Quechua speakers suffering at the hands of the government and civilian groups. Therefore, moving to the U.S. for Wendolynne and her family was about giving themselves a chance at escaping poverty, terrorism, and discrimination.
Dorian and his family, on the other hand, have resided in Florida for their entire lives. Seminole people, as a result of the United States’ actions, would come to reside in Florida around two centuries ago. The U.S. government made several attempts to remove the Seminoles from Florida, including conducting three wars, as well as making numerous unfulfilled and broken treaties. When it was all said and done, many Seminoles were removed and only several hundred remained in Florida. This historical treatment of Indigenious people by the United States government and its people occured in all parts of the country. The result left those like the Florida Seminoles and their descendants, which includes people like Dorian and his family, who deep down in their collective memory cannot forget those actions.
Indigenious history aside, the common thread that pulled Dorian and Wendolynne together was education. Wendolynne would graduate high school and go on to attend Florida International University (FIU), where her past guided her to join a student group called the Global Indigenious Group (GIG). Wendolynne and her family lived through unjust treatment while in Peru, and that put a drive in her to seek out opportunities to advocate in the U.S. Among these opportunities was her working with GIG to organize a petition to recognize Columbus Day as Indigenious People’s Day on FIU’s campus.
Just as Wendolynne was elected as the president of GIG, the Seminole Tribe of Florida entered into a partnership with FIU called the Seminole Tribal Pathways Scholar Program. The purpose of this program was to bridge the gap between Seminole youth and higher education, and to provide a support system for students as they transition into college. One of the first Tribal citizens to be a part of this transition was Eden Jumper, Dorian’s brother. Through her role with GIG, Wendolynne was introduced to Eden and the two quickly became friends. Eden later introduced Wendolynne to Dorian, and it didn’t take long for their friendship to become a relationship.
Sewing is Life
Dorian, for his part, is a seamster and craftsman. His interest in the trade is rooted in his family, where he has several people who create traditional Seminole clothing. As Dorian introduced Wendolynne to more of his family, it was common for them to all spend time around fabric. Seeing this wasn’t entirely new for Wendolynne because both her mother and grandmother are seamstresses. In 2017, about a year into their relationship, Wendolynne was set to graduate from FIU. As a graduation gift her father presented her with traditional Quechuan clothing, and this was the first time she had been given a gift like this. At this moment, as Dorian and Wendolynne began to examine the Quechuan clothing, they noticed many similarities to Seminole clothing. At this moment the relationship between the two would be guided by destiny’s invisible hand. At this moment Panther Sewing & Crafts was conceived.
The first iteration of Panther Sewing & Crafts was born in 2017, with Dorian and Wendolynne primarily selling ric rac on the Seminole reservations. At first they joined in with Dorian’s grandmother who also sells fabric. From the beginning their business was a family thing. As the couple moved forward into the business they spent more time around Dorian’s family, and they came to understand the community of people who sell fabric better. The shared passion for creating clothing and crafts within that community gave Dorian and Wendolynne the push to dream about what their business could become. But this dream did not come without a few tests along the way.
For Dorian and Wendolnne, the first test was understanding the ins and outs of what they were getting into. They realized that they didn’t know enough, and with that realization Wendolynne returned to FIU for a Master’s degree in finance, which she earned in 2019. With the degree in hand, Panther Sewing & Crafts LLC became official and the couple continued forward with plans to grow their business. With 2020 on the horizon, what they didn’t know was the immensity of their next test.
When the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was an immediate need for cloth masks. Dorian and Wendolynne saw an opportunity to help others and their business. As orders for their masks began pouring in, the couple put in countless hours in front of their sewing machines. At one point, over a three day span the couple lost track of how much sleep they’d gotten. To prevent burning out, they took a much needed break after that rush to fill orders.
As they caught their breath, they realized how much profit they were able to bring in and they began to consider how to reinvest it in their business. They decided to invest in fabric, but not just any fabric. They decided to invest in fabric made with Kona cotton, which is a material that is great for sewing. The bias and ric rac they sell is made with Peruvian cotton.
At this point, the story of Panther Sewing & Crafts has come full circle. Remember, this all started with a couple born continents apart. Then, because of the circumstances prompting her family to immigrate, Wendolynne’s passion for advocacy manifests on FIU’s campus in her joining GIG. Dorian then meets her through his brother, who attended FIU because of his tribe’s push to prioritize pathways to higher education. Last, what really set them down the path from couple to business owner couple was a graduation gift. So who is it that helps them on the ground in Peru to source their products? It’s Wendolynne’s father, and this all feels like destiny.
The story of Dorian and Wendolynne cannot be made up. The love, support, and admiration the couple have towards one another is obvious. Their effectiveness as business owners shows in their growing bottom line. Their goal in business is to set a foundation for their future, and to build lifetime relationships with their clients. They take immense pride in where they come from and the work they do, but they are also humble enough to know that only hard work and determination will continue to make their business a success.
You can support Panther Sewing & Crafts by visiting them online and purchasing their products.