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Stitching together a new life: Schenectady designer comes long way since substance abuse, prison stint

Stitching together a new life: Schenectady designer comes long way since substance abuse, prison stint

His makerspace on Craig Street is a far cry from where his career began
Stitching together a new life: Schenectady designer comes long way since substance abuse, prison stint
Sincere poses with one of his designs from last year’s fashion show at the Electric City Barn.
Photographer: Electric City Photography

While Mark Sincere Bar-more spends most of his nights at the Schenectady City Mission’s men’s shelter, he spends most of his days sewing at the Electric City Barn.

The makerspace, which opened in 2018 on Craig Street, has functioned as his workshop and a second home for the past year. He works on the second floor with his sewing machines, dress forms, fabrics and clothing rack featuring everything from brightly colored shirts with asymmetrical hems to intricately patterned jackets.

It looks like a typical designer’s studio, and it’s not far from where Sincere — he goes by just a single name these days — had his first fashion show last year, sending local models wearing looks from his Sincerely Black fashion line down the runway. In the coming months, he’ll be spending more time there than ever, designing and sewing for his second fashion show in November.

It’s all a far cry from where his career began.

“I started sewing in prison, taking the green prison uniforms and altering them,” Sincere said.

Born in Freeport, Long Island, Sincere moved to Schenectady in the 1990s. He attended SUNY Schenectady Community College’s culinary management program for a year but didn’t graduate. At the time, he was struggling with drug addiction and substance abuse. In 2002, when his son was born, Sincere realized he couldn’t be a father in the way he wanted to and live with his addiction.

“I was in a crack house and I was begging God to help me. If I wasn’t going to be a father to my son, I didn’t want to be alive. I was really thinking about killing myself,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Sincere was pulled over by Schenectady Police after they received a tip about him. He gave them his license and fled the scene, according to a Gazette report from 2002.

“I took Schenectady Police on a high-speed chase and I crashed on Broadway,” Sincere said. After the chase, police said they sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him with a nightstick. Sincere threatened them with a box cutter, slicing the uniform of one officer. Officers shot at Sincere 16 times. Eight bullets hit him, leading to serious injuries, according to The Gazette report.

Shortly after the incident, he filed suit against the city of Schenectady, but dropped it in 2004. Sincere was charged with attempted assault and served six years at the Green Haven Correctional Facility.

It was a wake-up call for Sincere. It was also the place where he found his passion.

He started altering the prison uniforms and making bow ties for fellow inmates. As one might expect, a correctional facility isn’t the best place to find fabric, but Sincere used whatever he could scavenge. That often meant utilizing the scraps of upholstery the prison program would use to make chairs and other furniture.

Sewing was a way to keep busy. But when he was released in 2008, Sincere turned his attention to making sure the next generation didn’t make the same mistakes he did.

Working with Michael Arterberry, whom Sincere met at Green Haven, he brought a workshop to the Capital Region called the Power of Peace program, which helps kids and teens learn conflict-management skills. Sincere and Arterberry wanted to bring the program to the Hamilton Hill Arts Center and met with Miki Conn, who was the center’s director at the time.

“It was the start of a friendship,” Conn said.

While the program wasn’t the right fit for the center, Sincere kept in touch with Conn and eventually began volunteering there. Conn became Sincere’s mentor — and like a second mother.

“I had lost my son in a car accident a few years before, and Sincere had lost his mom, so he called me Mom,” Conn said.

For several years, Sincere volunteered and worked with teens at Carver Community Center, Youth Voices Center, Inc., and others. When it came to a day job, Sincere tried to get back into cooking, but after his health declined, he had to quit.

It was Conn who suggested sewing. Conn noticed how passionately Sincere spoke about it, and sewing seemed like something that might be easier to make a career of, given his health and financial situation.

“Every year for my birthday, Miki takes me for brunch. She took me to Jo-Ann’s [fabric store] and said ‘Get what you need to start,’” Sincere said. That was in 2018, around the same time he started living at the City Mission. While he was there, he mentioned to Mike Harrigan, associate executive director of shelter operations, his dream of building a business with his sewing and designing skills. Harrigan immediately wanted to help.

“They provided me with four sewing machines and allowed me to sew, and the condition was I would do the Bridges to Freedom program,” Sincere said.

The yearlong discipleship and recovery program helps residents with whatever baggage they might have, said Harrigan, whether it’s addiction or trauma. When Sincere started the program, Harrigan made sure he could continue sewing.

“I think it’s important to encourage people’s artistic expressions,” Harrigan said.

According to Sincere, the City Mission did that, providing him space and equipment to sew. While he does most of his sewing at the Electric City Barn now, he credits the Mission for helping him get off the ground.

“They allowed me to utilize my creativity. I couldn’t have [gotten] this far if it wasn’t for them,” Sincere said.

Harrigan said allowing Sincere to go after his passion has inspired others at the men’s shelter.

“It’s a great example to other residents that being homeless does not stop you from pursuing your dreams,” Harrigan said.

At the makeshift Mission studio, Sincere created the designs for his first fashion show.

“I did it all from the City Mission,” he said. “I was staying up all night sewing.”

“His fashion show was the first event in the space,” said Erin Eckler, operations coordinator at the Electric City Barn. Just a few weeks after the Barn was opened, nearly 50 people from throughout the Capital Region came out to support Sincere and see the show. A few months later, the Electric City Barn invited Sincere to become a member. He brought his sewing machines and piles of fabric from the

City Mission to the Barn, where he’s worked ever since. Sincere has also encouraged other community members, such as photographer Jeffrey Johnson, to become members as well. Sincere’s drive to create and turn his designs into a business make him the ideal Electric City Barn member. The organization is both a community makerspace and an incubating space for people who are trying to get small businesses off the ground or focus on their art.

Eckler keeps track of participation hours at the Barn to see how many people are using the space and at what hours.

“[Sincere’s] hours are higher than anyone else’s. They rival the staff hours,” Eckler said.

Beyond designing for his own show, he also designed for Curvention, a local fashion show earlier this year. He created 12 outfits for it, assisted by organizer Juliana Obie and tailor Adrian McLaren. He’s also designed for students at Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

After close to a year of sewing nonstop, Sincere feels as though he’s graduated to a new level of tailoring.

“[At] first, a person would tell me what they [were] looking for and I would go look for a pattern for it. As I started moving along, I started being able to manipulate the [patterns],” Sincere said.

Over the past few weeks, he’s worked on commissions for several prom dresses as well as graduation party dresses. They’re all done in his signature, bright African patterns and combine comfort with Sincere’s own flair.

“I have a bigger vision of where I would like this to go. What I notice about a lot of my brothers and sisters that are wearing African garb is that these things are not made in Africa. Most of my fabrics are made in Holland,” Sincere said. “I want to be able to get fabric wholesale straight from Africa, being more authentic and paying homage and respect to my culture.”

To do that, he has to build the business. He’s already received guidance from people at Electric City Barn, the City Mission and friends. For now, he’s taking things one step at a time, focusing on the upcoming show.

“Before it was just a fashion show. Now I’m doing specific items for fall and spring,” Sincere said.

As he did last year, he’s casting local models, with auditions from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, at the Barn, located at 400 Craig St. He hopes to cast roughly 20 people.

“The first one went really well and I’m looking forward to him taking it to the next level,” Eckler said.

Part of the proceeds from the show will go to the Hamilton Hill Arts Center. For updates on the show, visit Electric

City Barn on Facebook or at electriccitybarn.org.

 

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