Kathryn J. Maisto, MFC, the owner and managing member of Fairwinds Canvas LLC and Canvas Training Center, says her commitment to continuous learning has kept her business moving forward. Fairwinds Canvas, based in Racine, Wis., was founded in 2000, and Maisto has 22 years of marine fabrication experience.
Her business has four employees who stay extremely busy 12 months of the year, due to the versatile fabrication services offered by Fairwinds and its training center.
What drew you into the marine fabrication industry?
A hurricane literally resulted in me starting my business. For a decade, I had lived aboard my sailing vessel, the Canvas Maker, cruising the waters of the North Atlantic, eastern and western Caribbean, and South America. In 1999, Hurricane Irene formed in the western Caribbean, and the Canvas Maker suffered serious damage, taking months to rebuild and re-canvas. It was that experience that made me realize that my talents would be far more profitable in an established business, rather than floating on a boat with a sewing machine.
What are your areas of expertise?
Fairwinds Canvas is an all-inclusive marine shop. We fabricate interior and exterior applications, and we have a training center. If there is something I don’t know how to fabricate or design I seek out an expert who can mentor me until I became proficient. I have never allowed myself to be intimidated by the “experts.” I know how to absorb information, learn and perfect my projects. Learning this craft did not come overnight and is never ending. I had the privilege of instruction and mentoring from some of the finest craftsman of our industry in South America. It was there that I learned true craftsmanship, design variances and the challenges of power and sailing vessels. In addition, I have learned about the extreme forces that Mother Nature can dish out while living aboard a vessel. All of these factors have perfected what I know today.
How do you keep up with innovations in textiles, equipment and other materials?
IFAI offers great textile resources. It can be difficult to try new materials as manufacturers add new or improved products. One good way to keep up with innovations is to be a testing facility for different manufacturers. For example, when Gore® TENARA® was developing a new line of threads, we were testing them and giving the company feedback on how the product sews on various machines and textiles. This helped the manufacturer refine the final product and gave us a chance to work with innovative materials.
How do you recruit and develop employees?
Being a training facility for our profession has helped me develop a set of standards for my employees in all facets of the products we offer. We are a small company by choice and, therefore, each employee is trained in all areas of the marine canvas and upholstery industry allowing more flexibility and versatility during our demanding seasons.
What are your biggest challenges?
To be honest, my biggest challenge is how to answer this question. I have excellent, competent and trust-worthy employees. We are based in a seasonal climate area, yet we have more than enough work all year with a dependable client base. Our training facility has had an awesome response. I think of myself as someone who turns a challenge into an opportunity. Sometimes challenges turn into failures, but usually I find that developing and implementing effective solutions will strengthen my employees and the company.
Why are you a member of the Marine Fabricators Association?
When I decided to open Fairwinds Canvas Training Center, the MFC certification program and accreditation was very valuable for the business. There is a great wealth of knowledge within MFA. That expertise is accessible when I need it; plus, as a business owner MFA gives me accountability for standards.