Celebrating marine fabricators age 40 and under

Published On: September 1, 2022Categories: Features

There is a dedicated new generation of marine fabricators who are making a difference in this industry. Marine Fabricator put the word out seeking nominations for fabricators age 40 and under who deserve recognition for their high-quality work and efforts to improve the marine fabrication industry as a whole.

The nine fabricators from across the U.S. featured here exemplify high standards and a dedication to the industry. They are representative of many other young professionals who are making a difference in marine fabrication every day.

Dan Johnson » Age 40

Mike’s Marine Custom Canvas
Virginia Beach, Va.
Marine Fabricator

22 years in the industry

You could say that Dan Johnson (on the right in the photo) started in this industry when he was 12 years old. That’s when his dad (on the left) launched Mike’s Marine Custom Canvas in the garage of their home. He put the family to work too. Johnson remembers making roll-up straps with his brother while eating breakfast. 

When Johnson’s dad retired recently after 28 years, Dan and his wife took over the company. “My favorite thing about the job is being outside working with my hands. I love making the ideas in my head a reality,” he says. “I also like the customer service side of the business. I look forward to exceeding the clients’ expectations.”

Johnson thinks young people can make a difference in the industry. “I believe that young people have bright imaginations and the ability to think outside of the box. They offer fresh ideas and offer creative solutions to simplify complicated problems,” he says. 

Ivan Jose Sanchez » Age 39

SewLong Custom Covers 
Salt Lake City, Utah
Team Leader and CAD Designer

Five years in the industry

Ivan Jose Sanchez was an engineer in his home country of Venezuela. When he emigrated to the U.S., he wanted something less stressful but still had big dreams. 

Sanchez was hired at SewLong to do odd jobs. He transitioned into cutting and sewing upholstery, and his engineering background helped him as he was trained in patterning and CAD. “My start at SewLong taught me that I can learn anything and become good at it. To start out sweeping and then become a team leader means a lot to me,” he says.

Sanchez believes young fabricators can be catalysts for change. “At the last MFA conference, I saw some resistance to automatization,” he recalls. “Young people are not afraid to use it. They can be a pivot point to a new way to build covers or something related to our industry.” 

Stephen Sawyer » Age 31

Signature CanvasMakers
Hampton, Va.
Director of Operations

Four years in the industry

Stephen Sawyer was looking for a career that could provide a creative outlet, enable him to work with his hands and challenge his mind. When he joined Signature CanvasMakers, he realized the marine canvas industry fit the bill. “I enjoy figuring out ways to overcome challenges and improve processes. I also like being involved in a project from visualization to realization,” he says.

Sawyer likes educating customers about marine fabrication. “People often look at our work and think that it’s easy to do,” he says. “When they are given even a little perspective into the complexities, they change their mind and that adds credibility to our industry.”

He also thinks there is an advantage to seasoned veterans partnering with young workers. “As the lines between the traditions of our craft and the technology that drives it forward become blurred, collaboration can bring a fresh perspective,” says Sawyer.

Whitney Carman » Age 36

Even Keel Canvas LLC 
El Segundo, Calif.

18 years in the industry

Whitney Carman loves that her work enables her to be an artisan and chart her own course. She grew up in the business learning from her father. When she moved to California in 2012 and started her own business, Carman found a niche specializing in high-end custom projects. 

While growth for others might mean expansion and more employees, for Carman, it’s about taking on challenging projects and doing them well. She tells clients, “I love what I do. All I want is to do it right and for you to be happy—however long that takes.”

Carman, who has spoken about her work at webinars and conferences, believes in encouraging fabrication artisans from a young age. “Shop class, apprenticeships, doing creative things with your hands should be integrated into school,” she says. “If you take a kid to a fabric expo, they’d love to look at all kinds of fabric. They would get into it almost by accident.” 

Clint Halladay » Age 40

SewLong Custom Covers
Salt Lake City, Utah
Culture Engineer & Production Manager

12 years in the industry

As a production manager for SewLong, Clint Halladay sees his job as relationship building with both customers and employees. “I try to make sure we are working toward the same direction, giving clear expectations to the customers, challenging our team to deliver on those promises, and empowering them to make decisions like they own the company,”
he says.

The SewLong team is fairly young, and Halladay believes young people will commit to the industry if they like where they work. “We added six people over the last year, and all are still with us. In a review, one employee told us that we don’t understand fully how special the organization is because we’ve been here so long,” he says. “That moment made me proud because we work hard to create an environment where we challenge people while giving them praise and showing we care.”

Thomas Patrick Newton Jr.  » Age 38

Sharps Custom Canvas Inc.
Georgetown, S.C.

14 years in the industry

Thomas Patrick Newton Jr. likes being out on the water and meeting interesting people. He also likes making a boat stand out. “I strive to always create the best for our customers. I am most proud of the fact that I have people in the industry who trust me to do what is best for their boat,” he says.

Newton says the most challenging thing about his job is keeping up with industry growth.  “The demand is high and there are not enough of us. The technology is ever changing so it’s hard to get a good grasp of it,” he says.

As the use of social media increases, Newton thinks young workers can help companies embrace it. “Media has its place in this industry that not many people take advantage of,” he says. “Younger people have a grasp on how to influence and get things out there.”

Steven Wayne » Age 36

Southern Stitch Canvas & Upholstery LLC
Gulfport, Miss.

15 years in the industry

Steven Wayne specializes in custom-tailored projects and enjoys every challenge, large or small. One recent job that was especially gratifying was fabricating a heavy PVC bimini top with a rigid enclosure for a 68-foot Princess Viking. “The owner and the captain were so floored by my work that they said, ‘You’re our guy for our other projects,’” says Wayne. 

Sure enough, he got a call from the captain. They wanted him to come out and work on the owner’s new 98-foot Hatteras in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., rather than using an area shop. “Being a small-town Mississippi boy and being flown to a boat mega-capital like Fort Lauderdale is a feather in your cap,” says Wayne.

As a board member of the Marine Fabricators Association, Wayne believes in giving back. “We are like-minded individuals. We can help people with challenging projects and contribute to our industry’s growth,”he says.

Joelle Fisher » Age 34

Crescent Marine Canvas 
New Orleans, La.

Five years in the industry

While earning a degree in apparel design, Joelle Fisher realized she didn’t want to work in the fashion industry. After a variety of jobs that included working on boats in Washington and Alaska, and attending a marine canvas workshop, she pursued her dream to build sails. That led her to New Orleans and Denise Avellina, her partner in their new marine canvas shop.

Fisher recognizes the unique qualities each woman brings to the business. “I am in my 30s and Denise is in her 60s. We work really well together, and I believe our difference of age brings a lot to the table,” she says. “Denise has been in the industry for over 30 years in New Orleans, so she has built a lot of trust with the customers. I help bring the business up-to-date by bringing in computer bookkeeping, payment methods, websites and social media.”

Kyle Van Damme » Age 32

Marine Tops Unlimited Inc. 
Omro, Wis.

18 years in the industry

Kyle Van Damme, MFC, (on the left) is gratified to make his passion in life his career. “I love boats and boating and always have since I was a little kid riding around the Great Lakes with my parents on our family boat,” he says. Van Damme grew up in the family business, working summers during school.  “By the time I was in high school, I was dissecting patterns and cutting out covers. Over the last 10 years I have been patterning and installing all the enclosures and covers we make at our shop as well as doing all outside sales and handling customer relations,” he says.

Van Damme believes this industry offers great careers for young people and through his involvement in industry organizations, he does his part to get them involved.“I am always willing to help this industry thrive and grow, and one of the main ways that will happen is continuing to bring in passionate young people.” 

Julie Swiler is a freelance writer based
in St. Paul, Minn.