09/29/2011 11:54 am ET Updated Nov 29, 2011

Rehab Factory

For the last few years, I've watched with sadness how the garment business has almost disappeared from Los Angeles. An idea formed in my brain about my dream factory for women who come out of rehab and need jobs. After attending a few workshops at "Community Partners" and learning all I could about the possibilities of grants and fundraising for a project like this, I went back to college and got my addiction counselor license.

My "Rehab" company is comparable to "Home girl/Boy Industries" in that it provides jobs, and produces a distinctive product that is recognizable and eventually carries the company without outside funding.

Last month, I opened up a small retail-store/design studio in Echo Park, in an area that is still very underdeveloped -- for now! The only place in Echo Park, on Sunset, that is not completely overpriced. It is already starting to blossom with other fashion companies and a wellness/acupuncture clinic opening next to me.

I want to rent the space next door, get a few sewing machines and hire five women (starting small) fresh out of rehab. They get a job, health insurance and learn how to make items like pillows and scarves, shawls and blankets.

During my education to become an addiction counselor, I've done internships in a few rehabs and saw that the main reason that people relapse is because they have no jobs when they get out from treatment.

At one of the rehabs in East LA, I came in with my sewing machine twice a week to teach the women how to make things out of the bags and boxes of donation-clothes they got, but could not really use. Those women loved me because I taught them something practical, hands-on, that they could really use and feel good about their abilities to create something to be proud of.

I know that a project like this works, because this is exactly how I learned the craft I needed to become a successful fashion designer: When I was in rehab (a very long time ago), back in Vienna, the psychiatrist who ran the Junkie-Department, forced us to work in his factory, where we created his High-Fashion collection -- illegal because he used government money for his own business, but I learned so much from the tailors and patternmakers the doctor had hired that by the time I left, I was able to open my own studio, started to earn money and eventually moved to LA where I started my company Monah Li.

But don't get me wrong; I'm not into this idea for the love and admiration or to be some kind of a saint. I want to do this because I think it is smart: items made not only in America, but also by women in recovery will sell, regardless of the "cheap-crap-from-China" competition. Because the products will be feel-good items, that even in this economy will be successful, as long as the marketing is done right. Who doesn't need presents (or a scarf for themselves) that are not only striking looking and unique, but also known for helping women get their feet back into a functioning life?

I only need the original investment for machines, wages and rent for the first nine months and a good PR company who will get the project on shows like Dr. Drew's Life Changer Show and every other show that deals with people bettering their lives.

Fabrics will be donated by designers in LA who will be mentioned on the tags of every item and in all promos. CLAD, the organization I started in 1998, that was so instrumental in putting LA on the fashion map, is about to be revived by Ilse Metchek, who runs the California Fashion Association, could and should be involved in this. I have a strong sense that other companies will want to join in their own way and bring business and jobs back to LA.

Last, but not least, I have a reality-show company that is interested in filming at least one season of this operation, which will further help to make this company known and bring interest and sales. I see this project as a potentially hugely successful company, selling our products worldwide to hotel chains and department stores, eventually branching out into clothing-items, like my recycled cardigans and dresses, that are not fashion- and trend- dependent.

I need help with fund raising to get this project on its feet. I wrote a proposal that includes further information and realistic numbers of the funds that are required and am happy to provide this on request.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.