ABC News takes a deep dive into Newark, NJ-based Unionwear, a union shop producing all those Hillary, Bernie, and Anti-Trump logo products.
Josh: What’s up guys? I’m sure you’ve seen this before. We all have. This hat is actually currently made in downtown Los Angeles, but ground zero for campaign merchandise here in Newark, New Jersey at Unionwear. It’s not just Donald Trump’s campaign who has hired advertising companies. It’s Hillary, it’s Bernie Sanders, it’s Jeb Bush, it’s Mick Huckabee. Take a look at this table guys. There is New Jersey’s own Chris Christie. So these campaigns, they hire advertising firms that then use this company, Unionwear, to make all of these hats. Even some candidates who are no longer in the race. There’s Jeb Bush for 2016. So we’re seeing a little bit of it all. There’s also handbags here. I want to take you back there. Another funny thing, this place has been involved since Al Gore run. Ever since 1992, they have been making merchandise like hats and bags for the conventions. These employees are all engaged as well. I want to bring in the president, Mitch Cahn. Mitch, hop on in right now, live on ABC Digital. Talk about how your business has been impacted by the 2016 election?
Mitch Cahn: We’ve had to make more hats than ever. There have been so many candidates this year. We probably made baseball hats for nearly every candidate in the race. We’ll be doing work for the conventions. We’ll be doing work for parties in all 50 states.
Josh: What is it about your business, Unionwear here in Newark that it is so appealing, connected to these presidential campaigns on both sides?
Mitch Cahn: Well, for one thing, every single product we make is made in the USA. Every product is also union made as unions are a very big voting bloc in the election. We’ve made a name for ourselves by making presidential merchandise over the last 25 years.
Josh: Why don’t you show us some of those hats? Want to bring that Hillary hat?
Mitch Cahn: Sure. Here is a Hillary hat that we’re making. We are also presently making hats for Bernie Sanders and making hats – we’ve made hats for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and Chris Christie during this election cycle.
Josh: Got it. Ben and Amna, while I have Mitch here and we’re standing here in Unionwear, you guys have any questions for us before we take you on a little tour and show you how these hats are made and introduce you to some of the employees as well?
Ben: Yeah. It’s actually funny because when like a team loses the Super Bowl, I always wonder where their hats go because they all of sudden bring out the winner hats. Oh, you won the Super Bowl. It says winner. What is the most obscure hat that he has? Like is there a hat from like 15 years ago that a candidate ran, and he just keeps the hat because it’s got to be very cool nostalgia.
Josh: Yeah Mitch as we know, not every candidate is successful. You’ve been in the business for a while. What is the most rare hat that you have? Have you kept any of them as collectors items?
Mitch Cahn: I keep some fun ones. I have a Kucinich hat. I have hats from John Edwards. I have hats from Joe Lieberman. I’ve got a lot of hats from senate candidates as well that are in our showroom.
Josh: While Mitch is talking and definitely chiming in with another question, got to love this Scott Walker army hunting hat.
Amna: Oh, look at that.
Ben: Wow, that’s duck hunting right there.
Josh: I will not put it on for you guys.
Amna: Josh, why don’t you take us on a little tour of the facility? Let’s see where these things are made.
Josh: Definitely. Mitch, let’s do a little tour. Why don’t we start with the Drumpf hats and what’s being made at this station right here?
Mitch Cahn: Sure. We start over here where we cut fabric into little triangles. In this area right here, we take the triangles, we call them panels and we sew them together to make the crown of the baseball hat. You can see the back of a baseball cap right there. This will end up being a Trump parody hat. It’s kind of a parody hat of the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat. Once the fronts and the backs of the hats are completed, we take them over to our embroidery area.
Ben: Josh, when you have a moment, can you ask him who orders these Trump parody hats.
Mitch Cahn: This is where we take the front of the hat and we do this before the hat is made. We’ll sew down a logo on the hat. So Melba, tell us exactly what you’re doing at this stage?
Melba: We’re running a sample of the Bernie Sanders logo.
Josh: Do you mind if I hold that real quick?
Melba: Yeah, sure.
Josh: So guys, the pattern goes on this USB, which goes inside this machine. Melba here at the embroidery station, she makes those. Mitch, we had a follow-up question on those Trump hats. Actually funny story guys. I’m not sure if you’re fans of John Oliver’s show, but John Oliver is kind of the reason why those hats are doing so well. Tell us about those Make Donald Drumpf. Hats?
Ben: Make Donald Drumpf again.
Mitch Cahn: Yeah. John Oliver is selling a hat on hbo.com that says ‘Make Donald Drumpf again’, which is a parody of the ‘Make America Great again’ hat.
Josh: Drumpf is of course—
Mitch Cahn: The family name of Trump. Apparently, it’s an extremely popular baseball cap.
Josh: Tell us what popular means. How many have you sold? Why are you continuing having to make these hats?
Mitch Cahn: We are – well, HBO is selling the hat. We’re making all sorts of parody baseball caps here, including that hat. Maybe around 30,000-40,000 parody Trump hats just this month. Almost as much as some of the other candidates’ hats.
Josh: As we continue to tour, another kind of funny interesting thing. Of course, Unionwear, this is a union company, and many people would think that the Republican Party not always particularly fond of unions. They do make the hats made here, because this is a company that can get them out fast, and they specialize in this type of campaign gear. But for Republican candidates, they will not put the Unionwear label on the hats. So it will not say the word ‘union’ anywhere on those hats. For Democrats of course, they do say union made.
Mitch Cahn: I’m sure there’s one around here somewhere. We just got them out.
Ben: Josh, is any candidate off-limits or is it all fair game for the parody hats? Will he do any candidate?
Josh: Mitch, are any candidate off-limits or you will do any particular candidate or company that comes to you with business.
Mitch Cahn: Yeah, we will do work for all candidates unless it’s someone that I as the president/owner of the business completely disagree with their positions. I don’t want to help somebody get elected who I absolutely do not want to see be President of the United States.
Ben: Who is he voting for then?
Josh: So far, that has not happened in this campaign.
Mitch Cahn: No.
Ben: Ask him who he is voting for?
Josh: Do you mind telling us who you’re voting for?
Mitch Cahn: No, I’m not going to say who I’m voting for. But I appreciate all the candidates giving us work here and supporting domestic manufacturing. It’s very important.
Josh: While we still have you guys, why don’t we show them some of the handbags that you guys make. I know Ben has been in the market for, in particular, this Hillary handbag. I think you’ll like it, Ben.
Ben: Absolutely. I need this, a man bag — wow, this bag is huge. It’s got all kinds of secret compartments.
Josh: It is huge. Made in America right here in Newark, New Jersey.
Ben: I’d be worried to wear Make America Drumpf hat–
Mitch Cahn: We make tote bags, backpacks, garment bags, all sorts of luggage, handbags. Here’s some samples. Some of the tote bags we’re making for the Hillary Clinton campaign right here.
Josh: So Mitch, just walk us through the process. An advertising company reaches out to you and says we want a handbag or a tote bag to sell, wear and how – talk us through how that works.
Mitch Cahn: They usually come out here first and vet us to make sure that we are completely made in America, and we’re not going to embarrass them. Then they’ll send us designs. We’ll prototype the designs, sent it to them for approval. Then just start making the merchandise, it will end up on the website of the candidate. Probably end up in the convention centers and at official campaign events.
Amna: So I guess a question for Mitch is the merchandise any indication of how a candidate is doing. I notice he does both Hillary and Bernie hats. Does one outsell the other?
Josh: Mitch, a question from our anchor, Amna in New York. What’s doing better, the Bernie merchandise or the Hillary merchandise?
Mitch Cahn: It’s really hard to say. They are actually selling about equally.
Josh: What is equally? Can you give us any sort of ballpark?
Mitch Cahn: We will do several thousand dozen hats per month or so for each of the candidates.
Josh: Off of your question Amna, when a candidate’s campaign kind of starts to tank, of course, they’re going to put in less orders. So sometimes, this might be the first place here in Unionwear where they know. We in the media, we’re reporting on it, but they kind of know – they didn’t put in that order. Mitch, tell us about maybe a story from the past when that’s happened.
Mitch Cahn: I usually find out about a candidate leaving the race from the news, but it has been exciting. A few times I’ve known about the vice-presidential candidate before the convention. We had to sign confidentiality agreements. In a way that sports champions are crowned with baseball hats, they have merchandise ready for those vice presidential candidates.
Josh: Which candidate was that?
Mitch Cahn: I think that was when it was Lieberman.
Josh: Lieberman running with Al Gore. So talk about how that process went. Did the campaign call you and say –this is the design we want but do they have security here.
Mitch Cahn: Yeah, the ad agency. They didn’t have security here. They called at the last possible minute and said we’re going to need these for the convention. We’re going to tell you who it is at the last second. You have to sign this that you won’t tell anybody. I probably knew for about 15 seconds before the news already hit the internet.
Josh: So guys, when it comes to our Veep sweepstakes kind of guessing who the vice-presidential candidate is, now I know that my assignment will be living in a tent outside Unionwear in Newark, New Jersey waiting to see what orders they get.
Amna: I think that might be smart. Hey, one last question for Mitch, Josh. Can anyone place orders because I’m thinking if we want to try to get some hats made for maybe a Ben Aaron run in 2020.
Ben: Oh, you’re in trouble.
Amna: We may try to get those orders in now.
Ben: You don’t want to know my family name.
Josh: Yeah, Mitch, can you walk us through the process of – I know we’re not candidates. We’re not with the campaign, but can anyone order merchandise from you. How do they go about doing that? How does the visual of the logo and that come. Do they give it to you? How does that happen?
Mitch Cahn: Sure–we have tens of thousands of products on unionwear.com. You can select your products there and upload designs. Someone
will call you back with a price quote. It’s a relatively painless, quick process. During election season, it usually takes about three-four weeks for orders to be delivered.
Josh: Got to tell you guys, a lot of the rallies that I’ve been to, there are people outside those rallies especially Donald Trump rallies with tables of merchandise. That merchandise is actually made in China a lot of the times or overseas. They are, I guess you could say, counterfeit merchandise not made here, because the candidates made in America, such a big issue and important to them, they don’t want their gear made anywhere else. So if you see a table outside, most likely that’s not made in America. How will our viewers be able to find made in America campaign gear, Mitch?
Mitch Cahn: Usually just be going to the candidate’s websites. They all have web stores. The political parties also have web stores. Official web stores like demstore.com or gopshop.com where you can find the official merchandise.
Josh: Well, that’s the scene here in Unionwear at Unionwear, Newark, New Jersey. Back to you guys.
Ben: Josh, thank you so much. We appreciate it. We’ll be expecting a strange random hat to be delivered at some point to this desk. We really appreciate it, man. I’ll be in big trouble. Make Colonomos great again. My real name is Colonomos.
Amna: Is that it?
Ben: It will be a bad thing. It wouldn’t even fit on the hat.
Amna: That’s going to take the whole width of the hat.
Ben: Yeah, it will go all the way around the hat.
At a nondescript factory near Branch Brook Park in Newark, workers have an easy way of gauging the popularity of any given presidential candidate.
As the only unionized American manufacturer of baseball caps, Unionwear has made logo-embroidered hats for candidates of all stripes.
If a candidate is doing well, his or her campaign might put in a large order for hats, said Mitch Cahn, president of Unionwear. Not so well? The campaign might cut back to putting in small orders on a week-by-week basis.
And just which hat has been popular? That would be “Drumpf,” the ancestral name of Donald Trump’s family, derisively parodied by British comedian John Oliver on HBO, which placed a large order for the hats.
“They put it on their website as a joke and sold way more than they expected,” Cahn said.
This small sector of Unionwear’s business has cropped up every four years since Al Gore’s campaign debuted candidate-themed apparel, Cahn said.
“There was really no way before the internet for these campaigns to sell their merchandise,” he said. “It’s not like they could have traveling stores everywhere they campaigned.”
That kind of campaign merchandizing raises money and turns voters into walking billboards – as well as building a connection with voters.
While the candidates differ on many things, they at some point have all ordered Unionwear hats, from Hillary Clinton to Ted Cruz to Trump, briefly.
And their detractors have ordered parody hats as well. Other Trump-related parody hats include “Make Donald Debate Again” and “Make America Gay Again,” Cahn said.
Unionwear stumbled into this customer category almost by default. Cahn had made a name for the business selling hats to high-end retailers like Nordstrom and The Gap. However, by the late 90s, almost all garment manufacturing had fled the United States for Asia.
The company held on until, lo and behold, they started to get orders simply because they were one of the few American, unionized manufacturers left standing after the brutal purge, Cahn said. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, they changed their name from New Jersey Headwear Corp. to Unionwear.
Anyone can order hats, whether it’s the official campaign, a political action committee, a union supporting a particular candidate, or state political parties.
Hence the hats Unionwear has made for the non-existent campaigns of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Cahn said he’s noticed a difference between the orders for Democratic candidates versus Republican ones: The Democrats want to include the “union-made” label, while the Republicans prefer that be left off.
All, however, realize their campaign regalia must be made in America.
Early in the campaign cycle, Trump’s now-famous “Make America Great Again” baseball cap came under scrutiny when some said the item was made in China. It wasn’t; the cap in question was a knock-off sold online commercially, not by any official party or Trump-connected organization.
Trump used Unionwear for about a month last fall, then switched to a California factory, Cahn said. All told, they provided the campaign with more than 20,000 caps.
Although political attire isn’t a huge slice of Cahn’s business, the spotlight a presidential election puts on American manufacturing drives new business, he said.
“Every presidential campaign cycle there’s a news story that a candidate had an item that was made in Bangladesh,” Cahn said. “Then companies say to themselves, ‘Hey, We should probably look into getting something domestically.'”
Kathleen O’Brien may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @OBrienLedger. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Reporter: And with all the political buzz generated during this election season, one local company is helping those presidential candidates make a statement, one baseball cap at a time. Nadia Ramdass explains.
Nadia Ramdass: Clinton, Cruz, Sanders and Trump; while these political heavyweights may differ on their political views, there’s one thing they all have in common. When they want Made-in-America gear, they turn to this factory in the Garden State.
Mitch Cahn: Anyone whose looking for hats made in America is coming here.
Nadia Ramdass: Unionwear tells us they are the only unionized American manufacturer of baseball caps. The Newark-based manufacturers’ companies include the military, progressive companies and political candidates. Unionwear has made promotional campaign hats, bags and other items for many Democratic and Republican presidential candidates for the last 16 years.
Mitch Cahn: By getting a product made in America, candidates sending a message that domestic manufacturing is important enough to their campaign that they’re going to make it an issue on their campaign.
Nadia Ramdass: The folks here at Unionwear can also gauge the degree of success for political candidate based on the volume of purchase orders over time.
Mitch Cahn: If somebody’s selling tens of thousands of baseball hats and somebody is selling no baseball hats, that would be a sign of one candidate’s being supported more than the other candidate most likely.
Nadia Ramdass: Cahn and his workforce expect to produce over one million hats by the end of the presidential election season; an opportunity he’s proud to have.
Mitch Cahn: I think it’s great that we are considered a symbol of made in America. Newark in particular is one of the strongest manufacturing cities in the country.
Nadia Ramdass: Nadia Ramdass News12, New Jersey.