A group of business owners and executives told state legislators June 10 that federal loans provided crucial assistance in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, but said they are worried about the state’s business climate and what will happen when the funds run out if the economy does not recover quickly.
“I pushed the button to upload my documents one second after the loans were available,” said Gary Fails, the president of Carlstadt-based City Theatrical Inc. “We were among the first companies to get funding.”
The loans enabled the company to retain all of its employees, but, he noted “as one of the first companies to get funding, we’re also one of the first companies to have the funds run out.” City Theatrical produces lighting products and accessories for live events, a business that is unlikely to return this year. “Broadway shut down and our business disappeared and our sales dropped by 90 percent, Fails said.
Fails’ comments, along with those of other owners and executives, came during an online hearing convened by the bipartisan state Legislative Manufacturing Caucus and the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension program.
While some executives described problems getting loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program they were eventually resolved and allowed them to keep employees on staff.
Newark-based UnionWear usually makes promotional hats and other apparel, but pivoted to producing personal protection equipment when the COVID-19 outbreak hit. “In early March, we were about to have our greatest year ever,” said company President Mitch Cahn. UnionWear had orders to make products for presidential election campaigns and for Olympic athletes.
The PPP loans, Cahn said, allowed him to offer hazard pay to workers. He was able to offer a “significant bonus to convince people to come back to work.”
When a worker at Newark-based ZaGo Manufacturing Co. contracted COVID-19, the company was able to allow him and everyone he had contact with to be away from work for a month, thanks to PPP funds. “Our employees knew that that if they were exposed, they wouldn’t be hurt economically,” explained Gail Friedberg Rottenstrich, ZaGo’s CEO. The company makes self-sealing screws, nuts and bolts.
Cahn also raised an issue that many of his peers echoed: the regulatory environment in New Jersey. He said UnionWear did not get any orders from New Jersey for its PPE because the state did not override the need for approval from the Food and Drug Administration, an action other jurisdictions have taken. “We work with Detroit and Los Angeles, but nothing locally,” Cahn said.
Several lawmakers on the call, including Manufacturing Caucus co-chair Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14th District, vowed that the Legislature would examine the issue.
Social distancing rules could also pose problems in a state where expanding structures can often be expensive and time-consuming. Marotta Controls CEO Patrick Marotta, told the lawmakers that in preparing his most recent budget, he planned to squeeze more employees into the company’s existing space. “That’s completely out the window,” he said.
The Montville-based maker of electronic components for the military owns 25 acres of land, but cannot add another building because of Highlands Council rules. So Marotta is trying to find a second location and is “looking at New Jersey restrictions as opposed to restrictions in other states.”
While the participants in the call generally praised the government response to the pandemic, many are concerned about what the recovery might look like. As Dax Strohmeyer, president of Triangle Manufacturing Co. Inc., put it: “If the demand isn’t there, it doesn’t matter if you can stay open.” The Upper Saddle River-based company is a contract manufacturer of medical devices and its business was hurt by the prohibition on elective surgical procedures imposed in March. Gov. Phil Murphy ended the ban effective May 26, though some limitations remain in place.
Strohmeyer is concerned that when his PPP funds are exhausted, he may be “in the tough position of furloughing and laying off people to realign our costs and revenue.” He added that when demand does return, he won’t easily be able to bring qualified workers back.
All of the owners and executives heaped praise on the NJMEP and CEO John Kennedy for providing essential guidance on reopening and interpretation of government mandates.
Unionwear in Newark, NJ made hats for the Warren, Bloomberg and Trump campaigns. Mitch Cahn, CEO of Unionwear, has been overflowing with orders of merch. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, the factory had been making election swag for both parties since 1992.
“I want to make sure that people have a way to speak freely and use our products to get their messages across,” said Cahn. “Some will appeal to young people, some will appeal to women, some will appeal to old white men.”
Before the Coronavirus hit, Unionwear was making between 2000-3000 hats in a single day. The factory orders usually come from agencies working with campaigns or candidate-supporting groups. That’s because political campaigns often want to hire US-based businesses for their merch.
The 2016 election was also a busy season.
Cahn continues: “The one time we saw a very surprising spike was with the original ‘Make America Great Again’ hat. The demand overwhelmed the supply. There are only a handful of factories [that could produce these] in the United States working on that hat for Trump.”
This sort of swag often doubles as campaign contributions, and it adds up. The Trump campaign sold more than $20m worth of merchandise between 2016 and 2018.
But not all campaigns make money on merch. Mike Bloomberg did not make money on his hats. He funded his run out of his own pocket.
Political swag is as old as the Presidency itself. Buttons bearing George Washington’s initials were sold at his first inauguration in 1789. But the business really took off in the mid-90s, when Mitch was just getting started.
“When the Internet came around and e-commerce became more viable, we got into the political market in a big way,” Cahn commented. But it wasn’t always easy. “All of our clients had moved overseas. And then we were left with a baseball hat factory and a lot of employees, and not a lot of places to get business from.”
Mitch had to transform the company, but he didn’t have to look far. He began selling to unions, who were looking to buy from Unionized businesses like his. He also began selling to military agencies, some of which are required to buy US-made goods.
Then came the political campaigns.
“The first order we got was a small order for the Bill Clinton campaign and was maybe 150 hats. Our first big break was with the Al Gore campaign [in 2000.] We sold probably more hats than we ever sold for any one particular client before. It was probably 200,000 hats overall.”
But having lots of swag may not translate into lots of votes, especially in 2020.
“The candidate that ordered the largest amount dropped out of the race early, Andrew Yang. That was definitely the most hats we’ve sold in this election cycle.”
Yang’s campaign sold more than 30,000 “Make Americans Think Harder” hats, which made up about $1.2 million of campaign revenue and are still for sale on his website.
And, what does Unionwear do with its merchandise once a candidate drops out?
“We have this down to a science. We are producing in small batches. Someone would have to drop out unexpectedly for us to get stuck with anything.”
Before the Covid-19 crisis, Unionwear CEO Mitch Cahn spent the past 28 years supplying hats to a wide variety of clients. Being one of the only unionized, domestic manufacturers of hats and other items, Mitch has found a significant advantage in providing swag to organizations that purchase products that are made in the USA. These groups include labor unions, some military organizations, and especially Presidential campaigns.
Presidential candidates buy hats from Unionwear for three primary reasons:
1- Candidates are eager to show off their commitment to American job creation
2- Some candidates, such as Donald Trump and Andrew Yang, earn a profit off of selling their hats, providing much-needed financing to their campaigns
3- Unionwear’s prices are not significantly higher than those made overseas, thanks to their commitment to lean manufacturing and just-in-time ordering. This also means there are almost never leftover hats, even if a candidate drops out of the race suddenly
How did Unionwear get started selling merchandise to candidates as diverse as Al Gore, Donald Trump, Mike Bloomberg, and Andrew Yang?
After making a whopping 150 hats to Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign, their big break came from Al Gore’s 2000 presidential run, where he sold an estimated 200,000 hats. He has made hats for nearly every presidential candidate since.
“The candidate that ordered the largest amount dropped out of the  race early, Andrew Yang. That was definitely the most hats we’ve sold in this election cycle,” said Cahn.
Yang’s campaign sold more than 30,000 “Make Americans Think Harder” hats, which made up about $1.2 million of campaign revenue and are still for sale on his website.
“I want to make sure that people have a way to speak freely and use our products to get their messages across. Some will appeal to young people, some will appeal to women, some will appeal to old white men,” Cahn said.
Although currently manufacturing face shields and washable gowns for first responders, Unionwear is still taking orders for hats and other apparel. This crisis won’t last forever, but Unionwear plans on being around for a long time afterward.
2020 vision: Candidates who want ‘Made in USA’ hats can call Unionwear — but there’s more to business than slogans
No matter whose team you’re on, there’s money to be made in presidential campaign-branded baseball caps — epitomized by those red “Make America Great Again” hats.
And Unionwear is one of the few companies in the running for that profit.
Mitch Cahn, president of the 180-person manufacturing team in Newark, says there are not a lot of textile products such as hats being made in the United States in general today — most of the work has gone to China or other emerging economies.
But, certain customers need to send the right message by choosing U.S. manufacturers for merchandise. That includes any would-be commander-in-chief.
Read more here
In the latest installment of ACG Global’s At Home with the Middle Market, Unionwear’s President, Mitch Cahn, discusses why Unionwear won ACG New Jersey’s Corporate Growth Award (1:15) and their experience being a union shop (2:55).
Mitch explains how Unionwear was able to participate in the PPP due to some assistance from the Newark Mayor and Invest Newark (9:48), how they’re able to grow by purchasing the assets of bankrupt textile businesses (11:32), and more.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders aren’t exactly close on the political spectrum.
But at the Unionwear hat factory in Newark, New Jersey, they’re side by side.
Unionwear has been making campaign merchandise for US presidential candidates for nearly three decades.
The company caters to both Republican and Democratic candidates of all political stripes. This election cycle, the company has made campaign hats for Trump, Sanders, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren, among other candidates.
Garment worker Maria Gallardo expressed a common sentiment: “We have to make money for our families, whether we agree or disagree with their message,” she said.
This year’s crowded field of candidates has been good for business. Cahn said Unionwear makes between 2,000 and 3,000 hats in a single day, with most orders coming from campaign-affiliated agencies or groups of supporters.
The 2016 election cycle was a particularly busy time for the company — Cahn said the company was surprised by demand for Trump’s famous “Make America Great Again” hats.
“Demand overwhelmed the supply,” he said. “And there are only a handful of factories in the United States. Everyone was working on that hat for Trump.”
Political campaigns often prefer merchandise companies that are based in the US, making Unionwear a go-to option.
Yet the candidate it’s provided the most merch for isn’t Trump, or Sanders, or even Bloomberg and his seemingly endless campaign budget.
That honor would go to Andrew Yang, the Democratic entrepreneur who dropped out of the race in February. Unionwear made many of the 30,000 “MATH” hats — that’s “Make America Think Harder — that Yang sold during his longshot presidential bid.
Its first political hats were for Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.
Political swag is at least as old as the presidency itself — buttons bearing George Washington’s initials were sold at his first inauguration in 1789.
But the merch business really took off in the mid-1990s, when Cahn was just getting started with Unionwear.
Cahn started the business in 1992. His initial attempts to sell to high-end clients like Neiman Marcus and Ralph Lauren were successful but short lived when the garment industry started to migrate to China en masse in 1994.
“We were left with a baseball hat factory and a lot of employees,” he said. “And not a lot of places to get business from.”
He didn’t have to look far for new clients, though. He began selling to American unions, which were looking for products made by unionized businesses like his. He also began selling to military agencies, some of which are required to buy US-made products.
Then came the political campaigns, starting with a small order of 150 hats for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992. But Cahn said business didn’t really take off until Al Gore, then vice president, ran for president in 2000.
“We sold probably more hats than we had ever sold for any one particular client,” Cahn said. “It was probably 200,000 hats overall.”
All of Unionwear’s production takes place at its New Jersey plant. That makes the company an attractive option for political campaigns, who often want to hire US-based companies to make their merchandise.
Unionwear contributes to a multibillion-dollar political marketing industry. Campaign managers and political strategists are increasingly looking to merchandise like hats and other apparel as powerful branding tools, according to New York magazine. Trump’s campaign alone has made $45 million off his “MAGA” merchandise.
So what happens to Unionwear’s supply of hats once a candidate drops out, like Democrats Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg did recently?
“We have this down to a science. We are producing in small batches,” Cahn said. “Someone would have to drop out really unexpectedly for us to get stuck with anything.”
Fox News’ Alex Hogan reports from Unionwear where nearly every candidate for the 2020 presidential election has chosen to manufacture hats and bags. Candidates choose made in USA products for their campaigns to demonstrate their support for the American worker and domestic economy.
Despite all of the political differences between republicans and democrats, both parties have turned to Unionwear in Newark, New Jersey to manufacture their campaign hats during election season, since 1992.
“We’ve worked with virtually every campaign since we started the business. One of our first orders was for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992,” said Mitch Cahn, President of Unionwear.
For the 2020 campaign season, Unionwear has manufactured hats for most of the democratic candidates as well as various support groups of President Trump.
According to Cahn, it is during presidential campaign years when many businesses turn to American manufacturers to produce their promotional goods to ensure their products are “Made in USA”.
“We have all sorts of businesses who order promotional products for their business thinking “This is made in China, maybe I should get this made in the USA, I don’t want us to look bad,” said Cahn.
For Cahn, whose company has manufactured products for entities like the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Census, manufacturing “Made in USA” items with the highest standards of production is an obligation that has set Unionwear apart from the rest.
“When consumers buy products “Made in USA” they know that the workers who produce those products are supported by the same labor laws and environmental laws that the consumer benefits from,” said Cahn.
Who says that the only way for a manufacturer to make money is to send production outside of the USA? Not Mitch Cahn. After graduating from Wharton and working on Wall Street, Mitch decided he wanted to create something. So, in the early 1990’s he bought the distressed assets of a hat manufacturer and very purposely brought back the unionized workers that had been employed there. Twenty-eight years later, Mitch’s company, Unionwear, is the only manufacturer of American made baseball hats produced by unionized employees. In fact, he is the go-to source for every presidential campaign and anyone who wants the world to know that they care about where their merchandise is made and who makes it.
No matter whose team you’re on, there’s money to be made in presidential campaign-branded baseball caps — epitomized by those red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Promotional products made by Unionwear include hats, backbacks and tote bags.
And Unionwear is one of the few companies in the running for that profit.
Mitch Cahn, president of the 180-person manufacturing team in Newark, says there are not a lot of textile products such as hats being made in the United States in general today — most of the work has gone to China or other emerging economies.
But, certain customers need to send the right message by choosing U.S. manufacturers for merchandise. That includes any would-be commander-in-chief.
Promotional items with the coveted “Made in USA” label tend to get a boost from the presidential race, but with the popularity of President Donald Trump’s iconic headwear from the last election cycle, Cahn said baseball caps are especially relevant now.
“That hat really drew attention to hats as a campaign accessory,” he said. “That helped our business out immensely. We actually did some of those hats at the beginning of the Trump campaign before he settled on another manufacturer. At the same time, we did hats for the Democratic candidates and, ultimately, Hillary Clinton.”
When it came time for the presidential campaign season to get underway once more, Cahn said his business was busier earlier in the election cycle than it has ever experienced.
Right now, the business is busily manufacturing large quantities of hats for several of the Democratic candidates. Cahn didn’t name the clients, but he did add that three of the four candidates using Unionwear were at the top of polls.
Unionwear also makes accessories such as laptop bags for other clients, including the military and labor unions. It boasts that it compensates its Newark garment workers with union wages and benefits. And that’s a selling point around campaign season.
“Because someone who wants a union-made baseball hat really just has one choice — so that’s going to come up during presidential elections,” Cahn said. “A lot of candidates want to appeal to unions however they can.”
But, when the showdown for the country’s top job ends, local manufacturers are left with the competitive pressures of keeping products American-made.
And that goes double for keeping them New Jersey-made, given the higher costs of real estate and the minimum wage set to rise to $15 by 2024, Cahn said.
“Most of our competition is in the Southeast, where a lot of the country’s garment industry is,” he said. “There, the minimum wage is still at the federal minimum of $7.25. So, unless that goes up, by 2024, it’ll cost us twice as much to pay an entry-level employee here as it would in Georgia.”
That’s why the manufacturer is expecting to do some reinvestment in the automation necessary to sew and produce garments, even if the orders are coming in left and right for hats with campaign logos and slogans.
Cahn said he has no intention of replacing his workforce, but instead wants to give each person the potential to do more tasks.
One of the only reasons it hasn’t happened already is that the development of automation tools has been slower in the textile sector compared with other manufacturers.
“Most automation works well with hard goods, because they’re easy to grab and have finite measurements,” he said. “Things that are soft, you run into issues of robots being unable to grab fabrics and feel wrinkles in the fabrics.”
But, even with more options available now for the hat-maker, it’s safe to say there’s going to be more robotics on the manufacturing line come next campaign cycle.
“Several years ago, it wasn’t something we’d even consider, because the labor was a lot less expensive and the automation was a lot more expensive,” Cahn said. “The price of automation has come down tremendously and the price of labor keeps going up. So, now, it just makes sense.”
republished from http://www.roi-nj.com/2019/10/14/industry/2020-vision-candidates-who-want-made-in-usa-hats-can-call-unionwear-but-theres-more-to-business-than-slogans/
Fox News’ Opened the First-ever Made in America conference with live broadcase from Unionwear’s booth at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Carly Shimkus was suprised by the depth and quality of Unionwear’s product line and discussed how USA made products demonstrate their manufacturers’ commitment to the American economy.
The Reshoring Initiative and SEAMS, the domestic textile manufacturing association, presented their inaugural Manufacturing Reshoring Award to Unionwear for bringing cut and sew jobs back to the USA. Unionwear’s 180 workers in Newark, NJ make baseball hats, backpacks, and other bags for the promotional products, fashion, and uniform industries.
Unionwear’s technological innovations have leveled the playing field with imports by highlighting small batch, quick turn manufacturing. Unionwear’s predictive configuration tool at http://www.trillionhats.com allows it to sell custom made products using a traditional webstore experience rather than a cumbersome online configurator, while its mobile ERP platform automates purchasing, production scheduling, manufacturing, and shipping. The result is “made to order” as seamless as ordering from Amazon.
The baseball cap industry’s mass relocation to China since the 1990’s, and Unionwear’s success in keeping manufacturing stateside throughout, was thoroughly explored earlier this month in the three part serial podcast documentary “American Icon” on iHeartRadio’s Red Pilled America podcast.
The Reshoring Award was presented at SEAMS’ annual conference in Savannah,GA on May 9, 2019. At the event, Contempora Fabrics won the Textile Reshoring Award and Mara Hoffman Designs won the Brand Reshoring Award. SEAMS members had reasons to celebrate, with domestic textile manufacturing showing strong, sustainable growth to $70 billion and over 100,000 jobs, numbers that will continue to climb due to the recent tariffs and the upcoming presidential election, when interest in “USA Made” traditionally peaks.
Red Pilled America took a deep dive into the history of the baseball cap, and used the story of offshoring ballcap production to tell the story of American apparel manufacturing.
Episode 24 focuses on Unionwear’s history. Founded as a fashion industry contractor, Unionwear was nearly shuttered when unintended consequences of trade deals resulted in most of the textile business moving to China in the mid 90’s.
Unionwear took a systematic approach to seek markets that would only buy American: starting with unions, moving to political campaigns, the US government and military, then other manufacturers and nonprofits, and now back as a fashion contractor.
Hosts Patrick Courrielche and Adryana Cortez intersperse Unionwear’s story with a fascinating analysis of the economic, regulatory, and systemic changes that resulted in American manufacturing losing its edge, and what it would take to regain it.
The podcast has started a kickstarter campaign to sell a Red-Pilled America cap, pictured above.
Unionwear is pleased to announce the hiring of their new Domestic Operations VP, José Bellon, formerly of Coach Ready-To-Wear Apparel. With this move, Unionwear and CEO/President Mitch Cahn hopes not only to maintain but to improve the already award-winning company.
Mr. Bellon was carefully chosen for his skills and experience. He is a native of Cuba but grew up in Miami. Raised in a hard-working community, he became acquainted with a large variety of people. This experience taught him how to work well with others. He brings good business sense, honesty, and a drive for excellence to a company with an already outstanding reputation.
Mr. Bellon takes great pride in the industry in which he works and plans on staying there a long time. He is proud of the “Made in USA” label and encourages other entrepreneurs whenever he can. He would, in fact, like to help future entrepreneurs realize their full potential and assist them in keeping America vital by eliminating outsourcing to other countries.
Though he is proud of his heritage, as a Latin leader he wants to promote American, union-made products as the new Domestic Operations VP for Unionwear, helping the company to grow above and beyond its wildest dreams.
Unionwear, formerly the maker of little more than baseball caps, has expanded its line considerably over the years. In addition to producing political campaign and promotional gear, the company lists knit caps and scarves, winter wear, and bags of all shapes, designs, and sizes its website.
As of late, Unionwear and company President Mitch Cahn acquired the assets and personnel of DLX Industries. This means for online shoppers that, in addition to what Unionwear already carried, they will now also deal in business accessories such as portfolios and binders.
Besides displaying pride for America and offering American-made, customizable products at affordable prices, Unionwear is involved in the community. Just recently, they played a major role in assisting the winner of the “Dream It, Do It: What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” Award. This annual award was developed to stimulate students’ imaginations and introduce them to the possibility of manufacturing careers.
José Bellon is proud to be a new member of a company that not only enjoys the success the American public has given them but gives back to the community in return. Because of his devotion to excellence and both company and community growth, Mr. Bellon is a perfect fit for Unionwear and what it represents.
CEO/President Mitch Cahn and his 175 union-proud employees would like to extend a warm welcome to Mr. José Bellon in the hopes of a long, productive, and satisfying future
A recent Verizon Fios video explores and examines Newark, New Jersey’s Unionwear, a manufacturer of scarves, hats, backpacks, and much, much more. The video opens with an interview with Unionwear CEO and President, Mitch Cahn, regarding the company’s background.
Mr. Cahn explains, “Unionwear is the manufacturer of baseball caps, military hats, sewn hats, backpacks, duffel bags—any sort of sewn accessory that can be made from woven fabric. By saying that these products are union made, it’s a type of shorthand for the fact that our products are made by happy, content, productive workers.”
When asked how they price their products competitively, the CEO says that one way of making sure that their products are competitively priced “is through the use of Lean manufacturing. Just because wages are higher doesn’t mean that labor costs necessarily need to be higher.”
Next, Mr. Cahn and the interviewer take a look at the factory itself. The camera pans over a section of the manufacturing facility as the company president explains that they are looking at roughly 1000 baseball caps before they are actually constructed. He runs through aspects of the production, such as fabric, a hydraulic clicker press that cuts the fabric for the hats into triangles, and other sections containing various parts of the soon-to-be baseball caps.
As he holds a completed baseball cap in his hands, Mr. Cahn runs his fingers along the various parts, demonstrating how each piece fits into the finished product. He offers up a little tidbit of information: every baseball cap has no less than 23 parts.
Moving to a different section of the factory, the video now focuses on workers at their various stations. This is where the tail end of the cap manufacturing process takes place, the sewing being done by hand and sewing machine. All the pieces come together here. Next will be the embroidery.
Depending on the cap, some parts receive embroidery while others do not. To achieve the best quality, the embroidery is done on cut parts of the hat before it is completely assembled. Because the embroidery is done on a flat panel instead of a curved finished cap, the artwork’s registration is improved, the imprint area is larger, productivity is improved, and expenses are lower. Workers now must finish the crown, attach the visor, and complete the baseball cap.
As the company president and the interviewer move to the section of the facility where the “baseball cap is virtually born,” the camera pans widely across the facility. It shows numerous stations and workers as various stages of the assembly process are being completed.
Mr. Cahn describes this final stage: “We’ve made the crown of the baseball cap, the embroidery has been added, we’ve made the brim, and now the crown and the brim will be attached together, and the label and sweatband will be added. Everything, once sewn together, is steamed, bagged, and boxed.” And voilà, you have a baseball cap, ready for distribution.
This video gives an impressive view of a baseball cap’s creation—from its infancy to the completed, final product. Not to mention all of the people who participate in the process. Knowing that these products, each and every one, are all put together with the bare hands of union employees is one of the major factors that sets this company apart from all the rest. These products are made in the USA, by hand.
Unionwear—American-made, America proud.
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 email@example.com. 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.
With the presidential election season heating up, demand for candidate promotional products is growing by leaps and bounds. One supplier that knows a thing or two about the election rush is Unionwear, a custom apparel and accessories facility based in Newark, NJ, that offers made-in-the-USA items by employees represented by New York City-based Workers United, Local 155. The company has been producing election merchandise since 1996, when it designed a few hats for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Four years later, in 2000, the Gore campaign gave away baseball caps from Unionwear to online donors, and the volume skyrocketed to more than 100,000 pieces. In 2008, the company made every hat for the Obama and McCain campaigns, as well as both conventions. This year, Unionwear is producing merchandise for seven campaigns, including Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
During the fall – even before the real election time kicked into high gear – the company was completing about 2,500 units a week for the major candidates, a number that the organization expects will triple by this summer. “Campaigns look for distributors who can handle everything from product development through fulfillment, including running the Web stores,” says Unionwear President Mitch Cahn. “Those distributors with experience in the political merchandise market have an advantage because they can project volumes and work on a week-to-week basis with their suppliers.
All campaigns vet their suppliers to make sure the goods are really made the way they’re labelled so merchandise doesn’t become a source of embarrassment.” In addition to headwear, Unionwear produces a number of different merchandise items, including all-over dye sublimation backpacks, tote bags and computer bags. They’ve even produced basketball jerseys and yarmulkes for Obama, what they called Obamakahs. “
There is a strong wave of USA made consumerism right now, but it shouldn’t be confused with patriotism,” says Cahn. ”While ‘American Pride’ sounds good, what actually causes buyers to connect with ‘USA-made’ are deep convictions about issues that support of domestic manufacturing can cure, including Worker Rights, Localism and the Maker Culture, which emphasizes the craft behind the product. Companies and campaigns are sensitive to being judged on their commitment to everything from helping rebuild our economy to the working conditions at vendors’ factories.”
Source: Counselor Magazine, Hail to the Chief Source: http://www.brandedgear.com/news/hail-to-the-chief/
This podcast can be heard on Lean Blog
TRANSCRIPT: Mark Graban: Hi, this is Mark Graban. Welcome to Episode 234 of the podcast on November 16, 2015. Today’s guest is Mitch Cahn; he is president of Unionwear, a manufacturer of hats, bags and apparel in Newark, New Jersey. I first learned about Mitch and his company at the Northeast LEAN Conference recently, and I blogged about that. You can find a link to it at leanblog.org/234. Now, what caught my eye was the political hats they produce, including the famous red “Make America Great Again” hat that Donald Trump wears, among hats produced for other candidates. Beyond the surface of those hats is a fascinating story about competing instead of making excuses. As Mitch explains here in the podcast, Unionwear has been very successful, even though it’s producing in one of the highest-cost parts of the world. Unionwear has had to compete against imports from China and lower-wage southern states here in the US, and LEAN has been a major part of their strategy for improving productivity, reducing cost and being fast to market. Now, whether you work in healthcare or manufacturing, you’ll really love the story, the principles and the ideas behind Mitch, his company and his employees.
So, can you start off by introducing yourself and your company, Unionwear?
Mitch Cahn: Sure. My name is Mitch Cahn; I am the President of Unionwear. I started the business in 1992, and we’re based in Newark, New Jersey. We manufacture baseball caps and all sorts of headwear, and sewn bags, like backpacks, laptop bags, tote bags, garment bags, and messenger bags. Everything is 100% made in USA, and everything is made with union labor.
Mark Graban: What prompted you to start the business?
Mitch Cahn: I started the business in 1992. I bought a bankrupt baseball cap factory. Before that, I was working in investment banking, and I really didn’t like it. I wanted to be the client—I wanted to make stuff. So I spent about a year trying to come up with an idea to start a business, and then I came across this small baseball hat factory that had been foreclosed on in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I came up with enough money to buy the equipment at an auctions sale. I was going to do something different with that business—I was going to start selling baseball caps to the fashion industry, which was not a thing in 1992. You couldn’t go into The Gap or Macy’s and buy baseball caps back then, and I was actually successful very quickly. The idea caught on, and we picked up customers like Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom’s, and Izod, and we were helped by the growth of outlet stores at that time. However, by 1994, our entire business model collapsed because all of those clients started manufacturing in China. It happened really quickly; I didn’t see it coming. It was only a couple of years after Tiananmen Square; China became this giant in the market economy, and one of the first items they went after was baseball hats, because it’s almost all labor.
So we needed to come up with a new business model quickly, and around that time we came up with the idea of selling products specifically because they were made in the USA—going after the Made in USA market. We started with labor unions. We actually named the company Unionwear because unions were at that time one of our natural markets. We were the only union shop that made baseball hats. They were natural market for us, and then, by the year 2000, we expanded into political campaigns when the Internet made it possible for Al Gore’s campaign to raise money by giving a baseball hat away to every donor. We had that contract, and that’s been a big part of our business ever since.
We slowly looked into other markets that we found were buying American. After our LEAN transformation in 2007, we were competitive with non-union shops in the deep south. We could even compete with shops in Puerto Rico for military business—now that’s huge part of our business as well. In 2007, we bought a bag factory, and we did a LEAN transformation of that factory. Now that’s about half of our business. We’ve continued to expand our markets as the prices of imports continue to surge year after year, while our domestic pricing really remains flat. We’ve been able to break into more markets, particularly B2B markets that are looking at co-brands with the Made in USA label, which is really the most valuable brand in the world.
When someone gives a baseball hat or bag away, they don’t want that product to say “Made in China”. A lot of socially responsible companies give bags and hats away—Whole Foods, Google, and a lot of other companies—and they buy our products because the union label shows that the products were definitely not made in a sweatshop, and the Made in USA label shows that the products were not shipped halfway around the world. We’ve also been able to return to the fashion business over the last five years for the first time since the early 90s; we’ve been more competitive, and fashion businesses have been going for smaller batch manufacturing.
Mark Graban: It sounds like there’s a sense of purpose here, whereas a lot of industries and companies go with the flow. When business started going to China, all the lemmings said, “Hello, we have to go to China!” Even before you discovered LEAN, why was it important to you to stay in New Jersey?
Mitch Cahn: Well, I always reminded myself (and that’s the first ten years I was in business) that if I wanted to make money, it would have been a lot easier for me to stay on Wall Street. I didn’t want to make money; I wanted to make products. I find the manufacturing process extremely rewarding—I come into work, and someone meets me with an idea and leaves a sample. Then I have to figure out how to manufacture that sample, what machines to buy and what people to staff. To figure all that out and then go out in New York City and see people wearing and using the products is very rewarding. So, that was one part of it—I enjoy the maker experience. Second, from the outset I wanted to make sure that all of our employees were well compensated and had the same benefits as white-collar workers. Our union was the Ladies Textile Workers Union, and they said we were the first company (and we’re still probably the only company) that went to them before we started the business. We wanted to start a union shop because I knew we were going to give our employees the benefits that union workers would earn anyway. We might as well take advantage of the relationship that the unions had and use that for marketing purposes.
Mark Graban: I’m curious to hear more about LEAN. How did you first get introduced to the idea of LEAN?
Mitch Cahn: Around 2004, we faced with a lot of increasing expenses that were not really affecting the rest of the country. New Jersey was raising its minimum wage significantly ahead of the federal minimum wage. We were going to see our wages go up by about 30-40% pretty quickly. We also had big increases in health care at that time, and most of our competition was non-union shops in the South, and in right-to-work states. In most non-union shops, until ObamaCare, there was no health insurance offered, and we started to see the cost rise over a four-year period. We used to pay $50 a worker for health insurance, and by 2004, it was about $180. Then our real estate prices right outside the New York area started going up pretty quickly. So we couldn’t compete with the South, even for the Made in the USA work, and I was very concerned with our ability to remain a viable company. I started looking for a magic bullet, and I stumbled upon a LEAN 101 seminar that was being run by a New Jersey Manufacturers’ Extension Program (MEP). I took it, and it really blew my mind. For anyone who isn’t familiar with this program, it’s a national program, a one-day class that trains everyone from executives to factory workers on the whole LEAN process.
It puts people in a simulated factory making clocks. At the beginning of the day, everyone is using their own traditional methods to set up a production line and manufacture very simple clocks with the other executives—these are people who believe they know everything about manufacturing. At the beginning of the day, all these executives working together, with all their brainpower, might produce about 15 clocks an hour. Throughout the course of the day, LEAN principles are introduced one by one. Then they do another simulated flow, where the manufacturers take the principle they just learned and apply it to this mini-production line, and their volume increases. From the beginning to the end of the day, this group of executives will increase their production from 15 clocks to 300-400 clocks an hour! It really opened up my mind to the possibilities in my factory. I still remember when I came back, and all I could see was the opposite of LEAN. I was so angry! I was angry at everyone who worked for me for not seeing that they were doing non-value-added work all day, completely forgetting that I had just gone ten years without seeing any of that myself.
Mark Graban: Yeah, it becomes hard when you suddenly see waste and problems that you would have looked past before.
Mitch Cahn: I just wanted to do everything at once, and of course you can’t do that, but I did go back to MEP. I hired them for a small project while they submitted a grant proposal to the New Jersey Department of Labor to do a LEAN transformation for us. I brought in the consultant from NJ MEP, and he met with our plant manager at the time and me. The plant manager was very old-school, a traditional manufacturing production line person with about 30 years’ experience, and he was very skeptical of the consultant. All he wanted to know was how he was going to make our machine operators sew faster, and the consultant said, “I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about sewing, to be totally honest with you.” The plant manager asked, “How are you possibly going to improve our production here?” and the consultant said “Well, I’m only going to focus on what they’re doing when they’re not sewing. I worked in food companies, paint companies and car companies, and it’s always the same things. All I do is look for those things, and I train your workers and your management to eliminate those things through designing the factory differently and training people differently.” The plant manager was not convinced, but I brought the consultant in anyway, and we started with a really simple project. He went for the low-hanging fruit, and he took a look at our embroidery operation. We run about 12 embroidery machines here in the middle of our production process where we embroider our own hats and bags.
He spent a day observing that process and asked me, “How long do you think your machines are down between orders?” I remembered this from the spreadsheet that I looked at when I bought the machines, and I said about 20 minutes. He’d made a videotape, and he said, “Well, how about an average of about 2 1/2 hours?” I didn’t believe him. I watched the videotape, though, and I saw that the machines were indeed down as he’d said. In the past, I’d walked around and saw everyone working hard and running around, so I couldn’t understand why the machines were down for so long, and this was something that was going on 15 to 20 times a day—that was the average number of orders that we are pushing through the embroidery department a day. It turned out to a very simple problem with a very simple solution.
Our embroidery manager was a Chinese National who spoke English, and our embroidery operators were mostly from Spanish-speaking countries; they spoke a little English. The manager gave the instruction to go pick out threads of certain colors for an order. From the time she gave the instruction to the time they brought back the proper cones was about two and a half hours. Why? Based upon the instructions from the customer, she told the staff to look for, say, dark gray and dark green. The employees would go out to the shelves of closed white boxes with the thread color names on them, and the names were things like cement, and soup and canary and so on. They had to open box after box to find the right color thread. If they were lucky, it was the thread the embroidery manager had envisioned in her mind. If they weren’t lucky, they had to go back and return with another armful of threads. Then they would have to count out the threads—threads were shipped to us in boxes of 12, and our machines had 20 heads on them. So they’d count them out, they’d have to find the beginning of each cone and they’d have to bring them to the machine, put them on the machine and thread them, and then go back to get the next color. So the consultant’s first project was to get rid of all the color names and get rid of the boxes. We put everything in giant zip-lock bags. We color-coded our factory thread department like a rainbow, and we referred to everything by color number. We took all the threads and inventoried them in units of 20 to correspond to the machines’ 20 heads. Bags would come out to the table; the embroidery machines would be loaded. When it was over, cones would go back into the bags and be put back on the shelf. The whole process went from about two and half hours to 15 to 20 minutes pretty quickly, and we were easily able to see the power of LEAN in that department. We were sold.
So we went ahead, we got the grant, and we spent about two years putting in every facet of LEAN into the factory. We put in 5S, we put in all sorts of Kanban, we did single cell flow, and every one of these steps was really a phenomenal success for us. The 5S is something that we do every year, and it’s something the owner really needs to be involved in. For example, no one who works for me is going to throw a machine away. I’ll say, “Hey, we’re never going to use that machine! No one is going to pay for it, I just looked on eBay; we’re just going to sell it for scrap.” No one else will say that. So I need to actively show up, ready to get dirty for a couple of days.
Mark Graban: You mentioned the MEP programs, and for people who aren’t familiar with that, it’s a federally sponsored and funded program, but the MEPs operate at the state level. Some of the MEPs are doing work with healthcare organizations—the Ohio MEP, which works under the name TechSolve, is working with both manufacturers and healthcare providers. You talked about your healthcare costs going up. If you went into a hospital, I know you would see the parallels of why it takes so long between cases in the operating room. You talked about sewing—we’re not asking the surgeons to work faster, we’re just trying to maximize the amount of time during the day they can actually be surgeons, and that makes a huge difference in healthcare. Hopefully it’s going to help get costs under control. There are big parallels there.
Mitch Cahn: Yeah, there are a lot of parallels between healthcare and manufacturing, and coincidentally, while we were going through the first LEAN transformation my first son was born. The consultant, Dave Hollander, who shepherded us through this whole process, always tells how I came back from the hospital with all these ideas—it was Mt. Sinai in New York, which was already implementing LEAN—that I wanted to put in our factory. We still use a lot of those processes, like color-coded folders. There are so many LEAN improvements that we made, but one of the first principles that they taught us was to get rid of tables. Tables are evil! Unless you are using the table for a particular job, it’s going to be filled with garbage, on top and underneath, because that’s human nature. I noticed that in hospitals, if anybody needs a table, they get a rolling cart, so we gave everybody their own rolling cart. We designated places on the cart for everything that they need, and we gave them a small personal space on the bottom for their own stuff. We still use that, and apart from the productivity gain, the amount of space we gained was great.
Mark Graban: There is a good general LEAN principle: put everything on wheels! Be flexible so you can rearrange cells, rearrange the layout, make changes as customer demand changes to create different capacity—that’s definitely a great lesson. There was a letter that you had posted at the Northeast LEAN Conference. Could you talk a little bit more about the idea? I think a lot of manufacturers still don’t get the idea that they can’t create value by cutting labor costs. You have to redeploy labor in creating more value. Can you talk about what that’s meant for you and the company?
Mitch Cahn: Okay, we have a single-minded focus on creating value. Once the people who work here understand what that means, then it becomes a mindset, and it becomes very easy to implement any of the features of LEAN. We are here to create a finished product that needs to go right into a box and get shipped to a customer, and that customer will only pay for the value that we added to that product. So, if we’re making products, and we’re putting them in boxes, it’s inventory. We’re not creating value at that time; we’re just creating inventory. If we are creating work in process because people are working faster, that’s not finished product that we can sell. We’re not creating value. Now, if we are able to improve our productivity so that we’re creating a lot of value, and because of that I lay people off, I’m not actually creating value by doing that, either. Creating value means if I have a 100 people, and they used to make 1,000 hats a day, and now they can make 2,000 hats a day, and then 50 people can make 2,000 a day, I’m creating value by taking those other 50 people and creating another product with them. That to me is creating value. One of the keys to our success is our ability to measure the amount of value that we create. We have a process that we use. We do a lot of custom products—baseball caps are a very cookie-cutter process, that’s only about half of our business. The other half is bags, and every bag that we make is different. One day we’ll be making tote bags, the next day we’ll be making messenger bags. They’ve got totally different value street maps, and they’ve got totally different plant layouts.
So the first process for us is to figure out by doing a traditional time study, what is the cycle time of this product? What is the amount of time that the worker is actually adding value to the product, just picking two pieces of fabric and sewing them together? Or cutting that fabric—that’s really all we do that adds value. Everything else we do, such as looking for thread, waiting for instructions from a manager, redoing work or building up work in process, that’s not adding value. So if we take an attaché, and we know that attaché has 20 minutes of time that’s spent just adding value to that product, we can then measure our output in terms of minutes of work created against the amount of time that our workers worked. So we say, based on our time studies, our workers created 10,000 minutes of work today, but based on our time clock, they worked 20,000 minutes. That means they spent 50% of their time creating value. We measure this all the time. It enables us to get our pricing in check, enables us to know if we’re meeting our margins just by walking on the floor and seeing if there is work in process or if there are people moving around. It’s created goals for everybody to know whether the shop is LEAN and creating value or not.
Now, when we started this process, before we did any LEAN stuff, we were adding value only 20% to 25% of the time. The rest of it was all spent on non-value-added work. By the end of the process, we were adding value about 65% of the time, so our productivity almost tripled. It was difficult for most of our line workers to grasp the concept of what we were trying to sell to them, so we changed our measurement from percentage of time working efficiently (or adding value) to hours per day, and then people finally started to get it. We said, hey, you know, believe it or not, you’re only spending about two hours a day sewing, but you’re getting paid for eight. We’re asking you to spend about five and half to six hours sewing and get paid for eight, and they got it. That actually seemed like a great bargain to them. We were able to retrain everybody on LEAN principles; we made our own videos highlighting about 50 different non-value-added tasks that were regularly performed in the factories, so we could help people identify them.
Mark Graban: There are many things that are interesting and impressive about your story, but I think one of them is your involvement as an owner. LEAN is not just an operations strategy; it really is a key piece of your business strategy—it’s how you’re running the business and trying to be successful in the long term.
Mitch Cahn: Yeah, I think if I were to describe my job, I’m in charge of LEAN here. Everything else kind of takes care of itself, but LEAN is a battle against human nature, and it constantly needs improvement. If you’re doing LEAN properly, you need to continually improve, because if you are able to clear up one bottleneck, there’s going to be another bottleneck created somewhere else. You clear up that bottleneck in sales, and there’s going to be a bottleneck in production. You clear up that bottleneck, then you find a bottleneck in order processing. So I leave the top line growth up to the salespeople, and I take care of the growth and capacity by implementing LEAN principles throughout our entire organization.
Mark Graban: At the conference you displayed hats you’d produced for Jeb Bush and for Hillary Clinton, and there was the bright red, very familiar Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. I was wondering if there were any stories, particularly behind the Trump hat. I’m curious about getting that business and trying to deliver a large number of hats relatively quickly. Are there any stories that you can share about that?
Mitch Cahn: As for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, we have been doing work for a company called Financial Innovations for decades. They’ve been managing the Democratic candidates for President for quite some time, ever since Bill Clinton. We have a very strong relationship with them. One of the reasons our company is regularly chosen to produce products for candidates is that we can produce goods quickly. Candidates don’t buy for the long-term—a lot of the primary candidates right now don’t know if they’re going to be around in two or three weeks, so they’re ordering every week. Instead of ordering 25,000 hats at a time, they’re ordering 2,000 or 3,000 hats a week. They need people who can turn things quickly, and because of our LEAN principles we can do that. We don’t have a lot of work in process on the floor, so we’re able to rush orders for people who need them. Another reason is that we’re a union shop, and the union label assures political campaigns that we’ve already been vetted for any sort of social compliance issues. That’s a smaller issue for the Republican side, though we have done a ton of Republican work. We did all of the work for the John McCain campaign, and we’re doing about four candidates right now. They just ask that we don’t put a union label inside the hat, for whatever reasons.
The second reason that we’re chosen is that we have a reputation. The candidates don’t want to get bitten by going to unknown manufacturer and finding out the products were actually made overseas. Our reputation as a military contractor says to them that we have been vetted by the military, and military goods need to be made domestically—not just all the labor but even all of the components for those products need to be sourced domestically. So I think that’s why they come to us. We never work with the campaigns directly; we always go through advertising agencies. The particular agency that we worked with on the Trump hat came to us from the Made in USA Foundation. They were concerned after they’d seen these hats being made overseas and contacted that agency, who told them that they don’t need to put “Make America Great Again” on a hat that says Made in China.
Mark Graban: Right. It’s interesting that of the three hats that were on display, the Trump hat was the only one that did not have Made in the USA embroidered on the brim. I think some people misunderstand LEAN as being about cost, when the primary thing is about improving flow, as you’ve described so well here—reducing setup times, improving productivity as a way of being more responsive to customers. Those are really powerful things, and they can lead to being cost-competitive, as it seems you’ve done at Unionwear.
Mitch Cahn: Yes, it has, and in many ways that you wouldn’t anticipate. LEAN has developed our dedication to measuring time and doing value stream maps for nearly every product that we manufacture. Our production process is data-driven. Over the last five years, much of our business has been re-shoring, where companies, usually in the fashion or promotional industry, have been getting products made overseas but are starting to reconsider. In the past, our hats might have been ten times as much as the hat made in China, but now they’re only 25% or 30% more. Companies are much more likely to switch now, so we’re constantly getting products that have been manufactured overseas, and we’re asked to quote on them for domestically made product. We look at the way these products are made overseas, perhaps in China, and it doesn’t make any sense to us. Take a tote bag for example—they throw labor at it to save on materials. It’s a dead giveaway when I see a tote bag that has a seam running along the bottom. If you cut that tote bag in two pieces, you’re going to get a lot more bags out of the roll of fabric than if you cut one big piece, but it adds a lot of labor and makes it a weaker bag. It makes no sense unless you’re trying to save on materials.
So we take these products and we reengineer them in a way that is LEAN and uses the least amount of labor possible. Between our productivity increases and our ability to reduce the amount of labor that goes into the product, we’re able to compete on many items, particularly in the fashion business.
Mark Graban: I really appreciate you being able to share your story both at the Northeast LEAN Conference and for taking time to talk with me here today, Mitch. Again, my guest has been Mitch Cahn, President of the company, Unionwear. Mitch, I was wondering if you want to talk about the company’s website, or ways people can learn more about your business, or if you have any final thoughts for the listeners.
Mitch Cahn: Sure, our website is unionwear.com. We have over 40,000 Made in USA products that you can search for and order directly on the website. You can contact me through the website if you have any questions about LEAN. I love helping other manufacturers who are just getting started in the LEAN process. I just want to warn you—it’s never a good time to start, but once you start, you will be rewarded. You’ll never finish, but you will be continuously improving.
Mark Graban: Well said, and thank you, Mitch, for that final thought and for being a guest here today on the podcast, I really appreciate it.
Mitch Cahn: You’re welcome. Thanks.
Introducer: Thanks for listening. This has been the LEAN Blog podcast for LEAN news and commentary updated daily is at www.leanblog.org. If you have any questions or comments about this podcast, email Mark, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to make the most of selling products made in the U.S.
By Brendan Menapace for Promo Marketing Magazine
There are plenty of products that were made in America that we should all be proud of—Bruce Springsteen, baseball, movies where Nicolas Cage navigates an elaborate scavenger hunt made up of national monuments to find a historic treasure. The list goes on, but what stands out the most are the many promotional products manufactured in the U.S., and the business opportunities they present. By providing products made domestically, distributors can create business with new clients. Here’s how.
OPEN NEW DOORS
Aside from providing jobs in the U.S., domestically-made products can give distributors the chance to work with clients that otherwise may not have been available. David Bronson, national accounts manager for Unionwear, Newark, N.J., said that many companies only will purchase products that are made in the U.S. He named nonprofit, government and military organizations as potential clients that [usually] purchase domestically. “More and more, large domestic manufacturers, food processors, tech companies, and other corporations that promote themselves as ‘Made in USA’ are requiring their logo gear to also be consistent with their domestic mission,” he advised. “Unions and political campaigns generally have domestic sourcing requirements, which will boom in the upcoming presidential primaries and general elections.”
Bronson, who has been a distributor for a decade, added that using items made in the U.S. makes sense from an economic standpoint. “Domestic manufacturing is beginning to make sense economically in a number of areas,” he noted. “In particular, small-batch customization allows buyers to save on overhead, such as sampling, tech packs, sourcing, prepayments and lead times, that can dwarf the unit costs of importing fewer than a thousand units.”
Tim Boyle, president of JournalBooks/Timeplanner Calendars, Charlotte, N.C., explained that buying domestic ensures the protection of U.S. labor and manufacturing laws. “The U.S. has much stricter laws and regulations regarding safety and compliance,” he said. “When distributors sell U.S.-made products, they do not have to worry as much about factories using child labor or unsafe materials.” He added that distributors should still evaluate a company’s code of conduct and compliance safety standards. “Compliance and safety are top concerns for end-users,” he said. “Although the standards for compliance are improving globally, it becomes much trickier for distributors once they go offshore.”
HANDLE INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION
Some distributors may be hesitant to choose domestic products over imports, as they say they can often get products from overseas at a cheaper price point. However, importing products can come with a high price tag that some distributors might not take into account. Factors such as duties, fees, shipping and port delays can throw a monkey wrench into the process and end up costing more than it than saves.
Bronson also explained that some clients would even be willing to pay more for domestic products. “Even when import pricing can still result in significant savings, there are many end-users who will still pay a premium to co-brand with the most powerful brand in the world—Made in USA,” he said.
Boyle he believes the global competition is a good thing for U.S. companies. “It’s hard to compete with importers on price, but not impossible,” he said. “We are constantly exploring new ways to increase manufacturing efficiency and decrease material costs, and we can often be competitive with import items, especially custom projects. Price is only one aspect of the equation.”
The best way to compete is to produce a better product. Bronson said that many imported items are made with cheaper materials and unnecessary labor, which creates an inferior product. “A common example is tote bags coming out of China that have a seam along the bottom,” he detailed. “This adds labor cost to the bag and also weakens the bag at its biggest stress point.” He explained that the sum is there because cutting large panels into smaller pieces provides a greater yield for the manufacturer.
“If a bag has $40 in materials in either China or the U.S., but it costs $4 to sew it in China vs. $8 in the U.S., the end difference will be $44 versus $48,” he continued. “And that $4 difference will be more than eaten up by shipping, fees and duties.” Bronson added that the gap between the price of imports and domestic products has decreased every year for the last six years, and he believes the trend will continue.
GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT
According to Consumer Reports, when given a choice between a U.S.-made product and an identical item sourced overseas, 78 percent of Americans prefer the American product. Boyle and Bronson are optimistic about the demand for domestic products.
Boyle said that he sees the demand for U.S.-made items himself. “My opinion is that the demand for U.S.-made products has never been stronger,” he said. JournalBooks, which has manufactured in Charlotte, N.C. since 1971, has taken steps to keep up with the increased demand. “We do whatever it takes to keep up with demand, whether it is adding the necessary equipment or adding members to our team. JournalBooks has a modern, 90,000-square-foot facility with plenty of extra capacity for additional growth.”
In Newark, N.J., Unionwear is having its best year to date. “The demand is higher than ever,” Bronson said. “It has been a challenge to continually increase capacity.”
He attributed much of the success to Unionwear’s ability to offer detailed customization. “Small batch customization is one area where improvements in order processing and set up times can have big payoffs,” he expressed. “We can make any of our bags in any color combination customers want at low quantities. This is what China does not offer the industry.”
Unionwear and New Balance were featured on the Kudlow Report’s Made in USA July 4th Special. Unionwear President Mitch Cahn talks about how lean manufacturing principles helps union shops compete with factories overseas and in Right to Work States.
The resurgence of domestic apparel manufacturing (including Unionwear) featured on the Wearables Fashion Sense Channel this month. All of these brands are available from your local promotional products professional, screen printer, or embroiderer.
We get an early look at fashion trends in our role as local headwear contractor to the NYC garment industry. And four styles of hats are blowing traditional baseball caps away:
1. Snapbacks. The hottest hats are “snapbacks” meant to evoke the 70s pro baseball cap styles worn by the old school rappers of the early 90s. Two tone caps with high fronts, flat visors, and “Made in USA” embossed adjustable plastic straps evoke the era before these products were outsourced to China.
2. Five Panel Camper Hats. Five panel caps with with a low, relaxed shape, totally custom cut and sewn in small quantities. Made in canvas, duck, waxed poplin, wool Melton, plaid flannel, often with a patch or label sewn on front and a suede visor, aka “Fudd hats”, “fly fisherman hats” or even “Fargo caps.”
3. All Over Prints. Sublimation prints are full color prints that encompass the whole front panel of the cap and even the top of the visor. Actually, the whole hat (or a bag) is game. Unionwear’s new seamless lowstyle cap allows for printing a totally flat surface with no breaks for the seam. Contact us at 973 854 6725 or email@example.com to discuss setting up a program to print fabric or cut parts.
4. Utility Caps and other Military Style. With combat forces becoming more inclusive, dont expect this trend of military shapes and camo hats to abate any time soon. Unionwear stocks 12 types of camo, including Realtree and is an official military supplier for all major military patterns, and offers, boonies, ghillies, 8 point,
utility caps (pictured), and garrison caps.
www.Unionwear.com features dozens of hat patterns–snapbacks, campers, five panel, buckets, boonies to name a few–offered in a dozen fabrics in 25 or more colors, with almost unlimited customization options. We offer discounts of 25 to 40 percent off of our list prices to wholesale clothing companies and decorators.
What does Unionwear need to give clients a quote on cut and sew?
For any kind of sewn headwear, its easiest to start with a similar product on our web site, www.unionwear.com at the Hats Made to Order tab. Send the link to our product page, or the item code, and a description of how you want to customize that product.
If this is a new product you have designed:
If this is a new product you have designed–We need dimensions, visuals, and quantity range estimates, and what design or functionality elements are critical, so we can make re-engineering recommendations to keep domestic sewing costs down (our specialty!).
Ideal: send us an actual sample of your or a similar product along with notes of how your product differs
Almost as good: a TECH PACK–drawings of all features, inside and out, with dimensions, along with your fabric and trim guidelines if we are sourcing for you, or descriptions of the materials you will be providing us. You can even send us links to photos you find online of other products so we can see how you want certain items finished.
Where do I send this stuff?
How long does it take for Unionwear to quote a custom job?
We can usually get you a quote on a modified Unionwear pattern in 24 hours. A totally custom quote will take 2-3 days from the time you get us everything we need to know. Any quotes requiring sourcing may take longer as we have less control over vendors quoting us.
What are Unionwear’s minimum runs?
To customize any style of headwear with stock patterns, materials and trims, 72 units (though 144 units gives you a big price break)
To create a new hat style expect to spend a minimum of $5000 on contract work on your product line over the course of a year, with a minimum of 300 units per style/colorway per order.
Will Unionwear source materials for clients?
Unionwear has thousands of materials in inventory to choose from and over one hundred fabric and trim vendors. If Unionwear stocks your material, there are no minimums.
If your materials request can be sourced from our existing vendors, such as a special color of a fabric, the minimum is 800 units. If we need to find materials from new vendors, the minimum is 3200 units. Custom dye lots are 10,000 units. You are welcome to source materials yourself and just use Unionwear for cut and sew.
What charges and collateral materials does Unionwear need to supply a sample or go right into production?
If this is a modification of a product already on unionwear.com, the sampling cost is $50, plus digitizing charges of a .dst file is not provided.
If this is a new product, send patterns along with a tech pack and seam allowances. If we are not using stock materials, you will need to provide us with all materials. If we are sourcing non stock materials for you, all costs associated with receiving sample materials will be quoted to you and they must be prepaid in addition to any pattern or sampling charges.
What is the lead time for sampling?
Sampling takes three to five business days from receipt of all collateral materials.
Are there any other set up charges before production?
Most new headwear patterns will require dies, which will be quoted when we see the patterns (minimum of $400). For smaller production runs, some patterns can be hand cut, for a surcharge.
What is the lead time for production?
Normal turn time is 3-4 weeks from receipt of all materials.