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Mitch Cahn, CEO of Unionwear, Talks About his Lean Journey

| Posted by unionwear

Mitch:  Hi, I am the Chief Executive of Unionwear.  We’re a small company, about 120 people, and I didn’t necessarily support the Lean program, I was the Lean program.  I lived and breathed the Lean program.  I was the point of contact for our consultant, and I still am.  I would say the number one thing that I do at our company is to enforce the principles of Lean and make sure that they work.

Gerry talked a little about unions. One connection between unions and Lean is that without Lean manufacturing, we would not be able to afford union labor.  Union labor is expensive, but it’s expensive because union people earn a living wage, and they have great benefits. They’re happy employees, and happy employees make productive employees. Productive and happy employees who want to do well for the company to follow the principles of Lean manufacturing.

I was introduced to your organization when I spoke here about five years ago at the request of Dave Hollinger from the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP).  We went through a Lean transformation between 2004 and 2006, and then we bought a bag factory, which was the complete opposite of Lean. It took Dave’s help and all of our experience, but at the end of that process, we took a factory that was in 60,000 square feet with about 80 workers, and we fit them into an 8,000 square foot space with 60 workers, and we doubled our production in our first year.

That’s the kind of experience that we had with Lean.  So, let me tell you a little about our company. We manufacture bags, such as backpacks, handbags, and tote bags, and we do a lot of military business. Homeland Security is one of our biggest clients. We manufacture ammunition pouches for the army and garment bags for the air force. We also have a very big hat business, and it’s the reason we’re called Unionwear—unions are a very big part of our clientele.  We are the only union shop in the country that produces baseball hats, and one of four that produces bags. Just imagine every Teamster who steps out of a truck wearing a Teamster logo hat—that’s us! That’s still a big part of our hat business.


We are ten miles from NYC in Newark. We have union labor, which means that for all of our product categories, we probably have the highest labor costs in the world. A lot of people ask me how we compete with China. We can’t compete with China on wages, so we compete by creating value. That’s our focus, and it’s one of the key aspects of Lean. A lot of people have misconceptions about creating value, and I just want to say a few things here to clear up some of those misconceptions.

Manufacturers can’t create value by building up work in process, because parts have no value until clients are going to pay for them. Manufacturers can’t create value by cutting labor costs. You can cut your unit cost on a product by using Lean tools, but unless you redeploy that labor into creating more value, you’re not creating value.  Manufacturers can’t create value by focusing on profits—using productivity as a tool to increase profits is just the other side of the labor cost equation, and a manufacturer in New Jersey cannot compete on labor.  As a manufacturer, you only create value when your finished product sells for more than it costs you. Otherwise, you’re not creating value; you’re just moving it around.

I say this because a lot of people think creating value is just making work, without necessarily making finished products, but you’re better off keeping people home.  Manufacturers can’t create value by getting workers to work faster, because if they’re working fast but not adding value to our product, they’re actually destroying value.

We’ve survived by developing a single-minded focus on creating value, and this Lean transformation that we went through, nine years ago now, was just the beginning. Staying Lean, however, is a constant, never-ending struggle against human nature that consultants like to call continuous improvement.  Continuous improvement means that our Lean team—the team of supervisors that reviews all of our Lean procedures—tries every day to create more value with the same people.  When we measure productivity, we measure only finished products, and after nine years of continuous improvement across the board, we have tripled our productivity.

At the same time, the cost of imported textile products has more than doubled, so our products went from being five and often ten times higher in price than imported products to being in the same ball-park. Our bags maybe 20-25% more expensive on average, which is in the range of a premium that people are willing to pay for Made in USA products. That’s part of the reason we’ve been able to grow from 40 employees in 2004 to about 130 right now.


I started Unionwear in ‘92 when I saw a niche that was not being served— sewing to markets that value the country of origin enough to pay a significant premium for those products with, for example, a “Made in USA” label.  There are a lot of markets, such as political campaigns, that will only buy products made in USA. I started the business in ’92. From ‘94 until about 2004, we were competitive with the rest of the country, and we were really just focusing on the Made in USA and Union-made markets. In 2004, New Jersey passed a law to raise its minimum wage, and then we were no longer ahead of the rest of the country.

We were not paying people minimum wage, but we weren’t paying people right off the street with no experience eight or nine dollars an hour, either, and that’s where we would have to be pretty quick, so we were looking for a way to stay competitive with places like Georgia. In 2004, we calculated that an entry-level worker in a non-union shop in Georgia could make about five dollars an hour, whereas an entry-level worker in the union shop in New Jersey was being paid about  $11 an hour with the benefits.  We were unable to compete nationally, and we were looking for a kind of a magic bullet to solve this problem. That’s when I stumbled upon one of NJMEP’s Lean 101 simulations.

The Lean 101 simulation is a simulated clock factory—an eight-hour program run by NJMEP. In the beginning, a lot of senior professionals who think they know everything, myself included, sit down, and work in teams.  Everyone’s very competitive, and they try to make the highest number of clocks in the way that they know.  Lean principles are introduced throughout the day. In the first hour, your team might make 15 clocks, but after a day of Lean training, you might make 300 per hour. It’s a really great program! I highly recommend it to anybody, and when I came back from that program, I looked around at my factory.  All of a sudden, I was angry. I couldn’t believe all this stuff that I hadn’t noticed for the past twelve years.  All I could see when I came back was non-value-added work. I saw people spending fifteen minutes looking for a pair of scissors, people waiting for their boss to get off the phone, people sitting there while their machine was down, people desperately looking for a thread, people building work-in-process inventory, people manually measuring every single garment to make sure they did the job right. They were working very hard, very diligently—but they weren’t adding value to the product.

Those are all things that I can’t put on a client’s invoice, so if I get rid of them, that’s bottom-line profit right there.  We figured out pretty quickly how to calculate where we stood—we just did time studies of how people would work at 100% efficiency and compared that to how much time they were actually working. We found that people were adding value to a product about 20 percent of the time, for about two of their working hours. During the other six hours, they were working just as hard, they just weren’t adding value.

Our floor supervisors had been focusing on problems like people talking, sneaking calls on their cell phones, or going to the bathroom. Those things added up to maybe ten minutes of unproductive time, and here we are—not adding value for six hours! The supervisors’ focus was completely off-base.  We’d brought in consultants and their focus was to measure our labor in minutes: a tennis shirt might take 23 minutes of labor to produce when we first add it, and by introducing all these attachments and methods, they could get that down to 20 minutes at best. That would be a home run for the consultants, but they weren’t even considering the other 40 minutes in each hour that people weren’t sewing at all.

So, we never really touched on a non-value-added work. We pretty quickly hired Dave Hollinger through NJMEP to come in. He had absolutely no garment industry experience; in our first meeting with him, I brought our plant manager, who’d been in the textile industry for about 40 years. When we sat together, and Dave said he had no garment industry experience, Mike, the plant manager, said “I don’t see how you can help us to sew faster.”

Dave replied, “I have no intention of helping you sew faster. My experience is eliminating all the work that you do when you are not sewing.  It’s always the same, whether you’re in food processing or you’re manufacturing auto parts.”  So we gave him a small job (to kind of prove himself ) before we invested a lot of money in it. We asked him to improve our setup time in embroidery.

Our embroidery manager estimated that we were spending about 20 minutes between orders, taking some threads out of the embroidery machine, and putting new threads in. As Dave sat there on the first day, he said, “No, it’s actually taking you more like three hours between orders—20 minutes was what it said on the spreadsheet when you bought the machine.”  So we took a look at why it was taking three hours, and the first problem was our embroidery manager from China. Her floor people were mostly from Ecuador, some of whom spoke English pretty well. She would take our orders and write on them gray, forest green, navy blue to indicate thread colors they were to use. She gave these papers to the workers, who would then walk out to the shelves, where they saw boxes that said cement and canary and pewter and lilac. They had no idea what was gray and what was green; they had to open every box, and then when they found a gray, it was never the right one, so they got into a habit of bringing back six grays at a time and asking the manager which one to use. She would look at the boxes and if they were lucky, she’d choose one of them. The workers then went back to the shelves. Each box held 12 spools, but the machines embroidered 20 spools at a time, so they’d have to find another box of the same color. They’d bring the two boxes to the machine and then move on to the next color.

There are usually three or four colors in a design, so three hours later, we are finally ready to start the embroidery. That was one example of non-value-added work, so the first thing we did was take all of our 1500 colors of embroidery thread out of the boxes. We got rid of the names and replaced them with color numbers. We put them in clear zip-lock bags, and then we just created color-coded bins, kind of like a rainbow. Now when the manager gives a worker an order, they walk over, pick out three colors in ten minutes, and put them right on the machine.

That was the first thing that we did; we hired Dave Hollinger and his Lean team right away. We actually got a grant from the Department of Labor to keep them on for about two years, and during that time we made about a hundred improvements in only the baseball hat factory and our embroidery department.  Of those hundred improvements, probably 95 of them are still there, and we’re committed to keeping them there for a while.

Baseball caps are very much cookie-cutter products. Every day we make 15 totally different hats, and they’re all custom, but they all have the same elements, and they all go through the same raveling process, so it’s very easy to put Lean principles in place there.  That same principle that we applied to the embroidery threads works as well for plastic wraps or fabric.  Some of the biggest gains cost us no money and were very easy to figure out and put in place.  For example, workers wasted most time just looking for things because the place was such a mess. We went through our 5 Sigma exercise, and we ended up getting rid of every table and every drawer in the factory. We put everything up on walls where it was all visible.

When we put things on walls, we did shadow boards, so if someone took a certain dye or a pair of scissors off the wall, there was a shadow exactly where it had been. They would know exactly where to put it back and didn’t put it in the wrong place. We then made a small investment in tools for every single worker and drilled holes in their sewing machine tables for things like scissors, tweezers, screwdrivers, and things that they previously spent a lot of time looking for.  On average, they spent 20 to 30 minutes a day looking for tools, and workers hoarded them because our supply manager charged them if they lost something. As a result of the hoarding (and people having to look for tools), we spent way more in labor than we would have lost in theft.

We got rid of all the marginal junk in the factory. At that time we had 45,000 square feet of space, and when I walked out on the factory floor, there were shelves everywhere. When we got rid of the shelves and clutter, I could see clear across the floor and could see products flow through the factory. That uncovered a lot of other production problems that we didn’t realize we had. It’s amazing how people become blind to things they see every day! I remember when we were doing the 5 Sigma exercise, one operator had a bulky lamp on her sewing table. I was sitting in front of her, watching. Her sewing built up in a pile on one side, and then she’d pick it up, move it around the lamp and drop it in a bin in front of her.  Every ten minutes, she had to stop what she was doing to perform this routine. I asked her, do you ever actually use that lamp?  And she looked at me and asked:  “what lamp?” True story.

We moved sewing machines closer together so the work wouldn’t have to be carried between the machines. Managers in garment industries have traditionally practiced batching—one worker fills a bin with work before pushing it on to the next operation.  Eliminating batching definitely gave us the biggest productivity gains. It’s a bit difficult to explain why, but single-unit processing will get you the most bang for the buck in the Lean transformation.

After we’d eliminated batching, we were able to get orders out in three days instead of three weeks, when the order was at the end of the production line.  If there was a problem with the order, we could see and correct it early in the process, before the rest of the order was completed. Getting rid of the batching, however, was not without its difficulties. We said, okay we’re getting rid of all the bins now, so instead of a big pile of work behind you, you are just going to get one piece from the person behind you. Isn’t that great? The workers weren’t too sure about that.

The first week without batching, production really slowed down, and it took us some time to realize why. Everyone was afraid we didn’t have any work because they were used to having a huge pile of work behind them. In their previous jobs, they knew that if the plant manager didn’t have enough work, you got laid off.  So we started with a written policy telling everyone that we will not lay anybody off due to lack of work, which addressed that concern. Then we started broadcasting our production schedule. We made a huge sign saying we have 32,000 hats in-process right now, and that got the point across. The workers were way more productive than they had been before.

The bigger obstacle was that our plant manager’s management style was based on batching. It’s easy to manage by batching: I give you a big box of something, you do this, and come and get me when you’re done, which could be a day and a half from now.  So he gave everybody a bin and sat in his office. He was busy— he was also doing the purchasing— and at any given time there were three people sitting in his office, waiting for him to get off the phone. (There would probably  have been more, but he had only three chairs.)  He hated the fact that we got rid of batching because then he had to do the planning and had to move around. He gave me an ultimatum: either Lean went, or he would. We decided to stay with Lean, and he made good on his threat and left. He just didn’t want to do this job—he wanted to batch somewhere else, which is what he ended up doing, but as soon as he left, it was like we gained four free full-time employees. The people who had been sitting in his office were suddenly working, and productivity jumped up just from that.

We’re continuing to improve all of our processes. You have to because when you improve one process, something else becomes the bottleneck. Once you improve your productivity, then all of a sudden you’re not sewing fast enough, and then when you start sewing faster, your office and administration become a bottleneck. When you get all that figured out, you can’t make the stuff fast enough again, so we’re just constantly going through and improving productivity in every department.

We learned a lot of lessons that made the transformation easier. One is that the top management has to be involved—maybe not to the extent that I have been, but if top management is not involved, people are afraid to make decisions.  For example, I can say it’s okay to throw machinery away, but no one is ever going to throw away a machine unless I’m sitting there. No one is going to restructure a department, and no one is going to change the floor layout. There are obsolete parts that people are afraid to let go of; they just put them in a box somewhere, and it goes under a table. It needs to be thrown out.

Management has to be involved to make sure that that stuff happens in real-time. You also have to share the productivity gains, in order for people to really buy into it—we had bonuses, those bonuses became raises, and the raises became performance incentives, but we’ve always been keen on sharing those productivity gains. That’s how you get your best ideas from other people on the factory floor.  Once a critical mass of workers really buys into Lean, it really takes off. The workers inevitably love it—it’s a cleaner work environment, and they’re less fatigued. After about four years, we did Lean training in very small groups. We weren’t sure how much the factory workers would understand it. We found a training video from a consultant up in Massachusetts; it was in Spanish (most of our workers speak Spanish). It showed our employees how most people naturally use the principles of Lean manufacturing in their kitchens, but when they go to work, they throw it all out the window. It’s called Leaning Toast, and I highly recommend it.

So in 2008, we bought this bag factory. It had gone out of business; it was in foreclosure. We basically bought the assets and took most of the employees from East Newark over to Newark. Then we had the challenge of figuring out how to apply Lean in a custom product situation. It was very easy with hats because it’s the same line, but one day we are making backpacks, and the next day we are making safety vests, and there are days when we’re making backpacks, safety vests, tote bags and yarmulkes, and all these different things. We had to figure out how to make that work, so we have a Lean production team that meets twice a week and discusses production planning and production problems. We ended up hiring an engineer from the New Jersey Institute of Technology who does our value stream maps for every single product, and then we determine whether we can fit it into a basic team of sewing machines, or whether we should restructure them into a production line. We almost always determine that it’s faster to just move the machines around. It might take 90 minutes to move the machines, but an order that would have taken five days now takes three and a half.  We’ve also found that it’s worthwhile to have dedicated production lines for products that we make only intermittently. When we make safety vests, we get a pretty big order, but then we won’t make them again for six months, and there was always a very long learning curve when we set these production lines up again. We finally said, you know what? Let’s just leave a line in place—the rent is going to be cheaper than paying for that learning curve and spending that non-value added time for every new safety vest order. We’ve done that with a bunch of different products.

Since then we’ve figured out that the better and less expensive way is to map every production line that we set up. Because we didn’t want to keep taking more space, we now keep track of the production line at the end of the order—we take snapshots of everything, make a grid on it, and then when we get that order again, we put it all back into place.

Now that we have a companywide policy of adding value, we aim for five hours a day of adding value. That’s our minimum; we’re usually getting about six hours a day of adding value, and we use the term hours per day because that’s something that our workers all understand. They didn’t necessarily understand percentages. We got a math trainer from MEP to come in, and we found that most of our workers were at a second-grade math level, and they spoke very little English, but they understood the hours per day, and they also understood that adding value for five or six hours per day and getting paid for eight was a great deal.

We’re a small business, and we’ve had an engineer working with us until last year. We found that by focusing on the value stream maps, we were then able to reengineer products that we didn’t think that we could do before. We would make a messenger bag, and that’s the way that messenger bag was made. In an ironic twist, customers were taking their overseas products and sending them to us, asking us to knock them off, because they wanted the products made in America. In many cases, it’s actually less expensive to make the products domestically. One example is a product that requires very expensive fabric, like a leather handbag. A lot of those are made in the USA or in places that have even more expensive labor, like Italy. The leather is going to cost the same or a little more here than in China—it might be $40 in leather here and $6 in labor versus $40 in leather in China and $2 dollars in labor, but at the end of the day, its $46 versus $42, and you end up paying more in shipping and duties for the Chinese product. We’re seeing a lot of big bulky products coming back, like laptop bags with a lot of foam in them, and when we get these products, we’re noticing much unnecessary labor in the products that are made overseas. A lot of it is a vestige from six or eight years ago when labor in China was basically free. It’s not like there was unemployment insurance there—they had to make work for all the factory workers, and so they would have people trimming between the lining and the outside of a bag, something that no one would ever see, or just doing a lot of unnecessary stitching. A lot of bags had seams at the bottom, where makes it absolutely no sense. Why would you put a seam at the bottom of a bag? It’s only going to rip. It would only make sense if you want to throw some extra labor on there.

The first thing that we do when we get one of these restoring jobs is to take the product and re-engineer it so that it will be a better product and look exactly the same. The difference is, if we make it the way that you want us to make it, it’s going to be $85. If we make it the way that we want to make it, it will be $15. It’s really that much of a difference.  Then we’re able to be a lot more competitive without having to exploit workers, without trying to compete on labor costs. We’re basically competing on engineering.

Interviewer 1:  Since the Lean transformation, how’s your turnover been?

Mitch:  Our turnover is virtually nil. One of the advantages of being a union shop is that health insurance is very inexpensive for union shops. It’s something that we offer all of our workers.  Few of the other sewing factories— actually none of them in our area—offer health insurance, so workers will come to work for us because they know we offer it, and once they get it, they don’t want to leave. In fact, during that whole Lean time, the only turnover we had was the plant manager. You would think that implementing Lean would result in fewer workers, but in reality, it lowered our costs and made us more competitive. It enabled us to ship products faster, and as a result, we ended up with more business. With more business, we had more scale, which enabled us to lower our costs even more. Lean really drove the growth of the business and the growth in the number of employees, so turnover has not been an issue.

Interviewer 2:  Can you give me an idea of what the competitive landscape is like?  For making hats or something like that, who are your competitors?

Mitch:  Well, with hats, we don’t compete so much with overseas. A baseball cap has a ton of labor in it and very low material costs. Because it’s almost all labor, we’re still probably twice as much as an overseas hat—we used to be about ten times as much—but still, there are very few clients who will spend that for a product because it’s made in the United States.  We’re able to be competitive with bags. There are four other union shops out there, and so we compete with them for union work. We just did an order of 6,000 backpacks for the Federal Government Employees Union and 4,000 backpacks for the Firefighters Union Convention. There’s a larger number of domestic, military, and homeland security and government contractors that we bid against and really, there’s enough business to go around.

Now, however, the garment industry is really starting to come back, for bags in particular, and because of our location close to Newark, we’re seeing a big increase in business. We met with The Limited who came out and did a factory tour yesterday. We actually did work for Victoria’s Secret two years ago, and it was a very interesting experience. They decided then that they wanted to make five to ten percent of their products in the United States. We were doing their pink tote bags, and they did not have a plan to deal with a domestic factory. We took the order—we were really excited about the business—and we had to ship everything to Hong Kong first because that’s where all their testing facilities were.  They did not have any facilities domestically that could test for the kinds of toxins that were coming out of China. We couldn’t prove that this stuff didn’t have of these toxins in it, so we just sent everything to Hong Kong. Now they’ve gotten their infrastructure in place and they’re going to start sourcing some things domestically.

There are also a lot of organizations that really focus on labor content. An example is the college bookstore market. The Federal Labor Association began as a monitoring agency for bookstores to make sure that colleges weren’t licensing their logos to companies that produced goods in sweatshops. That fair labor organization is the same one that Apple hired to monitor the iPhone factories, and now Nike has hired it to monitor their factories overseas, but the college market has a very strong commitment to labor content. When you go to a college bookstore, you will see a lot of products that are made domestically, but they don’t advertise it anywhere. You don’t see a lot of college students rushing out to buy something because it’s union-made, but in reality, a lot of the products in the bookstores are actually union-made in the United States, because the bookstores’ standards for labor are so strict.

Because of the premium for domestic products is shrinking, different types of organizations buy domestically now because it’s not as expensive for them to be consistent. Manufacturers would be the first one—GM and Ford, food processing companies like Budweiser—because they’re using Made in the USA in their advertising, they don’t want stuff out in the marketplace that has Made in China labels, but then you also have organizations like NPR and Greenpeace that are buying products Made in USA to avoid any potential conflict concerning sweatshops, pollution and huge carbon footprint associated with shipping. It’s becoming a lot easier for us to compete, because there are a lot more clients who are willing to pay our price, and I feel that trend is only going in one direction.

Interviewer 3:  What percentage of your goods is for resale, and what percentage is just for organizations just to distribute as gifts, bonuses, etc.?

Mitch:  Right now, it’s probably about 40% of government work, mostly uniforms, and bags. We do a lot of hats for Homeland Security, coast guard, FEMA organizations, etc., and then, of the balance, it’s probably about 20%  garment industry, which is for resale. That’s really the only resale stuff that we do. As for licensed goods, even a company like Harley Davidson, which has a strong commitment to domestic manufacturing, made licensing deals several years ago, and they have lost control over the sourcing content of those things, so if you buy a Harley hat, it will still say Made in China. GM is not really licensing their logo except through NASCAR, and that stuff is made in China, so we’re not doing a lot of licensing business. It’s mostly the garment industry, and the balance is mostly promotional work for those kinds of companies and unions.

Interviewer 4:  Where are you located?

Mitch:  We’re in Newark, we’re right off of Greenfield Avenue in North Newark.

Interviewer 5:  You mentioned that now you’re at about six hours of value-added work a day, and originally you had a little about two hours of value-added work a day. What was the reaction of both the union employees and the union as a whole when you started turning up the level a little bit?

Mitch:  They wanted to make sure they were included in the gains, but in the backdrop of all this, there used to be maybe two dozen union shops in the area. Now we’re the only hat factory left out of four, and during that time our union was going through a lot of changes.  They finally told us to do whatever we needed to do to stay in business; they saw that the workers were really happy that we were increasing and not decreasing employment. It was a non-issue with the union.  In fact, I was even surprised to find out that unions, in general, had problems with Lean manufacturing. I found that out after attending a labor conference—apparently, it’s a big issue in China, where labor activists were fighting against Lean manufacturing. I learned, though, that’s because they weren’t sharing the gains with the workers; they were just trying to come up with ways to get more product out of the same number of people. Lean does not work in a top-down environment. It only works when people cooperate—you can’t force somebody to work smart, you can only force somebody to work harder.

Interviewer 6:  You said you had achieved gains when you got rid of the batching and moved to a continuous flow environment. I’m kind of curious, did you run into problems where some people on the line worked faster than others, and if so, how did you deal with it?

Mitch:  All the time! We balance our teams by doing a value stream map, and we determine that maybe this is a 30-second job, this is a 60-second job and this is a 90-second job. We look forward, and the job that takes the longest is the limiting factor.  With a baseball hat, it takes about a minute and a half to sew the visor on perfectly straight; that’s the limiting factor in baseball hats. It takes a minute and a half, so then we say okay, we want to give everybody else here a minute and a half worth of work, which might mean combining smaller jobs. With experience, you figure out what kind of buffer can go between jobs.  Maybe you put it in another machine. You’ve got to have people cross-trained to move to that second machine when there’s a problem, but we tend to put the slowest and most unpredictable people at the beginning and the end of the line because that’s how you can make up for your biggest mistakes.  If someone is slow or new, you can put an extra person at the beginning of the line a lot more easily than you can put him in the middle. You can always take people from the beginning of the production line and move them to the end if you see things are backing up there.

Here’s what you don’t want to happen, and it’s part of human nature:  When there is a backup in production, you notice that everybody behind that person starts to slow down. When I want to determine what is imbalanced in a factory, I walk around. If I see two people standing up and moving around, I know there’s a problem. I’m not paying people to walk around. We took the time to put these machines in the right place, so we did something wrong—the workers didn’t do anything wrong.  If I see a big pile of work in process, a machine is down, somebody didn’t show up for work, or we planned or estimated this wrong. People got used to be looking for piles, so they learned how to stay out of trouble by slowing down, not creating the piles.  That’s why I say that continuous improvement is just a constant struggle against human nature.

NJBIZ: Manufacturers grateful for federal help, worried about the future

| Posted by unionwear

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.

Source:  NJBIZ.com

Unionwear is the merchandise provider of choice for Trump, Biden and others

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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.”

Business Insider: Presidential candidates buy hats from Unionwear for three primary reasons

| Posted by unionwear

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 [2020] 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

| Posted by unionwear

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

ACG Global: Mitch Cahn discusses winning ACG New Jersey’s Corporate Growth Award

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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.

Business Insider: The Same Factory Makes Hats for Trump, Biden, and Bernie

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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: Merch Madness-Trump and Dems Use Same NJ Hat Factory

| Posted by unionwear

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.

ABC: What do Trump, Bernie, Biden Share?

| Posted by unionwear

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.

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Righteous Capitalists Podcast Features Unionwear

| Posted by unionwear

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.

Listen here:


Candidates who want Made in USA call Unionwear

| Posted by unionwear

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/

ABC News Tours Hillary, Bernie Campaigns’ Unionwear Shop

| Posted by unionwear

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

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.

Mitch: Thanks.

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.

Guess Whose Caps Are Outselling Donald Trump

| Posted by unionwear

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 kobrien@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBrienLedger. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

NJ News12 Explains Why Most Campaign Hats Are Made in NJ

| Posted by unionwear


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.

Presidential Elections Heat Up USA Made Gear Manufacturers

| Posted by unionwear

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/

Slate: What Do Bush and Clinton Have in Common? Unionwear

| Posted by unionwear

TRANSCRIPT: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Jeb Bush all have something in common: the White House, yes, but also, this baseball cap factory in Newark, NJ, and more specifically, this guy:

“What they do is incredibly dexterous, I can’t do once what they do all day, which is take that thread and just throw it through a little hole.”

In 1992 at the age of 25 Mitch Cahn quit his job on Wall Street and bought a bankrupt hat factory in Jersey City at an auction sale. The idea was to make baseball hats for the fashion market including brands like the Gap. It was a trend at the time, but there was a hiccup. By 1994, American manufacturing was fleeing to cheaper manufacturing overseas and undercutting Mitch’s prices.

Mitch needed a new plan, so he turned to groups with vested interests in manufacturing goods in the US, and at the top of that list was political campaigns which is where this story gets interesting.

Cue James Carville: “Bush is buying up to $10 million in printing in Brazil. The president don’t buy American for his campaign.”

Making campaign gear offshore created the potential for a political scandal.

Cahn: “We are making hats for almost all the candidates, we are doing work for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, If someone is having a hat made here, then they are making a decision to use American Labor.”

Campaigns aren’t the only clients who rely on Mitch’s US based factory.

There are socially complaint companies and non-profits who want to avoid any possible connotation that their products could be made in a sweat shop. The US Military. Promotional gear for labor unions and other companies looking to cobrand with the USA Made label. And the fashion industry.

But political campaigns are where Mitch has really dominated the market. Now located in Newark, his factory has been pumping out millions of hats from behind these doors, manufacturing for every Democratic primary candidate since 2000, as well as John McCain, George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush.

The bad optics of a made in China label aren’t the only thing driving political business to Mitch.

“The market is moving to small batch customization”, said Cahn. “Consumers are expecting to get products that they order in 2 or 3 weeks and you can’t wait 60 or 90 days for goods to come in on a ship. Your generally have to order a much larger quantity of goods when you bring things in from China, than you can domestically, and there is no way you can get things turned around a week or two.”

Which is key in the ever changing landscape of politics. Campaigns rarely have the luxury of folks ordering a set amount of products months in advance. They rely on quick turnarounds and flexible order sizes while replenishing their online stores. A bonus for the campaigns, especially those seeking much needed endorsement from a big union: Mitch also uses organized labor.

Once mostly the norm amongst textile manufacturers, Mitch’s pro union stance is a rarity these days, which is something he is proud of.

“Any difference in wages is made up of any increased productivity by our workers who are generally more content in their job. This was a union shop since the day we opened.
I believe over half of our people have been here for at least over 15 years.”

As manufacturing costs remain relatively flat in the US while rising dramatically in places like China, Mitch’s pro labor stance could become more prevalent. It is possible other manufacturers will follow Mitch’s lead and we’ll see more textile work come back to the USA. For now Mitch’s made in Newark factory is still producing the vast majority of the hats you see in the presidential campaign trail. But the most popular hat he has ever produced, you might have a guess if you have been tuned into the 2016 campaign season.

“Probably the hat we make the most here is the hat that says Make American Great Again which was made popular by Donald Trump and we are making that for the company selling the Made in USA version of that hat.”

Trump unsurprisingly uses a non union factory in California to produce the authentic version, but with all the polarization these days. It’s nice to know so many other politicians on both sides of the aisle can agree on thing. Newark is a great place to make hats.

Make America Great Again Hat Brought To You By Lean Manufacturing

| Posted by unionwear

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 leanpodcast@gmail.com.

USA Made Promotional Products: 3 Cheers for the Red, White and Blue

| Posted by unionwear

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.


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.”


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.


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.”

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue

HillaryClinton.com Opens Union Made Merch Shop

| Posted by unionwear

Hillary Clinton became the first political candidate to open a web store selling union made in USA campaign merchandise, including Unionwear branded hats and bags. Visit the shop at https://shop.hillaryclinton.com/collections/accessories.

Unionwear Spoofed on Daily Show with Jon Stewart

| Posted by unionwear

After seeing Unionwear’s success making Made in USA merchandise for political campaigns, The Daily Show’s John Oliver proposes an “Election Stimulus” — a presidential election every twelve months–as a way to invigorate domestic manufacturing and other sectors of the economy who benefit from campaign spending.

Here is the unabridged transcript of the Unionwear interview:

BarackObama.com Now Offering Six Unionwear Hats

| Posted by unionwear

BarackObama.com Now Offering Six styles of Unionwear Hats: Show your support for President Obama at the ballpark and everywhere else with our 2012 hat. Made in the USA.