While much has been made recently over the lack of American manufacturing, one local retail business is finding success selling goods entirely made in the United States. Elma’s Made in America Store is responding to demand by moving to a store that is three times larger than its original location.
The original Made in America Store in July, 2011. Its new location is only 600 yards away.
Credit Daniel Robison
The new store with 18,000 square feet in space is located just 600 yards away from the original location on Maple Street in Elma. Tour buses from as far as Wisconsin are scheduled to arrive for this Saturday’s grand opening.
Founder and CEO Mark Andol credits the community and his staff for the success. People are literally “buying in” to his store’s mission of helping out American business.
He calls it “the spider web effect” that helps out small “mom and pop” ventures around the United States.
“There’s probably 10 to 20 smaller companies associated with each product we sell. And we say consumers create jobs with every purchase. Vote with your dollars, so that’s what’s beautiful with our store,” Andol said.
The store features hundreds of products, though Andol points out the dearth of available electronics. It’s a statement about the state of American manufacturing. Andol also bemoans the “skills-trades loss” in the regional economy.
“I can’t find a welder for my General Welding and Fabricating (company) to save my life,” Andol said.
“We are not training and producing them so we have to have a culture change.
The following article is through Field Magazine. The article was written by Graham Heimstra about Topo Designs, a company in Colorado. Topo Designs started just making backpacks but has branched out making apparel for men and women – mostly outdoor wear, and other accessories, all made in the USA.
What do you do when you’re a bag fanatic and lifelong outdoorsman, but all your favorite gear looks great but is too old to work well, and the well-working gear is too technical to take anywhere other than the trail? Well, if you’re Mark Hansen and Jedd Rose the answer is start your own company. And they did. And Topo Designs is it. Over the past handful of years the independent operation has grown from a modest collection of versatile backpacks to an increasingly wide range of bags, packs and now—much to our own excitement—apparel for both men and women. And it’s all made right here in the good old US of A.
We’ve long been a fan of the brand, drawn in by the vintage-inspired aesthetic and kept by the rugged quality and highly-considered functionality. At the core of the company, Topo exists to serve outdoor enthusiasts looking for gear and apparel that fits in with their daily lives, capable of making the transition from a hike in the morning to the office in the afternoon and a bike ride home at night.
We recently caught up with co-founder Jedd Rose to talk more about the Colorado-based brand’s ethos, where he sees the outdoor industry headed, and how their many well-received collaborations came to be. Keep reading to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
We’re firm believers that you don’t need to venture to some far flung, extreme destination to experience the outdoors. And correct us if we’re wrong, but we feel Topo is right there with us.
Yeah, absolutely, I agree 100%. I think that translates to how we build our stuff, too. I think very often people feel like their gear has to be at that level too. But all the super technical things that I own end up sitting in my closet and I end up using the fairly basic, utilitarian things the vast majority of the time. There’s definitely a place for all those technical pieces, but we decided to build our stuff so you can run over to the park, or run over to the trail just out in the foothills of town and do a hike. And then you can walk back down, jump in your car or jump on your bike, and go out and have a beer after.
With Topo [we make products] that are well-made and are very multipurpose and utilitarian, and can work in 90% of the environments that you’re in—products that are gonna be able to translate to wherever you are.
What about the “all or nothing” mentality that seems so prevalent in the more hardcore outdoor community?
We definitely are a huge proponent of the idea that not everything needs to be this extreme thing in order to do it. My family is from the Midwest and what I always enjoyed about going to Michigan to hang out is that the outdoors feels really integrated into a lot of people’s lives in a very unassuming way. They can just jump in their car—not a four-wheel drive, giant jacked up Jeep or anything, but just like a Buick—and drive out on a dirt road, and hop out and go fishing, or deer hunting or whatever. Then get back in the car, drive home and go to work after that. And it’s not this huge process.
Definitely in the Rockies it’s more often this massive ordeal where you have to have the most cutting-edge equipment to even open your door and step outside.[In the Midwest] the doing part is really the biggest side of it.
You know, one of my favorite things has been to take my 6-year-old son out and go fishing in some of the ponds that are right here in town, when we have an hour on the weekend. We can jump on our bikes, ride over to the pond, fish for 45 minutes and then ride home. And we got out and did something that day. If we had to go up to the mountains or we had to go to some remote destination, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it that day because we just don’t have enough time to do that.
It’s just so much better to do something than not do anything at all.
We do that too, but a lot more often we’ll do things in town because we can get out and do it easily. And that’s so much better than not doing it because it’s not this quintessential, ultimate extreme activity. It’s just so much better to do something than not do anything at all.
I think what’s also really important to realize is that you can also be, you know, as “extreme” about those little things as you want to be. You can do them very well to have a great experience. If I’m catching very small fish in a pond, I can do that very well and it can be very challenging and very fulfilling.
Do you feel the current generation views the outdoors differently than say, previous generations?
I think so, and I think it’s actually probably more similar to my parents’ generation than necessarily like someone like me, who’s you know, late 30s, and has been in the gear world forever—very often people my age don’t see outside of that and for them it’s all about the newest stuff.
The newer generation of kids, they’re definitely way more interested in the outdoors than a lot of generations before, which I think is great. But it’s a way more integrated, kind of a “trail and town” mentality where there’s a lot of bike riding and a lot of things around town, as well as traveling and camping and getting outdoors. It’s definitely more of an equal opportunity outdoor experience crowd, which is nice to see.
How do you approach designing products that will fit both in the city and in the outdoors?
Whether you’re in town or out of town, you kind of have the same needs in both environments. If you’re going to work, you need to take your laptop with you. If you’re going out hiking, you need to take some food, and water and basic stuff to be outdoors with. In both scenarios you’re very often carrying about the same amount of stuff, regardless of where you are.
Well, obviously, if you’re gonna be backpacking for multiple days, then you’ll need a definite set of gear. But for day trips and car camping, and doing things where you have a home base all the time, a little bit bigger bag or a little bit smaller bag should work in a lot of environments.
Has branching into apparel offered a way to break the mold of being known primarily as the guys who make colorful backpacks?
Yeah, absolutely, I mean it’s definitely a big new learning process for us, and it’s been really exciting. But it’s totally a real trick making it here in the US. We’ll go and talk to a bigger company about maybe using some fabrics and they’ll just kind of turn their head sideways like, “yeah, well, good luck with that.”
We definitely have a bunch of restrictions on the clothing side, but that actually helps mold the products, I think, in a cool way. I’d say the vast majority of fabrics are not even shipped to the US from overseas. So we end up using fabrics that are fairly basic—like really simple nylons that have been around a long time—which is great for us. They fit our aesthetic. So it actually turns out we actually don’t have the opportunity to get sucked into what everybody else is doing because we very often just can’t do it.
Do you guys plan on going into women’s apparel?
Yeah, we’re working on a women’s line right now that we’ll have out this spring. We have a ton of requests from women that they just want what we do, but in a women’s fit. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
I think very often women—at least the women that are interested in Topo—are a little bit frustrated by [women’s gear] always being a silly version of men’s. They want things that are really classic and cool and outdoorsy looking, but don’t have that kind of women’s frill that I think has left a bad taste in the mouth of many.
You’ve done some great collaborations in the past with Woolrich, Stüssy General Living, Giro, etc. How do these collaborations usually come about?
Most likely it starts when we are personally interested in a company because we really like that company and the product, and the possibility of adding our little flavor to somebody else’s thing that they crafted is exciting. So I think that’s number one for us.
Number two is that you know, for whatever reason, they’re just received so well for us and for all the brands we work with. So it’s a really fun thing to do because people are so excited when they come out. People tend to love it when two complementary brands come together. There’s just some sort of cool product magic that happens in the middle that I definitely can’t put my finger on, but it’s really fun.
You know, it’s really exciting for us to be able to make a fly rod that I really like or to make a bag with some amazing wool that has been around for generations. It’s just kind of a nice way to breathe life into our products, and their products, and talk about them in a different way.
And working with a really big company like Woolrich is a really stellar learning experience for us too—learning how they do things and how their sales work, how their production works, and kind of their global reach on things. And very often the larger companies that we work with too are looking to us to see how we do things, like in the new school marketing world of using Instagram and working with ambassadors to help spread the word. And how we do what we do on a limited budget. So it’s great to learn from a business side too.
Do you have any more collaborations in the works that you can share with us?
We’re probably going to be doing more with British streetwear brand TSPTR. They have the Snoopy license, so we’ll be doing some more Snoopy stuff, which I am pretty excited about. I love the aesthetic of that.
And then probably do some more things with our kind of general partners again, like Woolrich and Howler Brothers. And then we’re talking to a bunch of other people, so not sure which of those are going to go through, but there’ll be some.
So the answer could go on forever.
Yeah, exactly. But I love those projects, they’re really fun. Production may say otherwise, but I think they’re really cool.
This is a Labor Day story about how the improbable can become the possible. The old Hugo Boss plant now has new life as Keystone Tailored Manufacturing, which is part of W Diamond. The union there was open to trying something unconventional. The goal was to save jobs and keep the plant open, but they also saw the fight as something greater.
BROOKLYN, Ohio – It was a long-shot proposition, but the Workers United union members were willing to offer it. They were desperate to save jobs.
After all, what did they have to lose? Last December, the corporation owning the former Hugo Boss men’s suit plant on Tiedeman Road planned to shutter the facility, which meant about 160 Workers United members were out of a job.
Hugo Boss Plant becomes Keystone Tailored Manufacturing
At the same time, this union also represented workers at a Hart Schaffner Marx men’s suit factory in Chicago, which was desperately looking to fill 100 slots. Workers who sew were very hard to find, since so much of the domestic apparel manufacturing industry had been off-shored for decades.
The union members reasoned that if W Diamond Group Corp., which owns the Chicago facility, would acquire the local Hugo Boss operation it would be a win-win. Hugo Boss workers would keep their jobs. W Diamond would solve its worker shortage.
A logical solution, but just how probable was it that all the moving parts would fall into place?
Even if W Diamond wanted to acquire the plant and operations, the company would need some public subsidy. Hugo Boss had to agree to sell. And perhaps even more so, would the union be successful at saving the plant from closing — again? Five years ago, when Hugo Boss sought to close the plant, the workers fought back with a multi-faceted public campaign. That time, they won, and the plant remained open.
This is a Labor Day story about how the improbable can become the possible. The old Hugo Boss plant now has new life as Keystone Tailored Manufacturing. It is a separately owned company for which W Diamond is its key customer.
Richard Monje, the union’s international vice president, said Workers United was open to trying something unconventional. The goal was to save jobs, but they saw the fight as something greater.
“There is something about our working-class communities today in that they have come resigned to what they think is their fate, rather than the belief that they can shape their fate,” he said. “Shape their destiny. Stand up and fight. Make the laws and create the alliances.”
The long-shot that turned into a sure thing began with Noel Beasley, the union’s international president, raising the idea of buying the Brooklyn-based plant with W Diamond’s CEO Doug Williams.
“Is there something we can do together?” he recalled Beasley asking him. “Noel knew the challenge we were having getting sewers,” he said. “In the end, he is my partner. Part of his role is to get the labor that we need to continue to be successful.”
Made in the U.S.A
The union raised the idea with Keystone of acquiring the Hugo Boss operations because Workers United had a good working relationship with Williams. They especially liked that he had a Made in the U.S.A. philosophy. Hugo Boss had opted to shut down the Brooklyn operation in favor of sending work overseas.
The union also liked his philosophy about profits.
“Some people say, ‘If I can’t make $100 doing that then I am not going to do it,'” Williams said. “We look at it and say, ‘If I could make a dollar, it is better than not making anything'”
Williams said he could abide by this principle because he and his wife Karen, who own the company, don’t have to answer to shareholders.
Williams grew up on a 1,000-acre farm in South Dakota.
“In the summertime it is 100 degrees and you’re out on a tractor,” he said. “In the wintertime, it is 30 below zero, and you are taking care of cattle.”
He wasn’t a farm boy at heart. As a teenager, Williams got a job selling men’s suits at a clothing store owned by his father’s friend. It suited him well. That early experience would eventually lead to a career in the apparel industry.
“I love the apparel business,” Williams said. “For whatever reason, it is something that I really, really enjoy.”
Williams would eventually work for Ralph Lauren for 17 years, where he would rise to become group president, running all the wholesale businesses in the U.S., the global manufacturing and all licensing. After leaving the company, he became an investor in Filson, which manufacturers hunting and fishing apparel in Seattle, and served as interim CEO before selling his interest.
Williams got a job offer from HMX Group, whose parent company was based in India, which owned Hart Schaffner Marx and some other companies manufacturing clothing in the U.S. and Canada.
“I was asked to come onboard and do the turnaround,” he said. “I asked them point-blank, ‘What are your goals? If your goals are to dismantle this company, and ship the jobs offshore, I have no interest in doing it’
“The CEO said to me, ‘That is not our goal,” he said.
But the workers didn’t believe it. Williams remembers his first visit to the Hart Schaffner Marx factory in 2009.
“There were 600 people in the cafeteria, and I step up in front, with my navy pinstripe suit on,” he said. “I felt like Gordon Gekko because everybody looked at me like that,” he said of the “greed is good” character in the “Wall Street” film.
“The expectation of the people was that I was there to dismantle the company,” Williams said. “I had to explain to them that that was not what I was there to do. I told them we were going to create a more efficient company. We were going to clean up the balance sheet. We were going to pay down the debt.”
At the Coppley brand clothing factory in Ontario, Canada, a worker asked him this: “Are we going to be here next year?”
“I saw the skepticism in their faces,” he said of the workers. “I said, ‘Does anybody have a Sharpie pen?’ They scrambled around and got a Sharpie. I said, ‘I am going to sign my name on the floor right here. I want you to sign your name right next to mine.
“‘I promise you that next year, we are going be standing here next to these signatures on the floor,'” Williams said. “After I left, they had gotten some clear shellac (and painted over the signatures) to make sure that the names would not be gone next year when I came back.”
He made good on his promise. A year later, workers there had gone from working three to four days a week.
But Williams was finding it increasingly difficult to keep such promises because he said HMX Group leadership did not have a commitment to turning the factories around. When HMX went bankrupt in 2012, Hart Schaffner Marx was one of its companies W Diamond ended up buying.
Now under his company’s ownership, Williams could get the turnaround of the Chicago company back on track. The factory had gone from having only enough work for four days to employees doing an hour of overtime five days a week and working a half-day on Saturday. Business had grown by 50 percent since W Diamond took over.
He said two factors contributed to the healthy growth. Both retailers and customers have responded “very positively” to the way the redesigned garments fit.
“The second was our largest competitor being purchased by Men’s Wearhouse and exiting the wholesale market,” Williams wrote in an email.
But staffing shortages stood to potentially unravel this success. He said in order to fill 100 slots the company was prepared to train 300 job seekers at a cost of $1.5 million.
“They might not even complete the training or they didn’t have the dexterity to make our garments,” Williams said. “We were getting maybe three applicants per week.”
Caught off Guard
At the same time W Diamond was having little success finding skilled sewers in Chicago, something else was about to happen to garment workers here.
In early December, Mark Milko, area director of Workers United, believed he had been invited to meet Hugo Boss’ new head of U.S. operations. Instead, Milko said a company “big wig” greeted him with, “You knew this was coming.”
“I’m thinking, ‘what was coming?'” Milko said. “They said, ‘We’re going to close.'”
They made the statement so matter-of-factly, he said. Then company officials rattled off what they intended to offer workers in severance pay and other items related to a layoff.
“I’m not talking about anything,” Milko remembers telling them. “The meeting’s over!”
He said he headed straight to the factory to tell Wanda Navarro, president of Local 168c at the plant. In 2010, she and co-worker Sheila McVay became the public face of the union’s campaign to keep the plant open.
Last time it was also in December that Hugo Boss said it would shutter the plant. Their reasons echoed those from five years earlier.
The company said, “inefficiencies and other challenges posed by the plant’s geographic location” made the Cleveland area a bad place to do business. Again, union members said that was just code for the company wanting to send jobs to Turkey or other places abroad where it had operations.
Five years earlier, the union fought back with a multi-faceted public campaign, which included actor Danny Glover leading a boycott of Hugo Boss clothing on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, as well as local demonstrations by workers. Also, the union found out that some public pension funds had invested in the private equity firm that then owned Hugo Boss. Some of those fund officials were willing to speak up for the employees.
All the actions the union took held to this central theme: Why was Hugo Boss seeking to rob its working-class employees of the American Dream at the same time it was also seeking to grow its share of the American clothing market?
Navarro was shocked when Milko told her the company wanted to close the factory again. Again, she said she was ready to fight back.
A short time later, an entourage of Hugo Boss officials, including those from the company’s human resources division, filed into the plant. Some were carrying boxes filled with official-looking documents.
“Oh no, they have people here to translate,” Navarro thought to herself.
People from more than 20 nationalities work at the plant, including immigrants from Bosnia, Cambodia, Romania and Vietnam. The last time she saw so many company officials at the factory, they were trying to shut the place down.
Even though she and Milko knew of the company’s intentions, they were expecting perhaps an announcement about closing — not a demand for employees to immediately sign papers regarding severance and other terms relating to being laid off.
“We told (the employees) not to sign or they would be giving away all their rights,” Milko said.
Only one person signed.
Hugo Boss officials must have known the announcement wouldn’t to go over well. Milko said they brought off-duty police officers with them. And they were right. Many workers were furious.
“I said, ‘Relax. Relax,'” Milko said to the employees broiling with anger. “The fight is just starting.”
They were ready to fight, but not with their fists.
When Milko reached Monje, the union’s international vice president, by phone he was outraged at Hugo Boss for wanting to close the plant.
“Everything they said they needed to have, because that was what they had in Turkey, we gave them,” Monje said. That included a maximum three weeks vacation – instead of four – and tying salary increases to performance.
“After five years of trying to do what they wanted they come and say they are closing the plant,” he said.
Monje said the union had three options: Fight for their jobs like before, bargain a better severance package or help find a buyer.
For most, losing a job was not an option, Milko said. It was a middle-age work force, most of whom had spent their careers in an industry where it would be difficult to find a job. But he said many workers believed their relationship with the company had deteriorated so they doubted whether it could be repaired.
They wanted to keep their jobs; but they wanted a new employer.
Williams liked Workers United’s idea about Keystone acquiring the Hugo Boss operations; but he told them public funding would be necessary.
About a month after his conversation with the union’s international president, Williams was in Washington, D.C., meeting with Sen. Sherrod Brown, a strong proponent of keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The senator had also been involved in the 2010 effort to save the plant. He gave Williams his support.
“We would do whatever we could,” Brown said he told him. “We wanted to have as little interruption of work here as possible. We told him we would work with the city and county to do whatever we could.”
By February, Williams was talking to Hugo Boss about acquiring the plant. He was also speaking to state and local entities about funding. Keystone wouldn’t be able to take over the operations without it. No deal had been struck or public funding secured, but things looked promising.
Back at the plant, her co-workers were giving union president Navarro a hard time. The union had committed to not revealing Keystone was in negotiations with Hugo Boss. Instead, they used phrases such as a “viable option is being pursed.”
People were becoming suspicious. By this time five years ago, the campaign to save the plant was in full stride. To make matters worse, the company was still trying to get workers to sign the severance documents they brought to the plant when the layoff was announced. The company had sweetened the deal, offering a $1,000 bonus.
“They were thinking that we were lying,” Navarro said of her co-workers. “They were thinking that it was not going to go through. They were saying that we are going to be without a job at the end, and we are not going to have this money. People were getting out of hand sometimes. Emotionally, it was really bad.”
Then in March, it appeared the plant had been saved. Keystone and Hugo Boss held a news conference, saying an agreement had been reached. It would be finalized in the coming weeks.
The union signed a three-year contract. The givebacks had been restored. Instead of tying raises to performance, workers would get increases of 2 to 2.5 percent a year depending on salary.
Just when it seemed things were looking up, a few weeks later Milko, who heads the union in Northeast Ohio, got a call from Beasley, the international president. He said the sale was falling apart.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God!” Milko said. “That scared the hell out of me. They were so close.”
A new beginning
Eventually, all of the parties were able to come to agreement, but it took until April.
“When all of the support came together in the first go round, it wasn’t enough,” Williams said. “We had to say to everybody, ‘We want to do this, but if everybody doesn’t want to do it together, it is not going to happen.’
“Everybody had to go back and do some soul-searching about what this factory meant to their community,” he said.
For example, Cuyahoga County, which initially proposed a $500,000 loan, ended up approving one for $650,000, said Nathan Kelly, the county’s interim director of development. Brooklyn gave $150,000 in grants and JobsOhio made a $420,000 grant.
Keystone also increased the amount of money it put into the deal. Williams declined to say how much his company put into the deal or the amount the company paid in acquiring the operation, which included purchasing the plant.
But according to public real estate transaction records, the building sold for $1.8 million.
Ultimately, deciding to support the Keystone facility with public funding came down to whether the company would save, as well as create, jobs.
Hugo Boss was making about 70,000 garments a year, Williams said. He added that Keystone will make about the same, but the potential to increase capacity is great.
“We also believe there is an opportunity for an additional 150,000 garments,” Williams wrote in an email. “This would come from securing a major contract and securing additional qualified sewers to make the garments.”
He said the company also intends to partner with local vocational educational institutions to train skilled sewers in hopes of never dealing with another shortage again.
The county’s Kelly said Williams showed his commitment to retaining jobs, especially with Keystone’s decision to pay workers the difference between their unemployment checks and their salaries while the plant was closed a few months for retooling.
“We looked at A) it was the right thing to do,” Williams said. “And B) we needed to do it because we need every single person to come back for our business to be successful.”
With all the funding in place, and other acquisition issues resolved, the deal went through. Milko called Navarro and told her the good news. She poured a glass of Bacardi and had a toast.
“The nightmare is over,” she said. “I am able to breathe again.
It is great news that the Hugo Boss plant in Ohio will continue to make “Made in USA” apparel. And here is a salute to Workers United who had the foresight to save the jobs of American garment workers at the shuttered Hugo Boss plants. Thanks to the Alliance of American Manufacturing for highlighting this story. Keep America strong – preserve American jobs.
That’s because more than one in eight manufacturing employees in Los Angeles County, which includes the city, work in the apparel industry. That sector pays much lower wages than other factory jobs. Apparel workers in Los Angeles County earned an average of $655 a week. The average weekly wage for all manufacturing workers nationwide is $830 a week.
Manufacturing employment in Los Angeles and several other areas has stabilized in recent years.
There have also been a few growth areas.
Manufacturing employment in Houston grew steadily over the past five years, reflecting a resurgence in domestic energy production. And factory jobs in Detroit have rebounded after a sharp drop-off during the recession. That coincides with stronger vehicle sales.
It is surprising that Los Angeles is America’s hub of manufacturing. It is definitely the hub of U.S. clothing manufacturing. Also, note that most apparel workers in Los Angeles are non-union which is why they earn only $655 per week. The graph of U.S. manufacturing jobs ( like other graphs I have shown in the past) shows a tremendous decrease in the number of manufacturing jobs since 1991. The only city to show an increase is Houston. American manufacturing jobs has gone from 19.5 million in 1980 to 11.5 million in 2009. Let us continue to increase our manufacturing.
Thanks to the Alliance for American Manufacturing for highlighting this article.
In preparation for the 4th of July, many people purchase accessories, clothing and knick knacks with the Stars and Stripes. But, what upsets many people, who are part of the “Made in the USA” movement, is that many of these products are made elsewhere. It gets to me at times when a T shirt says “USA” and it has the American flag emblazoned on it and it is actually made in China or Vietnam. One of the things that got to the American subconscious last year was when Ralph Lauren made Olympic uniforms for the U.S. athletes, manufactured in China. There was a minor outrage.
So, fans of Ralph Lauren will enjoy this. Below is a Stars and Stripes bikini, that is imported. Don’t get me wrong Ralph Lauren does make some swimwear made in the USA, but apparently not this one.