by micha thomas
Sam sells. This winter, the oldest American hat manufacturing company, Bollmand Hat Co., made a bold decision: they must take back part of the manufacturing process of one of their most popular hat lines from China, the Brad Pitt approved Kangol. In large part, production took place in China because the highly specialized machinery required to make the hats resides in China, not in the U.S. This is highly common - human skills and mandatory machinery shipped abroad decades ago to appease bottom lines. At a certain point, some manufacturing trades and skills couldn't flourish in the states nor justify their existence. So to bring it back, we must literally BRING IT BACK. To ship Bollman's machinery back is an estimated $1 million endeavor with the potential to create dozens of jobs. And this is where Samuel L. Jackson comes in.
Bollman decided to crowdfund via Kickstarter to raise some of the needed funds. In doing so, they engaged and educated their community - and made a public announcement in the process - while also gaining a portion of the necessary capital. Samuel sat back, wore his "MOTHERFUNDER" t-shirt, and he interjected a few emphatic sentences in an almost four minute video that demonstrated the history and importance of Kangol.
They recently reached their goal, but just barely. Now in the clear and bolstered by a Pennsylvania grant and borrowed money, we spoke with Bollman Hat Co.'s President and CEO, Don Rongione. Don's been with Bollman since 1982 and is a Philly native. Don also founded American Made Matters, a member-based forum to engage consumers to buy American-made products, touting the direct connection between their purchases and the American Dream. Below we learn more about the blended manufacturing scheme of America's crown jewel "crown" maker and how he views the popularity of American made.
Will any machines for the creation of Kangol products remain in China after this migration?
Yes, we are not moving all of the machines here. Most will be here in the states but a small number will be moved to other factories. One is in China and the other in Taiwan.
Which other companies under the Bollman Hat Co. umbrella manufacture abroad?
All of our brands have some products manufactured abroad, including Kangol, which will still have some products that are not being made here in the USA. Most of this results from China gaining most favored nation status and the high labor content in making cut and sewn and braided hats. Some of this results from not being able to find U.S. sources for certain products like hand-crocheted raffia.
When will the jobs created from the machines' relocation be filled?
We have already filled about ten jobs and look forward to creating at least 41 jobs once we are completely up and running.
The cost to migrate the machines far exceeds $100k, yes? Why didn't you crowdfund closer to the actual cost of shipping the machines?
The total cost is estimated to be between $650,000 and $1 million, depending on the condition of the equipment, which is still arriving. With Kickstarter, if you fail to hit your target you do not get any pledges. We felt that $100,000 was achievable.
Why did you decide on a Kickstarter campaign vs. private funding? Were you interested in involving consumers?
We pulled out all the stops to make this happen. And we wanted to raise awareness and involve our brand loyalists and American Made Matters community in this effort. Bollman will borrow most of the money needed for this project and we have been approved for a $60,000 grant from Pennsylvania.
Polls aside, how important do you think "Made in USA" is to U.S.-based consumers in their daily lives?
More Americans appear to commit to seeking American-made goods every day. We see this with our growing social media reach, the growing number of subscribers to our newsletters, and the increase in our members and sponsors for American Made Matters. Bollman has increased our domestic hat making by 50% over the past two years, and we are seeing similar growth from many of our American Made Matters members.
What do you think organizations like ours - manufacturers, themed platforms, shopping sites - centered around elevating the topic and ease of supporting American-made should do to engage consumers more?
Offer easy-to-find, great products at reasonable prices, and tell the story about the companies who make them and the jobs and positive impact on local communities created by these jobs. Expand our reach with social media and traditional consumer press. Offer short videos of the manufacturing process and the pride of those American makers.
Any announcements or big news coming up this year we should watch for?
Bollman is working on a collaboration with a great American beer maker around our effort to produce Kangol knit hats in the U.S. American Made Matters is launching a new website, which will provide a lot more information about our members and sponsors as we grow American Made Matters Day (November 19th) to an even larger national event celebrating American manufacturing and raising awareness for the importance of growing US manufacturing jobs and manufacturing strength.