By GREGORY ZELLER //
A new era for an old Long Island sector? Some serious people are at least trying it on.
Innovative manufacturer Royal Apparel, a 2007 fashion firm spun out of circa-1993 wholesaler Summit Apparel Inc., is hoping to complete an intra-Hauppauge space grab this year, moving into a 25,000-square-foot location with high ceilings ideal for extra warehousing, according to cofounder and CEO Morey Mayeri.
The property could also accommodate a 12,000- to 13,000-square-foot expansion, according to Mayeri, which “we hope to do next year.” That extra space would not only accommodate further warehousing and distribution operations, but would open the door to bringing out-of-state manufacturing operations home to Long Island – something “we’re ready to do immediately,” Mayeri told Innovate LI, “if the help is there.”
In an age when quantum-leap biomedical and IT advances are generally regarded as Long Island’s best economic hope, the notion of rekindling the Island’s once-significant garment-manufacturing industry may seem antiquated. But Royal Apparel isn’t the only one entertaining such thoughts: From fashion-focused startups to economic-development professionals, various players have expressed interest.
But first things first. Royal Apparel, which has built a reputation on next-generation eco-friendliness and old-fashioned made-in-the-USA shtick, is primarily interested in expanding its warehousing and distribution operations, and is hoping the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency will lend a hand (the company’s application is on the agency’s Aug. 25 public-meeting agenda).
Featuring an extensive line of men’s, women’s and children’s apparel in a range of traditional and eco-friendly materials, the manufacturer/distributor is the retail face of Summit Apparel, a successful private-label manufacturer with an all-star client roster featuring Majestic, Gap, Timberland and a host of other well-known brands.
While Summit Apparel’s longtime focus has been made-to-order goods for that national clientele, Mayeri and his brother/business partner Abraham Mayeri intended something completely different with Royal Apparel: a high-end retail brand of their own.
“We use very high-quality yarns,” Mayeri noted. “If you compare us to Delta Apparel or Hanes, they use a different fabric than we do – not as soft, not as fine. The quality isn’t the same.”
Royal Apparel has also fit nicely into the merchandising plans of major-league promotors like California-based Live Nation and industry-leading producers like New York-based Warner Music Group, which have hired the Hauppauge manufacturer to produce promotional items for acts including Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Maroon 5, Dave Matthews Band, Rush and many others.
“These companies have sought us out because of word-of-mouth and what they’ve heard,” Mayeri noted. “We’ll see Live Nation or Sony at a trade show or so forth, but we get a lot of customers coming to us because of our reputation and what we stand for.
“There’s not many people doing what we do.”
What they do is bang hard on that made-in-the-USA drum, with “95 percent” of company products manufactured domestically, according to Mayeri. Royal Apparel also strives toward environmental harmony, including tank tops, hoodies and other garments created with a proprietary blend of organic and recycled materials, including an eco-friendly polyester made largely from recycled plastic bottles.
“Our goal is to make as many eco-friendly and sustainable products as possible,” Mayeri said. “We believe in it strongly. We recycle here in a big way and our entire operation is very eco-conscious.”
The environmentally friendly manufacturing is more expensive – Mayeri estimated as much as 25 percent more costly than traditional manufacturing – but Royal Apparel makes it up in sales, moving “several million units” per year through its wholesale and retail operations, the cofounder said.
Between promoters, private brands, silk-screen operations and other wholesale clients, the Mayeri brothers’ combined enterprise now boasts an 8,000-deep client base, in addition to online retail sales through Royal Apparel. The companies even produce merchandise for political campaigns, including a line of Hillary Clinton apparel making the rounds now.
“We’ve basically made shirts for the past three or four presidential elections,” Mayeri noted. “We made for Obama in two elections, we made for Romney. We’ve made for liberals, conservatives and independents … we take no political sides.”
With their wholesale and retail operations clicking, the Mayeris are now seriously considering plans to reel in at least some out-of-state manufacturing operations, which are centered in Pennsylvania and points south. But while fashion has little to do with Big Data or bioelectronic medicine, the Mayeris do have something in common with other cutting-edge companies working to redefine Long Island’s economic landscape: difficulty attracting talent.
In Summit and Royal’s case, that basically translates to people who can sew – a rare commodity on Long Island since a garment industry that once thrived here left for NYC and other fashion centers. Fortunately, the Mayeri brothers aren’t the only ones contemplating a fashion-manufacturing revival.
Through organizations like LaunchPad Huntington and the regional chapter of the Workforce Development Institute, startups including Sea Cliff-based lingerie enterprise Impish Lee and Huntington-based Laura Alison Design have expressed interest in creating some kind of regional manufacturing consortium, and the idea is beginning to gain traction.
“There is entrepreneurial growth in the fashion-designing space,” noted WDI Regional Director Rosalie Drago. “But the only way to scale up a workforce there is to put those startups together with larger manufacturers.
“The small companies can’t employ enough people immediately to qualify for workforce-training grants,” Drago added. “And the larger companies that have the space and the equipment don’t always have the time to do the training.”
But combine them, she noted, and you’ve got something. Drago said her Huntington-based WDI Office is planning an “initial meeting” several regional fashion companies and even suggested a potential partnership with La Fuerza Unida Community Development Corp., which is dedicated to empowering minority- and women-owned small businesses.
Among other programs, the East Norwich-based corporation runs Made in Long Island, a sewing cooperative that trains workers in the precise garment-making skills required by companies like Royal Apparel an Impish Lee.
That’s music to Royal Apparel, according to Mayeri, who noted the spinoff has applied for a WDI training grant to defray the costs of preparing a new manufacturing workforce. The Mayeri brothers are also developing a five-year plan that could create up to a dozen new manufacturing jobs per year in Hauppauge.
“If we were to get the assistance sooner, we’d be able to do it right away,” Mayeri noted.
While they’re “very happy” with the growth they’ve achieved since launching Summit Apparel 23 years ago, the brothers would be especially thrilled to bring those manufacturing jobs home, Mayeri added.
“That’s really important to us,” he said. “We’re from Long Island, and creating jobs here is a big deal for my brother and me.”