This Startup Trains Veterans To Make Flip-Flops And Become Managers
Credit: Anne Field, Contributor
Brothers Tommy and Tim Gibb are determined to prove you can manufacture a commodity product in the U.S. profitably, while providing jobs for veterans.
Their social enterprise, Homegrown for Good, is about to start manufacturing its first crop of flip-flops from its 10,000 square foot facility in New Rochelle, NY.
The Gibbs grew up in the shoe business. Their dad ran international operations for Nine West for many years and they also both worked for Marc Fisher, a footwear company started by the son of Nine West’s co-founder. “Footwear is in our blood,” says Tommy. But about two years ago, they started becoming increasingly frustrated with the pricing pressures in the industry, thanks in part to rising labor costs in China. With that in mind, they set out to find a niche which would protect them from these pressures and allow them to be competitive. The answer, they decided was flip-flops. In fact, they could manufacture the product locally and still compete on price, even though most flip-flops are made overseas.
How would they do it? By investing in new technology that could increase efficiency and productivity. To that end, through their own savings, a friends and family round and a loan from Newtek Business Services NEWT +0.11%, a non-bank Small Business Administration-approved lender, they raised enough money to open a factory in New Rochelle, a small city about half an hour outside New York City. They’ve spent the last two months installing their equipment. Tommy describes the facilities as having “the feel of a lab.”
They also worked with a polyurethane manufacturer in Detroit to create a special compound for their product. Instead of using the usual sheet stock and cutting shapes like a cookie cutter, they mold the footwear from the new material, which is similar to the stuff used in the mid-sole of athletic training shoes. According to the brothers, it offers more support and bounce.
Then there’s the plan to hire veterans. It came about, in part, after Tommy attended a gala for Heroes in Transition, a nonprofit that raises money to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘There must be more we can do’,” he says. So the brothers decided they would not just hire veterans, but also provide training that could put them on a management track. “We want them to have jobs that set them on a career path,” says Tim. They hope to have five veterans on staff by March.
The product line will include flip-flops sporting such pictures as images from the work of artist Keith Haring and others. They’re aiming to make the first shipment at the end of April to Bloomingdale’s and other retailers, as well as producing private label lines for high-end luxury brands. An e-commerce site is in development.