Here at Bly, we source fabric for our pillows from countries around the world, but the pillows themselves are made at a factory right here in the U.S.A. That factory is ALP Sewing and it’s located in North Bergen, New Jersey, part of what was once known as the “Embroidery Capital of the World.” It’s a fascinating place and today we thought we’d take you for a tour.
Just across the river from Manhattan, North Bergen was an ideal location for the fledgling embroidery industry in part because the steep hills running along the west side of the city provided an especially firm foundation for the powerful machines that otherwise would have turned the land into a giant xylophone with their vibrations.
As late as the 1940s, factories employed more than half of the New Jersey workforce, but today, after so many American companies have moved their production overseas, that number hovers around 7%.
While a large number of once-bustling factories have closed their doors, some—through a combination of adaptability and determination—have managed to weather the storm; ALP (All Lace Processing) is one of these.
Meet the team at ALP: owner Key Gaetano (in green), his brother Frank (bright blue), and sales managers Michael Downing (dark blue) and Jim Block (gray). The Gaetano brothers grew up working in their parents’ lace factory, which was founded after their mother learned the cutting business during World War II.
Key split off from his parents’ business to found ALP 41 years ago. The ALP factory is a clean, well-lit space with high ceilings and dozens of sewing machines, including a couple of old Heitzmans. The Heitzmans were actually designed by Key’s parents in collaboration with a man who made voting machines. Over the years, Key and Frank have added some of their own designs too.
Other people who know how to work those gleaming Heitzmans include Lisette, who’s been working at ALP since 1980, Danny, since 1983, Raoul, since 1984, Marina, since the mid 80s and John, since 1977—one week before his 17th birthday.
The team has been together through thick and thin; while business was pretty good through the early 90s, around 1998, production really started moving offshore. To keep afloat, Key turned what was once only a lace processing company into the whole deal—a “cut & sew,” as he calls it—and started working with smaller companies, including several brands of high-end underwear and, of course, Project Bly!
These days Key says the future is looking a lot brighter; as labor costs rise in China, it no longer seems worth it to produce goods halfway around the world. Key says that he recently started working with a company that is now reconsidering after having moved 95% of its business overseas, and there are a lot of others like it.
In other words, people are coming home and it’s looking like the embroidery capital of the world is back in business.
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