Embroidered patches are a economical way to decorate a item of apparel. The use of patches was very big during World War II. Each unit from a corps to a platoon used embroidered patches to promote comrade and a sense of belonging.
After the war the market for patches grew. Boy scouts used them as merit badges. Sport teams decorated their uniforms with patches. Companies provided patches to sports teams to promote and advertise their products or company.
1974 Patch caps are popular
Around 1974 patch caps started to become popular. Caps were now getting decorated with a simple patch on the front as a method to promote a message. Seed companies used this as their primary method of advertising. Think of all the Cat caps, John Deere caps, Coors beer caps that were sporting custom logos.
In 1977 recognizing the popularity of logo caps Northwest Embroidery was started in Tacoma, Wa.. The business model was to find a better way to manufacture emblems in the pacific northwest. At that time 90% of the embroidered patches were made in and around Union City New Jersey. This area was known as the embroidery capitol of America. The patches were made on giant Shiffli looms which produced quantities of 220 each.
The team at Northwest realized the real market was for small orders. The goal was to manufacture in groups of twenty four and attach these emblems to caps. The order size made sense because a customer could now purchase small quantities and not have to figure out what to do with 220 patches.
A solution to the problem
In order to make this plan work a machine was needed which could produce small quantities. This void was filled by a Japanese company who developed a multi-head embroidery machine which could produce in multiples of 12. The problem was solved.Off to the races
Northwest purchased two 12 head machines and started selling small orders. They have been doing this ever since. The company is now 42 years old.
Caps $4.00 each includes embroidery. 48 minimum
How I remember those days when we could sell caps for $4.00 each. It was fun, it was 1985.
In 1985 Northwest Custom Apparel (Northwest Embroidery) installed the first cap embroidery machines in the Pacific Northwest. They didn’t have automatic trimmers. We had to trim all our caps by hand. We devised interesting ways to digitize (we called it punching in those days) the designs to minimize thread jumps. We made jump stitches nice and long so we could trim with an embroidery scissors.
Northwest Embroidery offered screen printed caps for $13.50 per dozen. Can you imagine caps retailing for $1.25 each. This same cap retails for more than $20.00 today. Can you even find a screen printed cap today?
We offered polo shirts which were good quality for $7.50 each including embroidery. We offered blank polo shirts for $4.75 each.
Remember the minimum wage was $3.35 an hour in those days. If a operator could do 24 pieces an hour our cost was 14 cents for the embroidery. Caps we imported for 95 cents each. Total cost to make a cap was less than $1.50 with embroidery. We were actually competitive with the Asian manufacturers.
What changed everything was communication. In 1985 we purchased a new piece of office equipment called a fax machine. We threw out our telex and were now connected to the world. We could send a one page fax for $3.47 to Taiwan. We learned how to make that 8 x 11 piece of paper hold a lot of information. We used the fax machine to process emblem orders.
It was so much easier to write up an order and send to Taiwan for manufacturing. We were ahead of the game with our fax machine. Communication was king.
Our story continues but I just wanted to muse about the good old days. Northwest Custom Apparel will reach 40 years in business this year. We are learning to adapt and change with this new crazy environment. No more fax machines everything is high speed internet. Orders being completed in days rather than weeks. Transportation delivering directly from the factory floor to the consumer. The distributor or middleman is a dying breed.