Darn It! Inc. is a company that has thrived because of -- rather than in spite of -- the overseas manufacturing that has put so many American textile companies out of business.
As part of our series “One Square Mile: New Bedford,” Darn It! founder and president Jeff Glassman told RIPR's Dave Fallon what the company does, how it came to be, and why he's optimistic about New Bedford.
The city was once home to dozens of textile mills and clothing companies, and it’s still known for men’s suit-maker Joseph Abboud. You can add Darn It! to the list of New Bedford businesses carrying on the city's manufacturing traditions.
Darn It! was born out of a family apparel manufacturing business, ladies' sportswear, to be specific. Glassman joined the business in 1994.
"Little did we know that about a year later, an agreement called the NAFTA agreement would be signed," said Glassman, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal between Canada, Mexico and the United States.
NAFTA, which is currently the subject of renegotiation talks, has been criticized for hastening a shift of labor-intensive manufacturing to Mexico.
"The work was starting to move down south. And what's down south? Mexico," said Glassman.
The company also started losing jobs to competition in China and other Asian countries. It wasn't long before the family could no longer afford to keep all of the 400 or so sewers they employed. Glassman, who was in his mid-20s at the time, was ready to move on to another industry.
Then something happened that would change his plans.
"One of our customers came to us and said, 'Look, we have a problem.'"
The client had been trying out a factory in Mexico, and a shipment had gone awry. Out of three trucks that left the factory, just one made it to the United States, and the product was not in good shape.
"There were crooked labels and open seams and oil stains," said Glassman, whose client told him, "I need you to fix 40,000 pairs of pants and ship them back to me."
And that, more or less, is how Darn It! was born. The business's main mission is to fix the manufacturing problems that companies discover on products arriving from overseas. The company also operates a shipping and warehousing division.
So what kinds of problems have they solved over the years? Glassman said each job can be different, but there are some issues they've gotten good at fixing. Like mold, which can develop inside of packaging -- Glassman has a special ozone room and cleaning solutions to get rid of that. The staff has also had to pick bugs out of sweaters. That was one of the weirder jobs they've seen.
"And we've had to do it twice," Glassman said.
The family's apparel company has long since closed its doors, but Glassman's ties to New Bedford are strong. About 10 years ago, when he purchased a 300,000-square-foot mill building to house Darn It!, he brought his uncle, who was 94, to see the new location.
"He walked up to the 3rd floor, and opened his eyes and said, 'wait a minute. Jeff, do you realize this building is the reason why our family is in New Bedford today?' He said that his father and grandfather moved to work on the 3rd floor of my building," said Glassman.
It turned out the building had been home to an apparel company called New Bedford Manufacturing, where the two men had found work.