Founded in Buffalo, in 1920, New Era has grown from its humble family owned roots into a multi-million dollar apparel and Headwear Company. The company transcends its sports heritage as the official hat of Major League Baseball and manages to create a product popular to a variety of demographics. On any given day, people are as likely to see a New Era fitted cap on Jim Jones as they are on A-Rod.
New Era is a company that has always been about creating quality product with lasting appeal. The company values its longevity. Sid Dey, director of New Era retail operations, says, “Weâ€™ve been here for 87 years, so far, and we still feel like weâ€™re growing on so many levels.” Growth is definitely in the plans for New Era as it attempts to make a presence in the worldwide market through its chain of retail stores. With the first store opening in New York in May 2006, the chain is expanding the brands global reach through stores in London, Toronto and Los Angeles. Also, in the works is a full apparel line which will further aid the brand in branching out from their iconic 59-Fifty product.
The newest New Era Flagship store be opening in Toronto on August 3 and will feature several hundred exclusive caps in a new spacious retail space.
â€œItâ€™s just longevity, youâ€™re here for the long run, not here for the quick buck.â€
Format: Please introduce yourself and the New Era brand.
Sid Dey: My name is Sid Dey, Iâ€™m the director of retail operations with New Era caps. New Era is 87-years-old and started in 1920. It is a family owned business that started in 1920. We have our world headquarters in Buffalo, New York with satellite offices located around the world including Canada, Japan, and Europe. Our focus has always been just making headwear, but weâ€™re starting to broaden our scope into retail and apparel.
Format: In the last year, New Eraâ€™s flagship opened in New York and London and, soon, in Toronto. How do these stores fit into the overall brand strategy?
Sid Dey: The retail is just a presence for us on the street. Kind of like a showroom on the street, it allows us to interact directly with the customer. A way to showcase the brand and try out new ideas; itâ€™s a bit of a marketing vehicle. Itâ€™s a laboratory in which we get to test new ideas and see whatâ€™s going to work. The New York store opened in May of â€™06 and holiday season of last year, we opened the Buffalo store. And this year, we will have a London store open, Atlanta, Toronto and L.A. before the yearâ€™s done.
Format: Why did you choose Toronto to open a New Era retail store?
Sid Dey: We rate Toronto up there as one of the fashion hubs of the world. One of the energy centers for the brand and just a lifestyle city. We rate it up right up there with New York, L.A. and London. The strategy of retail was to have a global presence, not to have a bunch of stores in one country, but to have stores around the world. By the end of the year, weâ€™ll have six stores across three countries and Toronto just seemed like the best place in Canada.
Format: Recently, New Era changed the materials, liner and shape for the on-field 59/50 model. What was the rationale for the change?
Sid Dey: A big chunk of our business is the business we do with MLB. Itâ€™s still considered a performance cap so we do whatever we can to help the players on the field. The new hats is designed to helps wick moistures away when players are sweating, so players wonâ€™t have sweat dripping down their faces. These technological advancements just help enhance performance on field.
Format: Streetwear companies like Supreme or Huf seem to have a very close working relationship with New Era. How does the company accommodate their creative takes on the 59/50?
Sid Dey: Huf or Supreme would send us their ideas for headwear. New Era is basically just executing it for them; those guys are already experts for the lifestyle aspect of their brands. So if they have a collection, weâ€™re just adding onto it on an accessory level and theyâ€™re just feeding us their designs. We obviously kick in our two cents by offering different fabrics and things above and beyond. They come to the table with what they want, we come to the table with what we can do and we find a happy medium.
Format: Recently, there are a lot of stories coming out involving poor working conditions in China. Seeing that New Era has moved much production to China, could you speak of your relationships with manufacturers there, and any ramifications of bad press?
Sid Dey: I mean we have a really stringent approval process involving our manufacturing facilities whether itâ€™s domestic or international. Almost half of our product is made in the United States. The other half, there is a certain amount that is made in the countries where itâ€™s their expertise in crafting the caps. There are things over that they can do over there that we canâ€™t yet master over here or master at an affordable price.
Format: Last month, a story broke about custom gang New Eraâ€™s being recalled in Cleveland. Did this incident cause more reflection over what New Era would produce?
Sid Dey: Weâ€™re pretty strict in the first place about collaborations. At the end of the day, New Era is a heavy custom manufacturing company. A big chunk of our product is custom product, and we do have a committee that reviews every design that comes forth, but, in that case, that is one that slipped through the radar. Weâ€™ve tightened up the process on our side, we have a task force weâ€™ve worked with police agencies. We take it very seriously, so as soon as we found out there was a correlation with that product associating it with a gang we pulled it from shelves immediately.
Format: New Era caps seem much more popular in North America than in Europe or Asia. Why do you think this is the case?
Sid Dey: I think it is very much in growing in Europe and Japan, and those places. Itâ€™s not as big as it is over here, but those markets are still in the early stages, I would say. In two or three years from now, itâ€™s going to be a different stance on where itâ€™s going to be. We opened a store in London this year, and the market gravitated towards it really well over there. The store has been busy day in and day out. Maybe they want the product but itâ€™s not just there as much.
Format: A lot of people associate New Era with the 59/50, are you trying to branch out from that product at all?
Sid Dey: That is our heart and our core, the soul of New Era is the 59/50 product. There are other aspects to the brand. The hip-hop market took on and embraced the 59/50, so thatâ€™s the one that gets the most media play and is out there in music and videos. We do have the EK product which is a higher end product as far as fashion goes. It goes back to the Gatsby look; similar to the stuff you may see Common wear. Itâ€™s gaining popularity again and its one of the headwear things weâ€™ve had for years that are growing again. If the market takes to different things we have it in our back pocket.
Format: Right now, New Eras are ubiquitous in hip-hop culture. Watch any music video or photo shoot and you are bound to see the familiar baseball caps. Obviously some trends come and go how you feel about the longevity of the company considering the fall of brands such as Starter.
Sid Dey: I mean one thing, weâ€™ve been here for 87 years, so far, and we still feel like weâ€™re growing on so many levels. That market has gravitated towards our product, and itâ€™s becoming an accessory but it hasnâ€™t become a trend. Itâ€™s just become a part of it. I donâ€™t think people are going to stop wearing hats and we keep pushing the boundaries with designs and innovations. I think it will always be a part of hip-hop culture to tell you the truth. I definitely donâ€™t think it is a short-term trend at all. It could be said that the fitted is a staple good. Any brand or any lifestyle Nike, Adidas, and I think New Era has it. Itâ€™s just longevity, youâ€™re here for the long run, not here for the quick buck. Not here for the in and out fashion, youâ€™re just here to make your mark.
Format: Could you speak on the New Era clothing line?
Sid Dey: New Era apparel line will be launching globally in the spring of 2008. There is a small collection that is strictly available in New Era Flagship stores, right now. Itâ€™s tiered up into the basic T-shirt collection and a high end cut and sews collection. The T-shirt collection is inspired by our 59/50 product, so thatâ€™s like your core poloâ€™s. The cut and sew is above and beyond fashion forward product.
Format: What about the customizable Soul Capture package, where did you get the idea for that?
Sid Dey: Retailers and different brands we work with are customizing their own product. Some of our consumers just want to play around with products so the cap becomes a canvas for them to play around with and do something creative that suits their lifestyle. Itâ€™s a very limited edition product, about 3000 hats made globally. It comes in a pine box thatâ€™s engraved and branded and itâ€™s going to come with eight markers on a white leather cap. You just do it up, some people are going to put their name on it and some people are dying to put whatever they want it. Some people are painters or artists so theyâ€™re going to draw cartoons or make it into a comic strip. Itâ€™s your canvas, a true expression of who you are, kind of how New Era came to be in the first place.
Format: What else should fans of the brand in Toronto look forward to with the Toronto store?
Sid Dey : August 3 will be the grand opening of the New Era Toronto store. Itâ€™s a huge space with several hundred different caps on display. A lot of unique product, I say at least half the store will be custom product. A lot of product thatâ€™s been in our NY store, which has got great feedback. There will be a lot of Toronto exclusive product that will be tuned into Toronto lifestyle. Itâ€™s a chance for consumers to really engage with what New Era is really about. Grand opening August 3, definitely something you want to be there at; doors will probably be open at 1:00 p.m..