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Boxing: a cool article about everlast

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posted on Oct, 19 2004 @ 02:53 PM
i thought this was interesting enough to post in it's entirety

Everlast still a knockout 94 years later

Tue Oct 19, 8:22 AM ET Sports -

By Reid Cherner, USA TODAY

To identify Darrin Imbler and Sharon Haak as the face of boxing would be a lie. Outside this town of roughly 13,000, there aren't many who could pick them out of a crowd.

To say they are the hands of the sport would be more accurate.

The 26-year-old Imbler and 53-year-old Haak work at Everlast, which makes the boxing gloves used by fighters from heavyweight Jack Dempsey in the 1920s to middleweight Felix Trinidad last month. From Sugar Ray Robinson to Sugar Shane Mosley, from Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali.

Gloves don't make it out of the factory unless Haak says they do. She is in quality assurance and has been with Everlast for 31 years. A cement plaque honors her in the outside entrance walkway just above the one shared by Dempsey and Louis.

Imbler began on the glove line about six months ago and is the sole worker to stuff and shape the gloves with foam and animal hair.

"If it says Everlast, I know I stuffed it," Imbler says when jokingly asked if he recognizes the gloves used last month in the Trinidad-Ricardo Mayorga fight.

Haak and Imbler are two of the 138 employees in this union shop, where it is quickly apparent the Everlast factory is much more than a labor of glove.

At a time when presidential candidates are asked about outsourcing of jobs, Everlast, founded in 1910 as a sporting goods company, is one of the biggest and most iconic names still making sports products in the USA.

"Trinidad and Mayorga were wearing our gloves, and I knew they were made right here. That is a great feeling," says Angelo Giusti, president of the equipment division. "The outfits were also made here.

"That, to me, says something. We have some people here doing some wonderful things. I think we've come to this point in America because of people like that."

Boxing equipment, all made in Moberly, is about 5% to 10% of the Everlast business that produces about $500 million in worldwide revenue. Other items with the Everlast name are produced outside the USA through licensing agreements.

But boxing is the engine that drives the train.

"It is our roots; it is our history," says CEO George Horowitz, a former New York City high school history teacher who bought the company in 2000, keeping the headquarters in New York City.

"Our tradition comes from Dempsey and Louis and Ray Robinson and Ali. It comes from Marciano and all the present-day guys continuing the tradition. And that helps us in all our other businesses."

At a retail outlet such as Sports Authority, a pair of gloves can sell for $20 to $35. A 100-pound heavy bag is about $100. Other equipment and clothing is custom-made and unavailable to the public.

Moberly is about 2 1/2 hours from Kansas City and St. Louis. It was founded in 1866 when transcontinental railroad officials were intrigued by an area with the Mississippi River on one side and the Missouri River on the other.

According to J.W. Ballinger III, the executive vice president of the Moberly Area Chamber of Commerce (news - web sites), the first train robbery in the state was here in Randolph County as was the first JCPenney store west of the Mississippi.

Moberly is a medium-sized town, but Everlast has a small-town feel to it, with many workers either neighbors, related or longtime co-workers.

"I learned that the hard way on one of my visits," Giusti says of how close-knit the workforce is. "Sometimes something I said at the beginning (of a visit to the factory) would be (talked about) at the end before I got there."

Everlast is not the largest employer in town; the Orscheln Group and Dura Automotive are bigger. But since it acquired Narragansett in 1966, Everlast has been among its most prestigious.

"The fact that we are the headquarters for Everlast, with their history of boxing, that is a great thing for us to say," Ballinger says. "It is kind of unique to central Missouri. You don't have that type of employment everywhere."

No assembly line here

Highway 24 is the easiest route to the 310,000-square-foot factory, but a right at Bob's Tires will take you the back way. Sitting on 20 acres, with 20 more available for expansion, is a plant that not only makes gloves but boxing rings, heavy bags and the custom-made trunks and robes worn by many top amateur and professional boxers.

Well, not just boxers.

"We just did a whole outfit for Nelly," says Ray Stewart, the director of operations who added that the making of boxing clothes "is more of an art than an industrial process."

The star-spangled banner outfit Gary Hall wore before his gold medal swim in Athens was designed and sewn in Moberly.

"Gary said he loved our stuff and would be willing to use it so we worked out some kind of small endorsement deal, you know, nothing giant," Giusti says. "When he walked out wearing our robes, it was amazing."

The company also produces a "Tiki Bag," named for New York Giants (news) running back Tiki Barber, who uses boxing as a cross-training exercise. Everlast designed a 100-pound heavy bag with handles that Barber could run with over his shoulders or use in other exercises.

But boxers are the main reason sewing machines hum from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no assembly line; all the work, whether clothing or equipment, is touched by human hands. That includes checking the leather for branding marks or barbed wire scratches.

"I'm a machine junkie with an engineering background, but this has to be done by hand," says Stewart, who began in the Japanese auto industry. "This is not something you can stomp out on an automatic press."

What Stewart needs most has become a dying art.

"Finding somebody who has sewing skills is tough," he says. "The skill sets are not here anymore."

If boxing is the "sweet science," then the manufacturing of boxing equipment is the exact science.

"If you tell people you're giving them a 100-pound heavy bag, it better be a 100-pound bag," Giusti says.

But in cutting, sewing and stuffing satin, leather and canvas, machines can only take it so far.

"These are not toys; these are weapons and tools of the trade. These guys understand that," Stewart says of the workers. "But it is not always something you can measure. It is something you have to feel when you make the equipment. There is a lot of tactile sense needed."

That is why Imbler doesn't stray far from his power base.

"I can sew a little, but these ladies do a great job," he says of the crew stitching the leather. "I don't mess with them."

Taking pride in the U.S. label

Stewart and Giusti have a jingoistic pride as they stroll through the factory. They stop and tell how a ceiling-to-floor-length flag came to hang after Sept. 11, 2001. Both make their pitch for "made-in-America" products while acknowledging the problems that come with it.

"I'm not sure there is even a competitive advantage to say that it's made in the USA," Giusti says. "We need to level the playing field so we don't have to do the inevitable. We want to hire more people. We obviously want to make it work here in Missouri.

"We are hoping this (presidential) election will bring something to help us. We are competing against people who employ people for practically nothing. We want to supply a decent wage so people can live decently."

Stewart is as pragmatic as Giusti. He says whether the plant is in Asia, Mexico or elsewhere, they are all competition.

"I look at it this way: I have to do a better job than they do," he says. "And this is where I want to do it. The boxing headquarters of the world is right here in Missouri. I grew up in Missouri. This is home to me. This is where Everlast is. I can sign my name to this, and I'm proud of that."

Because workers can actually see their products being worn and used, many have become boxing fans.

"Sure I watch boxing," says Julie Martin, a department supervisor in the sewing department.

"That's my stuff on TV."

But even non-fans are loyal to the product.

"Oh, I like it when I see our stuff on television and newspapers. I know it came from what we do," Haak says. "But I really like baseball. I'm a Cardinal fan.

"Besides, my family had only little girls. We fought, but mom didn't let us use gloves. ... But if she did, they would have been Everlast."


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