Tony Sapienza proved quality clothing can be made in America

Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 8:47 PM

Manufacturing in the United States allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

Decades ago Tony Sapienza shared some feelings of uncertainty with Matt Morrissey, who at the time was the executive director of New Bedford’s Economic Development Council.

The number of American clothing manufacturing jobs continued to decline as companies exported them to foreign countries.

“There was a sense of when was the last shoe going to fall in New Bedford,” Morrissey said. “That was very much in the thinking of that period.”

Sapienza feared Riverside Manufacturing Co. would be next. The facility, which now houses Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, under Sapienza’s guidance, wouldn’t be silenced.

“Tony was very instrumental in holding that together and realizing the value of the factory,” Joseph Abboud said. “You have 750 families there that maybe wouldn’t be there if Tony hadn’t sort of stuck through it and persevered. We owe him a lot. We really do. That’s a big statement.”

Joseph Abboud celebrated its 30th anniversary in New Bedford last year. Sapienza’s trust in the city, it’s workforce and his innovation preserved the factory.

As he looks toward retirement in 2018, the 70-year-old Sapienza, CEO of Joseph Abboud, is SouthCoast Today’s Businessperson of the Year.

“He is clearly the guy that deserves it,” Abboud said. “Because that factory could have easily been gone, which would have been a disaster.”

Sapienza, regardless of how dire the circumstances appeared, said he never entirely lost faith in New Bedford.

He trusted GFT (Gruppo Finanziaro Tessile), the Italian clothing company which owned Riverside. But even more he knew the workforce, made up of mostly Portuguese women, would prevail.

“Folks who came to this country as teenagers, as young adults, kids sometimes, but who grew up in a family environment where, first of all, there were needle trade skills, so they knew how to thread a needle and run a sewing machine and had a tremendous work ethic,” Sapienza said.

The addition of Abboud completed the ingredients for the resurrection of the manufacturing facility.

“He kind of synthesized the brand and the look and he was an American designer born in America, making clothing in America,” Sapienza said. “It was a great story you could tell about his commitment to being an American and being in the right place.”

But it was Sapienza who made the most out of those ingredients, both Morrissey and Abboud said.

During the 1990s it made business sense for companies to outsource jobs. Sapienza looked at having a facility in New Bedford as a positive, specifically in men’s fashion.

As the country exited the 2002 recession, Sapienza introduced an idea Americans take for granted in 2018.

“That was all about treating the consumer to the kind of (service) we’ve all become accustomed to,” Abboud said. “We go online. We order something and it shows up two days later. With men’s clothing we’re not quite as fast as two days later, but when you can get a product in two weeks or three weeks particularly made to your specifications, that’s a pretty good deal.”

Foreign competitors needed weeks to ship products to the United States. Joseph Abboud Manufacturing worked to provide customers with the quickest transaction possible.

“So we made significant investments in 2004 in efficiency and in getting the product to market that much faster,” Sapienza said. “That was probably the single most important additional thing that we as managers here in New Bedford were able to do.”

New machinery cut six days out of the production process.

Sapienza also brought the New Jersey distribution facility to New Bedford. It created upwards of 30 jobs and saved at least another week in shipping.

Often, shipments out of New Jersey required overnight shipping. Since Sapienza had streamlined production, overnighting packages wasn’t needed as often. Not only did Sapienza provide better customer service, he saved the company money.

Manufacturing in the United States also allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

“We make a lot of high quality products offshore but there isn’t anything quite like what we do (in New Bedford),” Abboud said. “He was extremely instrumental in understanding the value of the factory to the brand.”

As early as 2009, Sapienza ushered one of the oldest trades in the world into social media.

“We realized we could do it on social media. It’s pretty cheap to do,” Sapienza said. “You don’t have to buy $20,000 ads in men’s magazines. You can blog and do a whole bunch of other stuff.”

As Sapienza steps into retirement, he sees the industry stepping into different, uncharted territory.

Malls are struggling. Brick and mortar retail may not have a future.

“Who could have predicted Amazon and Wal-Mart battling the way they are,” Sapienza said. “That you get your groceries from Amazon. It’s a whole new landscape out there.”

At his core, though, Sapienza believes tailoring is a craft done best with the customer present. That aspect will always steady any uncertain waters.

“I think we’ll see the best retailers are going to survive when they provide exemplary customer service and when they’re selling a product that needs a little bit of hand holding,” Sapienza said.

Abboud refers to Sapienza as royalty in the tailored clothing industry. The two met in their 20s. Sapienza worked at his father’s factory in Haverhill

“You can’t necessarily put down on a checklist, he’s a very special guy,” Abboud said. “I think he’s very connected with the community, committed to the community and I think that makes him. And he’s seen the world.”

Retirement or not, the world will see the chair of the Economic Development Council and trustee at the Whaling Museum and Bristol County Community College again.

“This isn’t the last of me,” Sapienza said. “You’ll see me.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

Original story here.


New Union Street building introduces hub for creative minds

Tracy Silva Barbosa never tires of the feeling after she introduces friends to her home.

They visit, look at her glass art, perhaps dine at a restaurant downtown and always leave with the same reaction.

“I never knew it was so beautiful and all of this wonderful stuff,” Barbosa said of the recurring reactions.

Barbosa lived in New York City for a decade before returning to the state where she grew up. Like many of her visitors, New Bedford impressed Barbosa and her husband. The culture and ever-growing art scene attracted them to make it their new home.

In January it will also be the home of her new business. Duende Glass will occupy a space in a new 10,000 square foot unit on Union Street dubbed a Co-Creative space by WHALE.

Barbosa, like multiple others whether it be artists or “creatives”, will use the space to create art and also sell it.

“I think the Co-Creative Center is just another spore from that flower,” Barbosa said. “It’s coming out of people who genuinely care and want to bring out the wonderful character this city has and bring it out in a tasteful way.”

There’s three levels to the building sitting beside The Garden and running along Acushnet Avenue.

The second floor of the building will consist of non-profit office space, apartments, and artist studios, which are already leased. The third floor consists of a two-bedroom market rate apartment.

The first floor, where Duende Glass and People’s Pressed, a juice and coffee shop, will be located, will house a public creative space.

The plan is to utilize the area closest to Union Street as a marketplace. Behind it will be a learning area where classes can be taught by anyone in the community. At the back of the building, bordering a park, the area will be used as a creative space filled with up-to-date technology like fabrication equipment and computer stations as well as work benches.

“We’re hoping we can build a community of Creatives,” WHALE Development Coordinator Amanda DeGrace said.

The first floor learning space will act as a chameleon of storts, blending into whatever the community envisions its best use.

DeGrace said there are 15 classes currently being discussed that would be available for public participation. They range from graphic design, creative writing, visual artists, sewing and even jam making. The class list continues to grow as community members continue to pitch ideas.

“We need to open the doors and see what this community wants this place to be,” DeGrace said.

Below the “Co-Make” area is a basement geared toward more industrial and textile creating as well as storage for artists.

Much like Gallery X on William Street or the studios in the former mill building on West Rodney French Boulevard brought Barbosa to the city, the Co-Creative Center hopes to attract even more imaginative minds.

“Through the Co-Creative more diverse artists come,” Barbosa said. “You want to have some cross pollination and that’s what innovation is.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

Original story here.

Behind the Counter: Furniture maker combines art and design in function

Posted Dec 30, 2017 at 9:22 PM

For all of woodworker Michael Pietragalla’s careful measuring and precise cutting, it’s what can’t be controlled that intrigues him most about the creative process.

“As you work into the wood, more and more patterns and details come out of it,” he says. “It’s not planned.”

This combination of practiced skill and unpredictable magic happens at Floating Stone Woodworks, Pietragalla’s custom furniture shop located in Loft 406 at 88 Hatch Street in New Bedford.

The name “Floating Stone” is an Italian translation of his last name. He specializes in handcrafted tables, bookcases, and benches, made from hardwoods such as cherry, maple, and walnut. Each piece is built and finished individually, with precision-cut, hand-fitted joints and hand-applied finishes.

Pietragalla moved in to Hatch Street Studios in 2000, the longest continuous tenant in a former mill building that now holds the working spaces of more than 50 creative professionals.

His 2,600-square-foot studio contains the large machinery required to construct his work, including a table saw, planer and drum sander. The long walls are lined with neat rows of hand tools in all sizes. With one wall full of windows facing west, he can wrap up his workday with one of the best sunset views that the city of New Bedford has to offer.

Meticulous craftsmanship is part of Pietragalla’s heritage. His grandfather, a shoemaker, immigrated to New Bedford in his 20s from the village of Pietragalla near Naples, Italy, and ran a shoe shop on North Front Street all of his life. His father was a trained hair stylist who operated his own salon while drumming for a dance band that played such popular local hangouts as Lincoln Park.

Pietragalla grew up in Fairhaven. In school, there were few signs of the exacting technician to come; mathematics was not his best subject. But he was thrilled as a teenager when his father bought him a set of drums, and he began to practice by playing along to jazz records. When the Beatles hit, he was inspired to form a rock ‘n’ roll band of his own. He later attended the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting.

After college, he took on carpentry jobs, where he soon showed a knack for precision. “The bosses saw that I had the attention to detail for finished work, and that’s what they had me do,” he says.

While working for hire, Pietragalla began to investigate furniture design and history. He made friends with an antiques dealer who introduced him to Mission style furniture, a late 19th-century design aesthetic of clean lines emphasizing the unique quality of a wood’s grain. This discovery showed him that furniture making could be a way to combine his carpentry skills with his artistic training. “You can make furniture out of pine, and it’s functional. Or you can make it out of birdseye maple, and now it’s exciting to look at,” he explains.

At first Pietragalla tried working out of a studio in his basement, but space soon became an issue, so he moved into his current location on Hatch Street. The Mission style he favored was popular and, with the then-new internet opening up new connections, his website drew clients from all over the country with requests for custom projects.

He could barely keep up with his orders until the economy sank in 2008. Ever resourceful, Pietragalla started making the small, affordable pieces that remain his signature today. At first he carved chopsticks from bamboo scraps, which sold so well that he expanded into a full range of kitchen utensils. His offerings now include cheese spreaders, spatulas, and salad forks/spoons made of birch and walnut.

Most recently came his jewelry boxes, or as Pietragalla calls them, “treasure boxes.” They are the perfect product for him because they allow him to play with design, color, and texture, while precisely crafting a functional object.

The boxes are sleek and slender, approximately 12 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep, made of exotic combinations like zebra wood, yellow heart and cherry.Their lids lift off with ornate handles, they are lined with leather or velvet, and some have hidden compartments.

Like the rest of Pietragalla’s work, the wood grain is the star.

“I like to mix up species of wood, because it becomes a treasure box, not just a jewelry box,” he says. “The box itself is a treasure, as much as what’s in it.”

In addition to those of his own styling, Pietragalla sells custom-designed treasure boxes. He also creates mixed-wood ring boxes to hold an engagement or wedding ring.

Pietragalla sells his work at Hatch Street Open Studios, a popular annual event held the weekend before Thanksgiving. His pieces are available throughout the year at the New Bedford Art Museum’s gift shop, as well as through the Artisans Way Fine Art and Contemporary Craft Gallery in Concord.

Pietragalla also offers furniture restoration and repair services at his studio. He works on pieces as diverse as chairs, tables, and mostly recently a broken sitar. He even replaced a cane chair seat for a customer by teaching himself the process from a YouTube video. “If it’s made of wood, I can probably fix it,” he says.

After decades of intense study and hands-on experience, Pietragalla emphasizes that he is still a student of craft and design, always learning. A poster on his office wall reads, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” That sums up the working philosophy of this son of generations of craftsmen.

To view a portfolio of Michael Pietragalla’s work, visit his website at His studio is open during regular business hours or by appointment on weekends. He can be reached directly at or at 508.997.1079.

Catherine Carter is a New Bedford artist and former Standard-Times journalist. Her profiles of area businesses will appear in this space regularly.

Original story here.

Karyn Polito: State, SouthCoast working to ‘unleash’ region’s potential

New Bedford makes its pitch to impress, attract Amazon

Calling New Bedford “a city unlike any other” with its proud past and bright future, officials submitted a 40-page proposal to Amazon, as the e-commerce giant seeks a location to construct a second world headquarters.

While the state included New Bedford as one of 26 Massachusetts communities in its formal proposal to Amazon, the city also independently submitted its pitch to build the headquarters on property at the municipal golf course on Hathaway Road.

The prize is huge: a million square foot facility and 50,000 well-paying jobs — enough to transform the economy of wherever Amazon decides to place it.

“New Bedford’s come a long way in the last few years,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell. “And we’ve reached a point where we can — with a straight face — make this kind of pitch to the likes of Amazon. It’s not to say we’re the odds on favorite, but we can make a play for this with credibility.”

It was in May that the city teamed up with Mass Development to divide the golf course property and create a 1.3 million square foot commercial development that would bring an estimated 1,000 jobs, well short of what Amazon expects to create. The rest of the land would become a nine-hole golf course; the course currently has 18 holes.

In June, Jay Ash, the state’s housing and economic development secretary, visited the course and called it a “no-brainer” for economic development because it’s one of the few greenfields left in the state.

Ash declared that there are only two other sites with the potential that New Bedford’s has, given the easy access to highways, rail and an airport: a former Naval air base in Weymouth and vacant space across from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Both are included with the state’s bid.

In its proposal, the state writes that the New Bedford site has the potential for a 9.5 million-square-foot build-out. It also notes the site is 18 miles from the Middleboro Line for the MBTA, 58 miles from Logan International Airport and 37 miles from TF Green airport.

 “The historic city of New Bedford is the SouthCoast’s hot spot for dining and the arts, while retaining its authentic character as the nation’s largest fishing port,” the state wrote in its bid.

In the city’s bid, New Bedford is touted as a home to a “hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial and creative” work force.

“As a city of immigrants, we have drawn from the best that the world offers. As a city of ideas, New Bedford is the place where you can walk the same streets as Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass,” the bid reads.

“As a city of culture, New Bedford is the place where you can have a great seat to Yo-Yo Ma, the B-52s and a Bob Woodward lecture. And as a city of innovation, we transformed the whaling industry and are leaders in establishing the first American port to incorporate the offshore wind industry into the mix with fishing and cargo.”

Rick Kidder, president and CEO of the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce, sounded calm and confident Friday that the city’s application could be a winner.

“Having been around the world of corporate relocations I have never seen a process like Amazon is going through,” he told The Standard-Times.

Kidder said there is much here to offer. “I believe we have things going for us,” including the use of the golf course land, transportation routes including an airport, quality of life and reasonable housing.

The application included a reference to Entrepreneurship For All, a group that helps SouthCoast startups and entrepreneurs. The document lists it as a “innovation asset,” noting that “Seventy-three percent of E4All’s startups are headed by women, 57 percent by minorities and 52 percent by immigrants.”

Shelley Cardoos, executive director of EforAll SouthCoast, said Friday she had not heard that her organization was hailed in the Amazon application.

But she said she was happy to know that EforAll, just two years old in SouthCoast, had made an impression worth mentioning. “I’m glad our efforts and impact are being recognized for creating jobs and dollars,” she said.

The city also touted the lower cost of housing along with access to schools and recreational opportunities in this area.

In August, the median sale price for a home in the state was $372,500, while it was $200,000 in New Bedford. The city also boasts historic neighborhoods that provide “a variety of housing types,” the proposal said.

The proposal also notes:

“New Bedford High School offers academy learning, featuring engineering and finance, and it offers 19 Advanced Placement courses. The high school also has a history of graduates attending elite universities.”

“The city’s first open space was created in the 1860s, and the city hasn’t stopped — 6 parks, 24 neighborhood parks, more than 12 miles of trails and bikeways, 26 acres of beaches, etc.”

New Bedford officials also outlined to Amazon the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) program, which supplies exclusive breaks for coming to a Gateway City, and the “unique tax abatement” of a foreign trade zone.

In addition to New Bedford, others in the area making a pitch to Amazon include Fall River and Taunton. Fall River has 501 acres available with its Riverfront Park and SouthCoast Life Science & Technology Park. Taunton has 146 acres at the Silver City Galleria Mall.





Tech meets fish: Port of New Bedford launches ‘Ocean Cluster’

Updated Sep 21, 2017 at 6:32 PM

That kind of innovation is what’s behind a new effort by New Bedford Harbor Development Commission to serve as a matchmaker for technology companies and the fishing industry. Following a model developed in Iceland, the commission has formed the New Bedford Ocean Cluster, which will foster entrepreneurship in ocean products.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, who chairs the commission, signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday with Thor Sigfusson, founder and chairman of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, to work together. The agreement officially makes New Bedford part of a loosely organized global network of ocean clusters. No money will change hands; it’s about an exchange of ideas, Sigfusson said.

New Bedford’s is the third such effort worldwide, following Iceland and Maine. Others are forming in Alaska and Seattle.

Mitchell said New Bedford wants to be associated with all things fishing — not just fish and fish processing, but pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products.

“This is really, for us in New Bedford, a way of taking the next step,” he told supporters gathered at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for a signing ceremony. “Networks matter. Idea exchanges matter. And that’s what this is about.”

The Iceland Ocean Cluster operates a business incubator with more than 60 businesses.

“We want to be a spin-off factory,” Sigfusson said.

From 1981 to 2011, Iceland doubled its cod export revenue to $680 million, even though the catch fell 60 percent, he said. It accomplished that by diversifying the products made from cod.

 In 1981, 75 percent of Iceland’s cod revenue came from fillets and whole fish, and 25 percent from other products, he said. By 2011, the market had reversed, with 77 percent of revenue coming from other products — things like dietary supplements and fish-skin leather.

New Bedford-based technology company IoT ImpactLABS is working with the Harbor Development Commission on the project, organized by the commission’s executive director and port director, Edward Anthes-Washburn. The port has piloted new technologies through its own facilities and by connecting ImpactLABS entrepreneurs with existing port users and businesses, Anthes-Washburn said.

In an interview after the signing, Sigfusson said he was impressed with the new UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology facility. It would be a great place to host startups and have students working on ocean-related entrepreneurial projects, he said.

Follow Jennette Barnes on Twitter @jbarnesnews.

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