30 years later, Joseph Abboud looks back at his brand in New Bedford

Posted Dec 29, 2017 at 4:57 PM
Updated Dec 29, 2017 at 5:38 PM

Joseph Abboud celebrated his 30th anniversary of clothing manufacturing in the city in 2017.

Abboud told stories of many smiles and some tears during the three decades. The clothing designer shared some of those moments as well as his favorite designs recently with the Standard-Times.

How has the industry evolved in the past 30 years?

The industry has really evolved in that there are fewer and fewer great men’s specialty stores and there are fewer and fewer department stores. So as part of Tailored Brands, our opportunity to be vertical is really, really important. So I see the changing landscape where there are so many holes in terms of where great retail is and we’ve tried to fill that gap with our Men’s Wearhouse stores as well as we’ve got our classic store on Madison Avenue. But we are retailers at heart, so we can go direct to the consumer. I can see that as the big play now. When I started, there were so many more people to sell. Now it’s a much different game.

What are some of your favorite memories in New Bedford?

I’ve got a lot of them. I may have said this to you when we’ve spoken before. When I cross the Massachusetts border and I’m driving on 195, you know, it’s really, I’m coming home. I always feel like I’m coming home. And a lot of magic happens in that factory in New Bedford. In a weird way, it’s where I feel my most comfortable in terms of creating the tailored clothing because I’m working closely with (Senior Vice President of Design & Quality) Salvatore Mellace and my team there. I’ve been doing that for so long there’s a comfort level. And every time I go to the factory, I discover something new that we can do there. It is really kind of a magical place.

Tony Sapienza described a moment where you returned to the industry after a brief hiatus and it was specifically in New Bedford that brought some tears. What was that moment like?

It’s so interesting because, I’m a fairly emotional guy. I always try to keep it in check but I am. The day that I walked back into that factory and they were all there to welcome me back in open arms grabbed me by surprise. I was really touched by it. I really did choke up on that because they were there, the same people that I had left were there to welcome me back. It was really like coming home again. You know, I’ll never forget that. I love the people in New Bedford, and the people in our factory. They’re such hard workers. They’re so dedicated. And they go into our stores, and they throw their chests out, and say, ‘I made that lapel’ or ‘I made that sleeve.’ They take such pride in what they do that it means so much to me. I’m so proud of them.

When was that?

I would say, oh, probably in 2013.

How long had you been away?

I would say, it was about, about eight years or so. So it was a while. But the factory continued to uphold the standards and the DNA of the Joseph Abboud brand and what I had created. I feel forever grateful. Because the real strength of our brand and the real anchor of our company is that factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, of the Joseph Abboud business. We have over 750 people there.

Why do you think that is?

Well, we started the business as an American designer with an American factory. And my partners who were Italian back then, they were also involved with Giorgio Armani and Valentino and they always believed that the designer should be making in the country he was from. So with Giorgio Armani making in Italy was important, and as we started and formed our business they really believed and I was 100 percent in agreement that we should make in America. As an American designer, we are the largest tailored clothing company in North America. We are the largest importing manufacturer of the finest Italian goods from Italy. Our custom business has really grown dramatically. We’re so proud of the quality of the fabrics we use but the quality of what we make with our New Bedford folks. To be the largest in North America under a designer name is pretty special.

I have to go back for one second. The 8-year hiatus, why did you step away?

There were some issues that I had with the prior management where I thought the brand was going in the wrong direction. I felt that it was time for me to walk away from it because I couldn’t support it or endorse it. But as Tailored Brands came in and we partnered on the idea of making Joseph Abboud the premier American designer brand and the idea that the factory was at the core of it, was so appealing. It was a wonderful homecoming.

That leads right into my next question, 30 years ago what did you envision from the brand and how does that compare to the reality of today?

The DNA is still very much the same, which is a modern American collection for all Americans. An inclusionary brand that was not a preppy traditional ivy league brand but a more modern worldly brand but still wasn’t some pseudo-European thing. It was truly an American brand. And that’s what it is today and I’m so proud of it. And so proud of the people, everyone who is involved. A lot of it is, obviously the strength of that is through our customers, it’s at the factory and the dedicated workforce that we have in New Bedford.

Something that popped out about your favorite lines was not only the designs but some of the textures. How do you go about picking some of those textures?

I always say that the texture of your clothes is like the texture of your life. That has been for me, to add dimension and personality to every piece I design. I always have believed that we want to give the customer more. We don’t want to give them less. So fabric is very important. The color of fabric is important. The linings that we use. The layering. There’s a richness to it that’s very masculine and very American but very approachable.

When you think about the American man, who are your designing for? Is the business class? Is it the working class? Is the guy going on the airplane? When you envision a suit, who is it for?

I think I believe in, it’s an overused word, but lifestyle. You know, I don’t think of one particular guy. I think of how a guy lives his life. How does the American man live his life? He has needs for tuxedos. He has a need for a dark business suit. He has a need for a softly constructed jacket. So I design for his lifestyle. I always used to say, if I think I need it, I think a lot of other guys need it. So I kind of use my needs and requirements as a guideline to what I think guys might want to have from a color point of view, from a silhouette point of view, from dressy to casual, from tuxedos to T-shirts. I’ve always looked at, my job is to make American men look and feel better about themselves. And that’s what designers are supposed to do. It’s not an ode to me by any means. My job is to really kind of honor my customer and really give him stuff that works in his life. That’s why I think we’ve had such a long run is because we’ve been very dedicated to our customer and their needs. That’s why I don’t use a lot logos on my clothes because I think labels belong on the inside of clothing not on the outside.

One thing we learned about the favorite designs is the women’s line. How did that come about?

Oh, that was really a special moment. My partners were Italian back then. They had wonderful factories in Italy. Unfortunately when they went through their financial crisis, they closed those factories down. We had that women’s business for about 10 years. It was a really beautiful collection but the quality was impeccable. And to this day, I’ve never been able to find the level of quality and craftsmanship in our women’s wear. So I haven’t done it. It doesn’t mean we won’t.

And also when you’re designing women’s wear, it also keeps you sharper for men’s wear. It’s a different mindset when you’re designing for women. It does. It keeps you on a much more heightened plane when you’re being creative. I sort of miss that part of it.

How does the inspiration alter from designing something for a man and designing something for a woman?

The thing that drives my brand has always been the textures and the fabrics. So when we did our women’s wear, it was basically with rich sumptuous fabrics but of course (in) the appropriate women shapes. So it differs more in shape. And women are much more experimental and will try things quickly. They’re newer to products. So it really was an exciting time for me. Yeah, that part of it, I miss. And so many women come up to us and say, ‘When are you going to do your women’s line?’ Because they love our fabrics. Never say never.

When was the decade of women’s clothing?

That was probably from 1992 to about 2003, 2004 in that area. Like I said, it does keep you very sharp. It really does.

In keeping in the designs you sent us, one that really stuck out with us was in 2016, the model with the black suit, the black American flag over his shoulder and the finger-less gloves. Where did the inspiration from that come from?

That was all about being proud to make in America. That was a runway look. So when you have a chance to do theatrics — and that’s what shows are about. Shows do have to have some theater. They have to have some drama. But that was one of my favorite looks because that flag was made in New Bedford, Massachusetts. That flag was sewn from all of my tailored sewing fabrics, and we now currently sell those as limited edition in my Joseph Abboud store here in (New York City).

Why did you want to tell that story at that particular show?

That was one of the first shows that we had done in a long time. And I wanted everybody to know that New Bedford could be as creative as Milan. And that what we do out of the tailoring and the custom details, I mean that was a beautiful show in terms of the energy of what we created and just showing a range of what we do in our factory in New Bedford and the Joseph Abboud Factory.

In the future, what do you see from the brand moving forward?

We talk about this corporately and Doug (Ewert), our CEO who has been an enormous supporter of the brand, has said our goal is to make it a billion dollar brand. So that’s our goal and move forward every day and we continue to see growth. Listen, there’s no straight lines to success. There’s always challenges. It’s climbing Mount Everest really. It’s kind of the quest is always (difficult). I love the journey. To get there is great but the journey is also very exciting. What’s at the next horizon? That’s what it is for me. I’m still challenged by it. I feel at the top of my game because my experience really does help me in terms of the confidence in the creativity. And that’s a very important thing. Having the confidence to know that you’ve done this, you’ve been through cycles. So it allows you to have more confidence in what you believe in.

Bay State Wind pledges $1 million to BCC if it wins contract

Posted Dec 20, 2017 at 7:38 PM

Bay State Wind has committed $1 million to Bristol Community College for wind-energy training in New Bedford, contingent upon Bay State Wind winning a contract for an offshore wind farm.

The money would support a faculty member in wind energy, BCC’s first-ever endowed faculty position in any field, BCC President Laura Douglas said at press conference Wednesday at the New Bedford campus. The position would be funded in 2019.

Douglas welcomed what she called “the start of a long relationship between BCC and Bay State Wind,” saying the company would host student interns, provide a guest lecturer, explore collaborating with BCC and others to develop an offshore wind training center in New Bedford, and participate in other BCC initiatives.

Mike Durand, a spokesman for Eversource, one of the backers of Bay State Wind, delivered remarks on behalf of the developers.

“I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of our support than this institution,” said Durand, who is a BCC graduate.

Bay State Wind, one of three bidders for an offshore wind farm as part of a state-led procurement process, is a joint venture of Eversource and Danish energy company Ørsted.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said New Bedford is working to maximize the advantage from its “first-mover status” in the offshore wind industry.

Original story here.

Amazon bid shows new perspective on New Bedford

Posted Dec 16, 2017 at 8:31 PM

Don’t count us out.

That’s the message New Bedford’s civic leaders are sending as internet sales giant Amazon mulls over a proposal to site its second headquarters on a municipal golf course in this port city.

“Nobody should be under the illusion we’re the odds-on favorite,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said of the city’s attempt to woo Amazon. “But it’s not inconceivable that if Amazon decides to look for multiple sites, our pitch becomes more attractive.”

From Atlanta to Tucson, from Vancouver, Canada to Chihuahua, Mexico, cities throughout North America are hoping to be on top of Amazon’s list when the company announces the city chosen as the home of its second headquarters later in 2018. The location of Amazon’s new campus, dubbed HQ2, will be selected from 238 cities and regions spanning 54 states, provinces, territories and districts. In Massachusetts, 26 communities, including New Bedford and Boston, are in the running. The winning city gets a $5 billion facility, 50,000 high-paying jobs and an economic boost like no other.

So where does New Bedford fit in the race to become Amazon’s second headquarters?

Officials seeking public’s ideas for underused New Bedford port areas

Posted Dec 8, 2017 at 7:18 PM

Even with New Bedford already ranked by NOAA as the most valuable port in the United States, generating more than $325 million in revenue last year, there’s still room to grow.

That’s the word from Derek Santos, executive director of the Economic Development Council, and Ed Anthes-Washburn, executive director of the Harbor Development Commission.

“In terms of designated port areas, it’s the envy of the rest of the Commonwealth in terms of the number of jobs and the level of industry it supports,” Anthes-Washburn said. “When you look at the waterfront from the water perspective, the only two parts of the waterfront that aren’t active and doing anything are the Sprague site and the Hicks Logan Sawyer site.”

Through years of planning and public meetings, a plan emerged involving a site in the northern part of the harbor and another in the southern.

“We’re a fishing port,” Santos said. “We’re good at it. We just want to keep doing more of it.”

The Sprague site located in the southern end of the terminal extends from Leonard’s Wharf to the northern tip of Cape Street.

The land and assets are proposed to bring in marine technology and marine industrial companies. There’s also space on the street side to develop parking, a conference center and an area that brings the public closer to the seafood industry, much like Chatham Pier and Fish Market.

The northern area involves Kenyon Street to Wamsutta Street. The area is not a designated port area but could still benefit through marine industrial use along with improved public space for the existing residential areas.

“We want to see residential development in the downtown,” Santos said. “But we want to see industrial uses and those industrial uses pushed forward on the waterfront.”

At least five public meetings on the topics have been held so far. On Tuesday, the second public meeting was held regarding the redevelopment plan.

During each meeting, questions regarding waterfront condos seem to pop up. Each time, a reminder of the commitment to the fishing industry is explained.

“To see us doubling down on what we know works and using that as a bridge to the next opportunity has really been what’s been the success in the last four years and it builds trust,” Anthes-Washburn said.

The public meetings will continue in the future. Santos plans for multiple meetings occurring in 2018. The input likely won’t cease throughout the 20-year project, which may not be completed until closer to 2040.

“We want the public to be engaged,” Anthes-Washburn said. “These plans don’t work if the public feels alienated. So really, engaging with the public, engaging with the neighborhoods, that’s going to be important to the success of the plan.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

Original story here.

Area native Margo Saulnier to oversee New Bedford’s Cultural Plan

By Jonathan Carvalho, APR
Office of the Mayor

jcarvalho@newbedford-ma.gov

New Bedford has selected area native Margo Saulnier to serve as the Cultural Coordinator for the city’s arts and culture community, overseeing the development and implementation of New Bedford’s Cultural Plan.

In recent years, New Bedford’s reputation has grown as the center for arts in the region and as a creative and inviting place for all types of artists to live and work.  New Bedford was named the “Seventh Most Artistic City” by Atlantic Monthly, ranked Ninth on Matador Network’s list of Most Creative Towns, and sixth on Bustle’s Best Cities for Young Artists. 

The Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund was proposed by Mayor Jon Mitchell in the spring of 2016 and approved by the City Council last year, and consists of half the revenue from the city’s lodging tax, capped  at a total of $100,000. Creation of the fund also required the passage of a home rule petition by the state legislature. The petition’s passage in 2017 was led by state Sen. Mark Montigny.

Using monies from the Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, the City selected the New Bedford Economic Development Council (NBEDC) to manage the search for the Cultural Coordinator. Over the summer, the NBEDC conducted a search for a Cultural Coordinator, and after receiving and reviewing applications and conducting interviews, area native Margo Saulnier was selected.

An Acushnet native and New Bedford High School graduate, Margo Saulnier is an experienced creative professional and educator with more than two decades of performing arts and entertainment industry experience. She has consulted on a number of projects in Boston with Celebrity Series of Boston, including three large-scale public outdoor projects: Street Pianos Boston “Play Me I’m Yours” (2013 and 2016), “Le Grand Continental” dance performance in Copley Square (2014), and “Let’s Dance/Bailemos Boston!” (2015) on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. She has managed production and programming for more than 4,000 live shows at the Boston Pops and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Ms. Saulnier is currently a lecturer in the Music Department at Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media, and Design, focusing primarily on management of music organizations, performing arts administration, and a course she created, Artistic Planning for Venues and Festivals. In 2016, she moderated the panel on women in music management, booking, negotiations and technology for Northeastern’s “Changing the Conversation: Women’s Equality in the Music Industry” Symposium. In 2014, she moderated the arts economics panel for Northeastern’s CREATE Initiative’s Value of Presenting Symposium. She has also participated on panels at the Future of Music Summit, Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), and Boston University.

For more than a decade, Ms. Saulnier was involved in artistic planning for the Boston Pops, where she produced the orchestral debuts of Steve Martin, Oleta Adams, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Cowboy Junkies, Melinda Doolittle, Guster, Aimee Mann, Natalie Merchant, My Morning Jacket, Amanda Palmer, Ozomatli, and many others.

She holds a degree in music from Boston University and a master of fine arts degree from Brooklyn College.

“The arts have been an important part of New Bedford’s story, dating back to its whaling days. The Cultural Plan will add to our cultural scene, attracting creativity and investment to the City and improving marketing, programming, and public art,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell. “I’m pleased that a highly qualified, driven professional, Margo Saulnier, will oversee the plan with both vision and passion to see the best results for New Bedford’s respected arts and culture community.”

“Margo is committed to innovative and interdisciplinary programming, new audience development, community engagement, and making arts accessible to all,” said Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

New Bedford Regional Airport adds commercial flights to Florida

Polito hopes dredging can begin “in the near future”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito left SouthCoast last week with the notion that the region has the ability to become a juggernaut within the “blue economy.”

The city’s port recently ranked as the most valuable in the country for the 17th consecutive year.

But there’s more room to grow.

“Dredging really activates the rest of the waterfront,” Executive Director of the Harbor Development Council Ed Anthes-Washburn said. “And it maintains what we have. If we’re not able to dredge, then the port shuts down because you can’t get a boat to the dock.”

Polito finished her visit to New Bedford with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for State Pier’s new refrigeration installation. It also allowed for time to discuss the port’s need for dredging.

“We’re working with the city officials here in New Bedford to determine the phases that will be needed in order to properly dredge this port,” Polito said.

Three years ago the state set aside $35 million to continue with Phase V dredging of the port. Three years later, the need remains.

“There are dredging dollars designated now through our MassWorks program,” Polito said. “And from that analysis and continued discussions with the city, we will get to a place where we can begin some work in the near future.”

The federal channel, which is maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers, hasn’t been dredged since the 1950s. The rest of the port was last dredged in 2014. The $7 million project increased the depth 4 feet to 28.5 feet. However, to be authorized by the federal government, the average depth during low tides is required to be 30 feet.

The $35 million set-aside is the estimated cost for dredging the federal channel and complete Phase V dredging in the harbor. Completing the projects together is more cost effective than handling each separately.

In past dredging projects, the state has covered 80 percent of the cost and private corporations made up for the remainder.

“I look forward to the next round of discussions with the Baker-Polito administration about how state funding for berth dredging will unlock private investment and job opportunities in the Port of New Bedford,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “With clear channels to key waterfront sites, the port would be able to compete more effectively in the fishing, cargo and offshore wind industries for years to come.”

In September, the City Council unanimously passed a written motion pressing the state’s legislative delegation, U.S. Rep William Keating and Gov. Charlie Baker to appropriate the funding so that dredging could begin.

Phase V dredging involves about 25 docking areas. Some are in use and some aren’t. When dredged, the available water space would lead to nearly 400 direct jobs in the harbor and nearly 900 total, according to analysis conducted by Martin Associates.

The same study showed the dredging would lead to more than $250 million in business revenue and $11.5 million in state and local taxes.

“There’s companies that needed it yesterday. So certainly the need is there,” Anthes-Washburn said. “I think there’s a lot of pent up demand. We’re just trying to make that story clear. Moving forward, we want to work with the administration to get the project moving as quick as possible.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.

Original Story Here

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

Behind the Counter: Hippo is where unique meets hip meets art

City’s art museum hires UMD grad as new executive director

Nov 6, 2017 at 9:12 PM

Ashley Occhino, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth graduate, has been named as the new executive director of the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!, officials announced Monday.

“I’ve always found myself coming back to New Bedford again and again. There’s such a rich art community there,” said Occhino, who is in her mid 30s. She’s from Attleboro and lives in Taunton.

Occhino has served as the manager of studio class programs at the Worcester Art Museum since 2014.

Occhino is set to take the helm Nov. 27. Her leadership follows retirement of Noelle Foye who shepherded the merger between the New Bedford Art Museum and ArtWorks! which occurred in 2014 and directed the combined organization. Under Foye’s guidance, exhibitions and educational programs grew while collaborations with other institutions expanded, according to a news release from the museum.

“Noelle Foye’s leadership positioned the art museum to be central to the community and that strength has allowed us to attract such a new talented leader,” said Lee Heald, director of AHA! and a member of the museum’s board and search committee for a new executive director. “We expect that Ashley will continue our strong support of community expression in the arts as well as support for excellence and achievement in the local arts community.”

Heald also said Occhino has a lot of enthusiasm and will bring a fresh perspective to the city.

“New Bedford holds a very special place in my heart and it’s through my times at UMass Dartmouth that I really learned about the city,” Occhino said.

She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts and has an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. She was one of the first classes to experience the Star Store in New Bedford, part of her thesis involved displaying work at ArtWorks! and she’s also taught art classes there, she said.

At the Worcester Art Museum, Occhino said she was in charge of developing programming, managing staff and working with community partners. Also, an education wing with dedicated exhibition space fell under her purview. The museum has an intensive education program with more than 100 classes each season, Occhino said.

She’s previously held leadership positions at Danforth Art in Framingham and the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, each time serving in education departments.

“I really just want to embrace the idea of a community museum,” Occhino said. She praised Foye for being successful with the merger, adding “I’m really honored to be following in her footsteps.”

“We are excited the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks! has hired Ashley Occhino as the museum’s new Executive Director. The NB Art Museum/Artworks! is ideal for arts travelers and invigorates the community. Ashley is familiar with the arts & culture landscape in New Bedford as well as her years of experience and passion for the arts, we look forward to working with her,” said Dagny Ashley, the city’s director of tourism and marketing, in a statement.

Jamie Uretsky, curator at NBAM/ArtWorks! said she looks forward to removing her hat as acting director.

“I’ve only heard good things about Ashley,” Uretsky said. “It’s going to be nice to have her energy in the space.”

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT

Original Story Here