Being an advance man for President Barack Obama had its advantages for Northeast Ohio native Ron Carson, standing on a tarmac in New Delhi, India in the blistering heat waiting for his arrival he recalled wasn’t one of them.
“We were looking at each other and we’re all just sweating through our suits,” Carson recalled of the experience shared by the U.S. Secret Service agents, F.B.I. and others in their detail.
“By the end of the trip we each ruined two or three suits and I looked at them and I said ‘there’s got to be a better way," Carson said.
A light bulb went off and when he returned to the states following the 2011 trip he began working on the Cool Action Suit, a suit of lightweight moisture-wicking fabric that would keep you cool and drier in the heat and humidity.
After securing the patents Carson came up with a prototype which he happened to be wearing one day at work in Washington, D.C. when he saw none other than NIKE co-founder Phil Knight.
After a brief pitch to Knight on the benefits of the suit and its potential, the Chairman Emeritus of NIKE invited him to the company’s Oregon headquarters to discuss it further.
“Unbeknownst to me it was just Phil and I just sitting at a conference room table he said ‘wow, this is a great idea,’” Carson recalled.
That being said the business model and the revenue potential though bright didn’t fit in with the multi-billion-dollar portfolio of the sneaker manufacturer. He offered him though a piece of advice. “I tell you who it is a bunch of money to Hart Schaffner Marx,” Carson recalled Knight telling him.
Hart Schaffner Marx is a line of American suits produced by Keystone Tailored Manufacturing for department stores like Dillard’s and Nordstrom that, as luck would have it for Carson, was looking to diversify.
“We have to recognize that we’re dealing with the department store world primarily,” said Ken Ragland, President of Keystone Tailored Manufacturing which produces Hart Schaffner Marx clothes along with other lines.
“As we’ve all seen and continue to see the department store world has experienced and is continuing to experience an upheaval to its operations which directly affects us,” he said.
“So the more places that we can expand the business into other areas whether it’s military, whether it is airline related uniforms, to the Cool Suit; where we diversify our portfolio, it’s healthier for our business.”
And healthier for Northeast Ohio for Keystone Tailored Manufacturing is the company that took over operation of the Hugo Boss plant in Brooklyn when it was about to close in 2015. Ragland praised the experiences of doing business in Northeast Ohio, the workforce and the potential for growth.
“We’re looking for this factory to expand its current head count substantially from where it is today,” Ragland said.
Production on the Cool Action Suit began in the Tiedeman Road plant this year with sales of the suits that retail for $499.99 limited to online orders for now but Carson would love to eventually see them in stores.
In the meantime, Carson is excited to see this concept born on a tarmac overseas, developed in Washington, D.C. and nudged in Oregon into the hands of Keystone Manufacturing, is being produced back where he himself started.
“It’s kismet,” said Carson. “It’s just a blessing that they’re in my backyard.”