Anatomy of a New Era cap

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Where they once made fine ladies lingerie, they now make baseball caps for Major League Baseball players.

The New Era Cap Company, which was the former site of the Demopolis Vanity Fair factory, has been in operation since March of 1998. With only 13 employees and Margaret Baty, the former human resources director, the company began its operations.

Only three years later, the company boasted 425 employees, which was comparable to the highest level of employees at Vanity Fair. In 2007, the company is remaining steady at about 425 employees.

According to plant manager Alvin Williams, most of the employees live within a 40-mile radius &8212; in places like Livingston, Greensboro and Uniontown. Furthermore, many of the workers are people who used to work at the Vanity Fair factory.

The company itself, which is based out of Buffalo, N.Y., has been around for 87 years, and currently makes the official cap for all of the Major League baseball teams. Williams said about 50 percent of their orders are dedicated to baseball team caps, including some minor leagues in places like Puerto Rico.

The rest of their caps are made to fill custom orders from companies or individuals. At any given time, Williams said, there is no limit on the number of fabric and stitching combinations they create.

But all of their caps share some qualities. All New Era caps are fitted to specific cap sizes, instead of being adjustable. Also, the company recently changed form using 100 percent wool in all of their caps to a performance fabric made of wicking material, which draws sweat away from the body.

In addition to making the caps themselves, the factory runs 42 embroidery machines 24 hours a day to put both popular and custom-designed logos on each cap. Williams said it is the only operation that runs 24 hours a day, due to the long period of time it takes to embroider some logos.

Each embroidery machine has a display showing how many stitches it takes to make each logo. Some logos such as the No.1 bestselling cap &8212; the New York Yankees cap &8212; have 2,700 stitches. Others can have up to 25,000 stitches per logo.

The factory makes 1,300 dozens of caps each day. Also it takes approximately 15 days from the time a cap is ordered to the time it shipped out from the company.

There are 21 different steps to making a New Era cap.

Caps begin their journey through the Demopolis factory in eight pieces, which come from their cutting facility in Jackson. Each cap is made in batches of a dozen is based on a custom order placed by a company or an individual.

Step 1

The two front panels, which will display the caps logo, are sewn to one another.

Step 2

Then the corresponding two back panels are sewn to one another.

Step 3

The upper and lower fabric panels for the visor are sewn together to form an envelope.

Step 4

A piece of cardboard shaped to fit inside this fabric envelope is inserted inside and the edge is sewn shut.

Step 5

Next, colored fabric tape is sewn to cover the raw edges of the fabric panels.

Step 6

The completed front panels are then embroidered with a logo. At this point the back and front panels are basically complete.

Step 7

While the front panels are being embroidered, each visor receives eight rows of stitches.

Step 8

A material called haircloth, sewn in a corresponding shape to the front panels, is fused with the embroidered front panel by activating heat sensitive glue on the hair cloth&8217;s surface.

Step 9

The remaining side panels are sewn to each of the front and back panels.

Step 10

Then these panels are sewn together to form the base of the cap, which is shaped like a beanie.

Step 11

During the process of sewing all the panels together, each cap is sized according to the order.

Step 12

Next the raw edges on the inside of the cap are completed by sewing tape across each one.

Step 13

Next all the sized caps are sewn to the bills.

Step 14

Tags indicating care and use and the size of each cap are sewn into the inside.

Step 15

After the tags are sewn in, a sweatband is sewn into the inside of the cap.

Step 16

A finishing edge is sewn around each cap.

Step 17

Buttons are made with a disc being covered in the appropriate color.

Step 18

Buttons are then sewn to the top of each cap.

Step 19

Caps are shaped using a device that clamps the cap onto a form and uses steam to keep its shape. This step also checks that each cap is sized accordingly.

Step 20

Each cap is stickered for either general sale in sports shops or for a custom order. This is also the time that each cap is individually hand-inspected.

Step 21

The caps are then grouped in dozens and boxed so they can be shipped out all over the world.

Kelli Wright is the staff writer for The Demopolis Times. She can be reached at kelli.wright@demopolistimes.com.