Allen Connely, Chief Executive Officer at Mozaic, recently spoke with New York State Manufacturing Now about the organization’s manufacturing capabilities, defense contracting, and work with startups. The conversation also covered New York State’s support for Mozaic, which includes a FuzeHub grant to accelerate face mask production for the ongoing fight against COVID-19.
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and today we are here with Allen Connely, who is the president and CEO of Mozaic. Allen, welcome to the podcast.
Allen Connely: Thank you for having me, Steve. I’m just really looking forward to our conversation today.
Steve Melito: It’s great to have you here. So listen, tell us right off the top a little bit about Mozaic, what’s your story, and what’s the relationship between some other names that come up such as Arctic Gear and Finger Lakes Textiles?
Allen Connely: The genesis of Mozaic was actually in the Arc community. The Arc is a community that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And the Arc of Seneca, and the Arc of Cayuga, and the Arc of Yates came together in 2020, they actually all started in different times in those various counties from 1953 to 1976, and they had been working independently. And last year we merged all those together into one entity known as Mozaic. From that experience, we started to develop a lot of work with other types of entities, other people in terms of our mission. We are a nonprofit. And a division of our company is known as Finger Lakes Textiles, and Finger Lakes Textiles has been doing work for the past 25 years or so, mostly in the Department of Defense space. And then we launched a consumer facing product a couple years ago called Arctic Gear. So we do all this work with an integrated work environment with people who have varying disabilities and those people that would not be considered having any type of disability. And all the work that we do is American made for our nation’s war fighters, as well as it’s in the retail space. And it’s just a great working environment. All the profits that we make go back into our mission of supporting people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. So it’s a great place to work. And we have a lot of different things that we do to support our community in terms of day program, residential programming, clinic services. We even have a preschool in Penn Yan to support children with different types of abilities. So we put all that together and just do a lot of work with our community of staff, individuals that we serve, and also the manufacturing environment, which is how we got connected with FuzeHub.
Steve Melito: Exactly. And so that leads me to my next question, which is can you tell us about your core manufacturing capabilities? What do you do exceptionally well and what are some of those manufacturing type services?
Allen Connely: Well, we are known for being a manufacturer of cold weather headgear, and knitted hats, fleece hats, balaclavas, we do a lot of cut and sew, but really for the longest time we have been making fleece hats, foliage green hats, cold weather balaclavas for the Department of Defense, been doing that on the contract for about 25 years. And so that’s really what we are known for. And a couple years ago, we knew that we had this capability in high- end quality manufacturing military grade product, we thought that maybe there would be an opportunity to springboard that into a consumer facing product line, and so we came up with the idea of trademarking the name Arctic Gear and started our own website to launch that, and launched a worldwide launch party that we had, and we started that a couple years ago. And sales have gone pretty well in terms of our e- commerce site with Shopify. Last year we were able to connect with Target and started to sell through Target online, and that has really exploded the Arctic Gear brand. And we’ve been able to put more people to work and we’ve enjoyed learning what the retail space is all about, which is unique and different to us as a nonprofit, there is a lot to learn in the apparel marketplace. And so as we’ve developed, we see that there’s a lot of opportunity for us since we are one of the few companies in the United States still that do this type of knitting, cut and sow, and again, with our story of profits going back to our mission, it really, I think, intrigues a lot of our customers, or our potential customers to buy from us.
Steve Melito: That’s a great story, and clearly you do great work as part of the defense supply chain, and your ability to pivot and do work in the commercial sector is great. Do you think you’ll do more commercial type work going forward?
Allen Connely: We do, because we’re expanding that product line. We have an infant line, a toddler line, a youth, and adult lines with a lot of different colors. We make a lot of these hats with cotton fibers, historically we haven’t been doing that as much. We’d be more in the wool fibers and fleece. And so we also have developed or worked with a company that has recycled material as well. So we use recycled pot bottles to make hats as well. So we do believe that there will be a larger market for us. And as you know, supply chains are getting tighter, people are wanting to have their product now as opposed to waiting for it to maybe come here from China, a lot of people like to have American made product, and we fit in that category. And so yes, we do think that there’s going to be a lot of opportunity in the consumer space.
Steve Melito: And that’s good to hear. So as part of not just the podcast but FuzeHub’s manufacturing solutions program, I make some referrals to Mozaic, and I usually talk to Suzanne and Ed, and they’re great folks. We love to work with them. What is the ideal customer that Mozaic would like to work with these days? And do you work with startups?
Allen Connely: We do work with startups. As a matter of fact, we work with a company called Natural Beauty Prosthetics for breast implant, natural fibers for them. We’ve worked with some other startups that FuzeHub has brought to us that made various blankets and things of that nature. And we try to work with them to do an additional assessment of their project, develop some of their specifications, because a lot of times they might not have that developed. They may have a drawing or they may have a prototype or something like that, and so we help them with that. Sometimes we help them with material sourcing, which helps them because they, as a entrepreneur, may not know all those types of details, and because we’ve been doing it for 25 years we can manufacture for them first article samples to help them get a quote together if they want to do that on a mass scale, and help them with full production manufacturing. If in fact it comes to fruition, we’re able to help them be able to do that for their new product line. So we like to work with various entrepreneurs, depends on the product. We tell them upfront if we think that we can do this or we can help them out. And if we can’t, we’ll let them know that too. But we try to really be a collaborative partner. It’s one of our values to be able to collaborate with others in our community, but also potential up- and- coming entrepreneurs to allow them to get started if they’re in this textile space.
Steve Melito: So when you think about yourself as a manufacturer, what are some of the big successes that you’ve had?
Allen Connely: Big successes, well, I think Arctic Gear is one. That’s very unique to our community to be able to start from zero and have a consumer facing brand as we do, particularly in these days. Over the winter time, we sold 10,000 hats, which was very unique for us as a starting point in the retail space. When COVID was at its height, we were able to produce 43, 000 masks for Cornell Prison Education Program. And so those masks were given to the state prison system here in the State of New York, and so we feel good about all those things. But I guess most importantly, when you think about making product for your nation’s war fighters and knowing that those hats go all over the world, when I travel, I’m in airports, army personnel come through with their packs, I ask them about, ” Hey, can I take a picture of your hat?” And they think it’s strange, but I tell them the story and they think, oh, man, this is the greatest. So they put their hats on, take a photo, and bring it back to our staff, and they just think it’s the greatest. Because they know that they’re supporting our nation’s war fighters, and who else, who better to be a customer of ours than everyone’s son, daughter, friend, husband, wife. So that gets us really going.
Steve Melito: Absolutely. Certainly is a motivating thing for the folks that do the work.
Allen Connely: Absolutely.
Steve Melito: A lot of great successes you’ve had. Of course, there’s always challenges. What are some that you’ve overcome?
Allen Connely: Well, I can tell you, getting into the retail space has been quite difficult. We have bottlenecks now in terms of space because of our growth. We had an addition about a year and a half ago, and we got funding to be able to do that through DASNY, and so we extended our manufacturing facility and now we’re outgrowing it. So that’s definitely a challenge. The other big challenge for us, and I think it’s not unlike other manufacturers, is labor, trying to find those people that are able to work, that want to work at this point in time. With the COVID crisis, we had lost some, some don’t want to come back yet, and definitely understand that. But that is a critical challenge, I think, for all of us manufacturers, is finding those folks that would like to work. So those are the challenges that we continue to work on to better ourselves, find personnel to be able to do this work.
Steve Melito: Sure. That Workforce one is a big challenge. And to change gears a little bit, New York State provides assistance to manufacturers. Can you tell us about some of the support that you’ve received over the years?
Allen Connely: Oh, yeah. We have gotten several equipment grants to improve productivity. We have been able to buy additional equipment, sewing equipment, machines that help us make our hats. We were able to help Natural Beauty Prosthesis get a $ 50,000 startup grant to help them and obviously us to get that started, obviously partnerships with those small startups, as I’d mentioned here, and grants for new product development, testing and support field testing. So we’re going to be doing some work with the United States Marine Corps on development of a new balaclava, maybe having a filtration system within that, and a fire retardant type of material. And all those things have helped us become more sophisticated in what we do. And that support that we have received from FuzeHub has really helped us out as a small manufacturer. And it’s really important from a strategic planning point of view, is that we want to continue to grow this business double size of this business because, again, all those profits, coming back, we can utilize those dollars in any way, shape or form we want to. In the other areas of our business, very highly regulated, and you can only do certain things with the funds that you receive for those. Here, we’re able to utilize it in different ways, and particularly and most importantly is being able to hopefully raise wages for our direct support professionals who support intellectually and disabled individuals that have the most severe disabilities, you might say, and to help them, support them and their families as they live their lives.
Steve Melito: You’ve just really grown so well as an organization. Where do you think you’ll be in, say, five years from now?
Allen Connely: Well, again, a part of our strategic plan is I think that within the next five years we will be managing other nonprofits as a line of business, because we think that we have a lot to offer them, to be able to support them in back office services. As it relates to Mozaic, I think that we will continue to grow and see and expand that space. Our desire would be to expand and potentially have other manufacturing facilities within the textiles marketplace, but also possibly other for- profit entities that we would like to purchase so that we can, again, give people with disabilities an opportunity to work. Because one of the great things about doing that is so many times people that are either unemployed, or people who have a disability that can’t work, or haven’t historically worked, people who are blind, who are part of our community as well, if we can help them learn, to help support them to work, they will be paying taxes and they will be, most importantly, able to live that dream that we all want to live, which is we all want to be a contributor to society. And so much of that comes from the work that we do, that we are providing for ourselves and our families, so we want to be able to expand that. So I think that there we are in a growth strategy for us, being able to manage other organizations, as well as being able to sustain ourselves by acquisitions of other for- profit entities.
Steve Melito: That’s fantastic. And on behalf of FuzeHub, we look forward to helping you however we can. You have a great success story. Allen Connely, thank you.
Allen Connely: Thank you for having me again, and always great to talk with you, Steve. And just thank you so much through the years of support from FuzeHub. It has been great. And I have just really enjoyed seeing the growth that you all have helped us have because of just your support. So thank you.
Steve Melito: You’re most welcome. That’s what we do. So hey, you’ve been listening to New York State Manufacturing Now. We’ve been talking to Allen Connely, who is the president and CEO of Mozaic. And if you are a New York State manufacturer, inventor, entrepreneur, if you’d just like to know more about what FuzeHub does, you can get ahold of us. The easiest way to do it is to request an expert consultation. You’ll talk to a member of our manufacturing solutions program. We’ll match you up with a New York State resource that may be in the public, private, or university sector, depending on what you need. So use that opportunity. It’s always available. Go online to www. fuzehub. com, look for the Manufacturing Solutions Program menu in that requested expert consultation form. And on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast powered by FuzeHub, I’m your host, Steve Melito, signing off.