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Japanese, Military Markets Spurring Growth for Melo

The Hudson Valley region is home to small businesses and craftspeople in just about all imaginable fields.

One of its up-and-coming companies is Melo, a business that designs unique, stylish bags. The company has found a lot of success in the Japanese fashion markets and in making high-end custom bags for the military.

“We do export under our own brand name, the Melo Brand, and export thousands of bags to Japan, all to a single distributor there,” said Jim Melville, founder of Melo. “From there it goes out to more than 100 boutiques and department stores in the Japanese market. And it’s all bags. Everything from small shoulder bags up to big backpacks.”

The company is now working with the largest and strongest distributor it has had to date in the Japanese market, and business is going very well. In fact, Melo is preparing to open a flagship store in Japan this summer.

MeloMelo has not always been a major international player in the bag world like it is becoming now. The company has been in business for more than 30 years. Its name comes from a combination of “Melville” and “Lopez,” referring to Doris Lopez, one of the original owners who left the company about 28 years ago.

When he first started the company, Melville was in New York working on an MBA. The idea for the company grew out of an assignment in business school. Before that, he had owned a silk screen printing company. Melville was an art major as an undergrad and had decided he liked the business side of things more than the artistic side, so went back to get his MBA. Melo was born soon after.

Melo has seen some significant growth in the last year or so in working with The Accelerator. It has been in the program for eight or nine months now, and the results have spoken for themselves. The company has 18 employees in two locations, with the majority of employees at the Accelerator in New Windsor. They continue to add capacity and increase output on a monthly basis.

“In July (2017), we started our move and hired two people to begin the sewing operation. By winter we had added several more employees, more space and setup a cutting department there. We expect to expand again this summer by moving the cutting department and adding more sewing capability in the old cutting room.” Melville said. “We’re now in high gear and adding people, trying to get one new person a week to come in and begin training. We still have our original location in Stuyvesant, New York, as well, with five people working there where they do the military contract work.”

A key employee at the Accelerator is Matilde Palme Crespo, who has been working at Melo for about five months as a production manager. Matilde started as a machine operator but quickly demonstrated her management abilities and took over all production responsibilities in January. Crespo has always enjoyed sewing, so the opportunity to work for Melo was attractive to her when the opportunity presented itself. The company has given her an opportunity to advance her career in some unexpected ways.

“I am gaining more experience and ability to resolve problems,” said Crespo, through her daughter who translated her Spanish. “I am a manager, so I have to make sure everyone is doing their job and that everything is going smoothly.”

Crespo has greatly enjoyed her ability to decide the production schedule for each day, and takes a lot of pride in training and comparing ideas with other employees. The organization has little hierarchy, allowing a lot of dialogue and idea sharing between line workers and management. The benefits of the great work space, state-of-the-art equipment and a talented local workforce have made all of the difference for Melo in its move to the Accelerator.

Melville says the Accelerator has given him access to advanced equipment and more technical resources than he ever had access to before. The most important factor has been the access to a bigger, highly motivated workforce. In Stuyvesant, Melville found it difficult to hire new workers who are energetic and motivated. The Accelerator has helped him find the employees he needs to keep growing his company.

Since Melo began working with their new Japanese distributor, the company has been busier than ever. Cost reductions due to the new equipment and technical resources provided by the Accelerator have made Melo more competitive in the Japanese market, leading to a much higher volume of orders.

The biggest segment of its products is still the technical backpacks for the military, which hold high-pressure tanks of compressed air used for soldiers to breathe in combat situations when the air has been compromised. A new computerized sewing machine provided to Melo by WDI (Workforce Development Institute) and installed at the Accelerator has been pivotal in growing this segment of the business. All of the preparation work for these bags is done in the facility at the Accelerator and then sent to Melo’s other location for final assembly. The company also makes small medical kits and tourniquets (Melville is the owner of a tourniquet patent), as well as ancillary items related to the backpacks.

The company’s product line continues to grow, as well. The pressure to satisfy customer requests has been intense lately with how fast business has been ramping up.

“I just had my Japanese distributors in. They spent three days here,” said Melville. “They bring over ideas and samples of products they think would sell well in the Japanese market. We just completed over a dozen new products that we shipped over for a trade show in Tokyo.”

The Accelerator’s environment and technology have been extremely helpful for Melville in managing Melo’s rapid growth. He currently has about 14 employees at the Accelerator, with that number on the rise, and he looks forward to continued success.