by Leah Eagle
What does it mean to be “Made in Alabama?” Not only is this a question Carol and Eric Pittman looked to answer earlier this year when searching for a manufacturer, but it is a branding campaign launched by the Alabama Department of Commerce in March 2013. The campaign was designed to build on the state’s economic development momentum and the Pittmans wanted to be a part of it by bringing in more business to the state through Olli+Lime.
“The ‘Made in Alabama’ badge stands for quality, and it’s clear that the homegrown companies being honored in this showcase today have mastered the art of turning out a wide variety of world-class products,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce in October 2021. To learn more about the "Made in Alabama" campaign, see the end of this article.
How have the Pittmans looked to bring in this business? Through a partnership with Southern Apparel who took over production for Olli+Lime after the purchase in August 2022.
ABOUT SOUTHERN APPAREL
It was 1979 when Raymond and Sue Evans started the journey of Southern Apparel. Raymond was working at a butcher warehouse in Montgomery, AL and Sue was a seamstress at Russell Mills in Alexander City, AL.
In 1975, Raymond bought his butcher coat home for Sue to mend, and she wound up taking it apart at the seams and making another one similar to it. When Raymond wore it to work, his coworkers were impressed and he was asked if she could make more for the other employees. Things took off from there and after purchasing a professional commercial sewing machine, Sue quit her job and Southern Apparel was born.
The loyal, Christian-based company started as an LLC in 1979 and then incorporated in 1993. All the items are manufactured in Wetumpka, AL and shipped out to distributors, including Bunzl.
“We’re the only ones left to sew by hand and do not sell directly given loyalty to our customers,” said Diane Rawls, daughter of the original owners who is now CEO of the company. “It takes the business away from the distributor."
While Raymond and Sue have retired, they still live on the land where Southern Apparel is located, a 300 acre farm that has been in their family for four generations. The company has 30 employees, ranging in age from 20 to 81, many of whom have been there since the beginning.
Diane came on board in 2015 and has made huge changes in the last eight years. The entire space was revamped and construction was done to create office space. New computers were brought in and a website was launched. While there were some changes, some things remain the same.
“We’re an old fashioned mom and pop company that believes in family, values and Christian principles. That's why I believe we're still in business today,” Diane said. “When everyone else has gone to automated and overseas production, we guarantee quality work and inspect everything by hand. We still lay the cloth out and cut it with a knife. The ladies still sew by hand and cut strings with scissors. We have prayer before we start in the mornings. That is what we were founded on and something we will continue to do. This is how we will be able to thrive for the future.”
While much of their business is from smocks, frocks and aprons, Diane said when she was approached by Olli+Lime owners Carol and Eric Pittman, she knew it would be a great partnership.
The Pittmans made a trip to Wetumpka to see the space and meet the team, and brought along samples of their products.
“We looked at the patterns, took them apart and said we could do the exact same thing,” Diane said. “We're excited about what we're doing with Olli+Lime, it’s a whole new opportunity! I expect them to blow up and I feel like this is something promising. They have the same values we have and I don’t believe it’s by coincidence we came together, I feel like it was meant to be.”
More about the "Made In Alabama" campaign:
MadeInAlabama.com features sharable news content focusing on Alabama’s economic development successes and the advantages that make the state an attractive location for investment.
"What this means for us is that our marketing and recruitment efforts will be even more tactical,” Canfield said. “It will be surgical, it will be strategic. We will make Alabama the state everyone wants to be when it comes to economic development."
See more about the largest industries in Alabama below:
Aerospace & Aviation Industry: Over 300 aerospace companies from more than 30 different countries have chosen Alabama, including industry giants such as Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, Raytheon, Collins Aerospace and GKN Aerospace
Agriculture Products & Food Production: Alabama’s 40,000-strong agriculture workforce supported $800 million worth of exports in 2021, including $341 million in food products, $326 million in agricultural products and $133 million in livestock and related products. Just a few of the companies in Alabama include: Tyson Foods, Golden Flake, Buffalo Rock, Coca-Cola United, and Barber Dairies.
Automotive: Mercedes-Benz announced plans to open its only U.S. assembly plant in Alabama in 1993. Since then, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, along with automotive suppliers, have joined Alabama’s vehicle manufacturing industry.
Bioscience: Alabama is home to 780 bioscience companies, and the industry has an annual economic impact estimated at $7.3 billion. Birmingham-based Southern Research has discovered seven FDA-approved drugs used in cancer treatment, and has made important advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, polio, and mosquito-borne viruses.
Chemicals: This ranked as Alabama’s second largest export category, with overseas shipments totaling $2.3 billion in 2021. Chemicals produced in Alabama include caustic soda, oxidants, light stabilizers, emissions catalysts, phenol, acetone and a variety of specialty chemicals. Some of the companies in the state include DuPont, 3M Company, ExxonMobil and BP America.
Forestry: Alabama has 23 million acres of timberland, which makes it the second largest timberland base in the U.S. Companies like Georgia Pacific and Weyerhaeuser continue to make investments in the state. The total value of manufactured products exceeds $12.5 billion annually
Metal & Advanced Materials: Alabama has a long tradition in metals manufacturing. Birmingham was built on iron and steel, thanks to the area’s rich deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone. Several of the metal manufacturing companies in the state include: ACIPCO, U.S. Steel, GE Aviation and U.S. Pipe.