John Zaboyan | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
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Visit www.twohh.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated: December 14, 2013 6:07AM
“Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore
My flashlight’s from Taiwan
My tablecloth’s from Malaysia
My belt buckle’s from the Amazon
You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day”
— Bob Dylan
John Zaboyan lives in Crown Point. He is a likeable but private man as far as his personal life. I did get him to talk about his Armenian roots.
The former buyer for Montgomery Ward has worked as a self-employed product designer for the past 30 years. His business affairs have taken him all over the world. He has traveled to Hong Kong more than 100 times.
But mostly, Zaboyan is a man on a mission. And that mission is to create jobs in Gary by selling quality American-made T-shirts at wholesale prices. The fledgling company he has created is called Two Hearts Are Better Than One.
“Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity in the world — 301 A.D,” he said. “My parents and grandparents were Armenians who lived in Turkey.
“On April 24, 1915, 2.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Turks. That’s why my grandparents fled Turkey and went to Syria. In 1938, Hitler told the people that he was going to clean up his nation by killing every Jew possible. Crowds of people scoffed saying that something like that couldn’t be done. Hitler replied: ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ Only 23 years had passed. The world had already forgotten about the massacre of the Armenians.”
John, I’ve interviewed an Assyrian; you might be my first Armenian.
“There was a coach at Notre Dame who was Armenian.”
“Correct. The Kardashian sisters in Los Angeles are Armenian-Americans. L.A. has a large Armenian community.”
When year did you emigrate to this country?
“In 1959. We are really lucky here in the United States to have third world countries to produce products for us at very low prices. For example, we can buy shoes for $10. If those shoes were made in the United States they would have been a lot more expensive.”
A race to the bottom, says I.
“As manufacturers went overseas to create products that were less expensive, so they could be competitive in the United States, slowly but surely manufacturing died in the United States.
“Good, bad, ugly, other countries benefitted from us by being able to put food on their tables and Americans benefitted from low-priced merchandise. That’s why you have Targets and Walmarts everywhere.”
Sorry, I’m not a big fan of “Wally World.” I say charge an extra 25 cents for a waste paper basket or a coffee mug and pay your employees a decent wage.
“Jeff, I used to buy jewelry for Montgomery Ward in Providence, R.I. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Providence was where you went to buy jewelry. There were hundreds of factories in Providence. Today, it’s a ghost town. All that merchandise is being produced somewhere else in the world.”
That sort of thing has been happening in this country since the ‘80s or before.
“About two or three years ago, I thought to myself, ‘How can we create manufacturing jobs in the United States?’”
“There is a company in L.A. called American Apparel. They produce one of the best T-shirts in the entire world. Here is an American Apparel T-shirt that retails for $18. But I can buy them wholesale because of my company, Two Hearts Are Better Than One. And I want quantity.
“I cannot sell their T-shirt exactly as it is because it’s their brand name. You have to do something to it. Either print something on it or convert it into your brand name. As you can see, this T-shirt has my logo on the front of it — ‘HH made in America.’”
And it also has American Apparel printed on the tag. How much would Two Hearts Are Better Than One sell that $18 American Apparel T-Shirt for?
“I can sell it at a retail price of $5.72.”
You’re kidding me.
“About three years ago, I spent time, energy and money to come up with a wholesale website. A wholesale website for individuals.”
Creating jobs in Gary?
“The jobs will not require a college education. All the employees will have to know is how to receive the merchandise, fold the merchandise, repackage it and mail it.
“Jeff, there is a $19 billion printed T-shirt business in the United States. Recently, the Bank of America sponsored the Chicago Marathon. They probably ordered at least 20,000 T-shirts. I would bet those T-shirts were made in Bangladesh, China, Singapore or Malaysia.”
Capitalism at its cruelest.
“Those poor people work for pennies an hour. But this is one area where I can compete. And I compete without charity or asking for breaks. Why wouldn’t the organizers and sponsors of the Chicago Marathon want to buy a T-shirt of the highest quality in the world, made in the United States, and printed in Gary, Indiana?”
You got me?
“The money our customers spend will stay in America, not go to, say, Sri Lanka. The business is ready to go. I’m looking for a company in Gary that knows how to receive, ship and invoice and has an extra room in the back they could give to us. We are looking for a business that would help give us an identity. This is who we are. This is where we are.
“When you drive down Broadway and look to your left and right, everything is decimated. It makes me want to cry. Unemployment, unemployment, unemployment. Employment not only gives you some money, it gives you a feeling of being somebody.”
You’ll be going up against some Goliaths out there.
“You’re right, competing in the printed T-shirt business is no walk in the park. It is one of the most competitive businesses in the United States. There are years of business bonds forged between large importers and institutions, also years of licensing contracts between the parties, intertwined with inside politics.”
Good luck. I mean that.
“This is a business concept that is like a mission to me. A mission that provides permanent jobs to hundreds of average-skilled low- and middle-income citizens in Gary. And it won’t be from begging for money from the American government, rather it would be from competing and winning in the actual business world.
“Jeff, I grew up very poor in Beirut, Lebanon, but you don’t have to be poor to know what it feels like to be poor.”
“Go 24 hours without eating.”
I don’t believe John Zaboyan started Two Hearts Are Better Than One to get filthy rich. He simply wants to create jobs for people in Gary.
Good for him.