Terence To ‘09 helps his company do well—and good—by pivoting to high-quality face masks
When the pandemic hit, menswear manufacturer AW Chang Corporation / Excalibur saw its sales pipeline dry up. The sales director, Terence To '09, tapped his Boston College network and helped his company pivot toward a new, urgent, and global need: face masks.
Now, the company is selling as well as donating cloth masks through a partnership with Macy’s.
“We wanted to do some good and help relieve some of the pressure on the supply of surgical masks,” To said, explaining that the company decided to do so by producing non-medical masks for the public. “At the same time, we also wanted to find a way to sustain our business in order to keep our workers employed.”
New York-based AW Chang is a fully vertical manufacturer of men’s apparel—meaning it controls its global supply chain from end to end. When customers began canceling orders last spring, the company considered producing medical equipment like surgical gowns and masks for healthcare workers, but bureaucratic roadblocks made it hard to get that effort off the ground. So they began prototyping mask designs instead.
Within a few months, AW Chang had fired up its fabric mills and factories, which typically produce dress shirts and neckties, for a new line of 100-percent cotton face coverings under one of their brands, Society of Threads. The family-owned business started manufacturing silk in Los Angeles in 1989. This legacy has been key to a quick and successful launch of the new product line, To said. “With our core identity as a fabric mill, we were able to apply our 30-plus years of textile knowledge and expertise in a way that most other companies cannot.”
As director of sales, To’s job is to get the masks to market. In addition to selling to their usual clothing retailers—stores like Macy’s, Belk, and Men’s Warehouse—To turned to Melis Halac, a fellow 2009 Carroll School alum. She works as a senior account executive at Amazon, and together they recently launched a brand store on Amazon for AW Chang's brand Con.Struct. He is also in touch with Kristen Dacey, another former BC classmate and 2009 Lynch School graduate, about supplying her school with masks if they decide to reopen this fall. She teaches first grade at a public school in Salem, New Hampshire.
Already, production of Society of Threads masks has relieved some pressure at AW Chang, a relatively small company. “We initially had to furlough a significant portion of our staff, but this project has gradually allowed us to bring many of our employees back to work,” he said.
And the employees aren’t the only ones to benefit. In partnership with Macy’s, the company is donating 20,000 face masks to the COVID-19 relief fund at Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization that distributes shoes and clothing to people in need.
“Unlike much larger companies, we unfortunately don't have millions of dollars to spend on marketing,” To noted, but the brand has started to sell itself. Society of Threads face masks were recently named “Best of the Best” by BestReviews.com, cited as “a versatile, washable mask in several flattering colors/prints by a company that gives back.” He is now in touch with companies well outside of AW Chang’s usual client base—supermarkets, public transportation agencies, and a major pharmacy chain—all looking for high-quality face coverings. Society of Threads masks have also been mentioned in Buzzfeed, People, Men’s Health, GQ, Vogue, and NBC.
At the Carroll School, To concentrated in operations management with a focus on human resources management. He was also a peer advisor at the school, and a retreat leader for Halftime.
—Carroll School News