Now listed: Country western jacket with fringe galore and 1970s pleather power by Pioneer Wear. The company and its "no rhinestone cowboy" founder was profiled in the Albuquerque Journal in 1976 - a story that includes the Marlboro Man, Hitler, and a piranha. Read the full piece below.
Western Garb Hot Item, by David Specht
Albuquerque Journal, July 4, 1976
German-born John Sullivan never worked on a ranch and probably prefers riding cars to horses, but he's no rhinestone cowboy when it comes to making western-style apparel.
Sullivan is president and sole stockholder of Pioneer Wear, Inc., 1718 Yale Blvd. SE, a multimillion-dollar clothing manufacturing plant that makes western-style vests, coats, jackets, shirts and other outer wear for men and women.
Pioneer Wear also makes and markets the vests and jackets Phillip Morris uses in its Marlboro commercials. Sullivan's elongated, 91,000-square-foot' plant houses 439 employees, including shippers and designers. His products, whether they be fancy, flowered shirts or genuine leather vests, sell in every state except Hawaii. He also garnishes his profits with some overseas sales.
About 52 per cent of the orders can be finished here, Sullivan says, and the remaining 48 per cent, which consist of styles that require more delicate, complex stitchery than his assembly-line production force can handle, go to Pioneer Wear workers in Hong Kong, Taiwan or South Korea.
Although he owns or leases two warehouses in the city, he doubles storage space by hanging finished products from the ceilings. He also gives workers incentive to reduce waste, paying extra for salvageable materials.
In the first two months of this year, orders from the company's 3,000 accounts totaled some $6 million, Sullivan reported. To date, Pioneer Wear has orders for about $12 million, he added. All on the heels of record sales year in 1975. Sullivan also said he plans to add about 20,000 square feet in the near future.
Sullivan dresses casually, and characterizes himself as "basically shy." But he comforts himself in a spacious, comfortable office, decorated with a massive 18th century tapestry, a 16th century Chinese cabinet, and, quite conspicuously, a 13-year-old pirahna in an aquarium.
The company history is indeed long, but in brief, Pioneer Wear was founded by Sullivan's father, Leopold Seligman (Sullivan changed his name) in 1939.
Seligman closed his ladies' coat shop in Berlin in 1938 and brought his wife and family to Albuquerque, fleeing Hitler. Soon after arriving, Seligman began anew, with one sewing machine and a total capital of $10, Sullivan said.
The entire family pitched in, but after a while Sullivan wasn't sure the family business was for him. He drifted to Chicago, where he got fired from a job in a garment factory. Knowing little English and little else in the way of trades, he took a similar job at another plant, but stayed only about a month before quitting.
In 1946, Leopold Seligman died, and young Sullivan came home. Some years later, in 1961, Shis brother Ruily also died, and Sullivan bought his brother's ownership and became more active in the flourishing business.
His sister retired, and in 1974 his mother died, and Sullivan bought her ownership and became president.
His staff says he was "cautious" at first, but since has given his officers more room to move. Joseph G. Figueroa, sales manager, says Sullivan is "fair and willing to listen to all employees," and says he knows how to operate every machine in the plant.
One of his closest officers is Dale H. Fox, vice president. Figueroa said that if either Sullivan or Fox disagree on a new design, "it's automatically nixed."
Sullivan insists on the arrangement.
"In our field, we have to be the leader. So whatever we come up with, that presumably will be a leading item. You can't screw up, or you'll go down the drain, quick," Sullivan said.