Handcraft Manufacturing President Irwin Mizrahi values hard work and a family-friendly corporate culture. His own father and uncle started the company in 1946, and since then, he’s helped it become one of the nation’s best-known manufacturers of children’s socks and underwear.
In Handcraft’s early days, its founders loaded heavy sample cases onto trains at New York’s Grand Central Station and crisscrossed the region to make sales. They sold handkerchiefs door-to-door. Mizrahi spent his summers in the Manhattan factory, worked a series of odd jobs, and officially joined the family business after college. Along the way, he realized that his colleagues at Handcraft adopted the tone his relatives set from the top. “We search for and keep a certain type of person here,” he says. “It’s a family business, and we like people who value that.”
One of those people is Yolanda Garcia. While it’s not uncommon to hear of long-tenured employees at Handcraft, she’s been part of the team longer than almost anyone who doesn’t carry the Mizrahi name. Garcia came to the organization in 1977, when it had a factory along Observer Highway in Hoboken, New Jersey. As an entry-level worker, she counted and folded finished handkerchiefs before separating them into plastic bags for shipping.
Garcia took the job because it was close to her apartment. She didn’t want to leave her children home alone, but she could see her building from the factory window. Garcia instructed her kids to hang a red towel from the window when they got home from school each day. She kept an eye on the window as she worked, always checking to ensure everything was okay at home.
Mizrahi says Garcia’s seemingly endless energy and unshakable work ethic caused leaders to notice her. “She never waited to be asked or told to do something, she just did it,” he recalls. “And that’s how she’s always been.” Garcia earned a quick promotion to the head of a small production team and never looked back.
After sales of just one product led to slow growth, Handcraft expanded from handkerchiefs to socks and underwear, which brought new licensing opportunities in 1992. Today, the company’s products feature characters from Marvel, Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, and others, and can be found at nearly every major retailer.
Garcia has grown in step with the company, and forty-five years after she started packing Handcraft products, she works alongside its leaders in their New York office. “Everyone knows they can come to her with any need, large or small. She is part of what makes this a place where people want to be each day,” Mizrahi says.
The reputation has earned her many endearing nicknames in the office. At home, her sons Giovanni and Ariel Ramos call her the Mayor. “She can’t go outside without being stopped and talking to people,” they say. “Whether it’s a neighbor, grocery store employee, someone sitting on a bench, or the usual suspects during her morning commute, Yolanda will make friends. She is kind-hearted and compassionate, but she’s also no pushover. There is some bulldog in her and she’ll let it out if needed.”
Working at Handcraft has become a Garcia family tradition: both Giovanni and Ariel had summer jobs within the organization when they were in high school, and this past summer, Garcia’s seventeen-year-old granddaughter also became part of that tradition.
Before the heyday of the personal computer, slick pitch decks, and flashy three-dimensional design elements, Garcia used to hand-cut socks and underwear shapes for big presentations. She’s held formal positions as a supervisor and informal roles as party coordinator and pot-luck cook. Today, she’s officially the office manager, but there’s not really a job at Handcraft she doesn’t do.
Domestically, Handcraft has offices in New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas. The company’s overseas facilities include those in China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Altogether, it has about a hundred employees and now has licensing deals in place for about seventy properties.
Despite this growth, the company has retained its family culture. Mizrahi says the credit for that goes to his family members and employees like Garcia. “We don’t have extras here. We don’t just pack bodies in offices. Each person is important. Each person has to contribute, and Yolanda always does. We can’t do it without her,” he explains. Buyers at big retailers like Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and Costco know they’re going to get personal attention from Handcraft—a company built on quality, service, and creativity.
One of Garcia’s colleagues started with the company in 1972 and just celebrated her fiftieth work anniversary. Those employees and their loved ones are happy to be welcomed into the Mizrahi family.
“It’s been a long journey but worth it, because she feels grateful, proud, and blessed to be part of this company,” Giovanni says. “To watch it grow over the past forty-five years makes her feel that she, in one way or another, has contributed to the great company it is now.”
It’s a growing company with a bright future. Mizrahi has now handed daily operations over to his two sons, who run the business. But for him, employees like Garcia are part of the family as well.