For Wisconsin Knitwear, it’s not just about making money
Lee Fensin | March 30, 2017 | 3 Nisan 5777
Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 15 set off an “unforgettable week” for Steven Arenzon.
A few months earlier, Crosby’s Green Bay Packers had a 4-6 record when quarterback Aaron Rodgers said what became much talked about around the state: “I feel like we can run the table,” Rodgers said.
They almost did. The Packers went on to win their last six regular-season games and make it to the playoffs, during which Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Cowboys 34-31 in the NFC divisional round.
That inspired Arenzon to produce “Run the Table” knit hats at his factory, Wisconsin Knitwear, Inc., located on the south side of Milwaukee. “We used them to capture the spirit of our football team and raise money for the Jewish Community Food Pantry,” Arenzon said.
The Arenzons wear “Run The Table” hats. From left are Steven, Robin, Scott, Naomi (in frame), Jordan.
“The next morning we started running these hats and just handing them out,” said Arenzon, known as the “Hat Man” around town. “We had requests from all over – from North Carolina to Afghanistan to Italy.” As the company gave the hats away, Arenzon suggested to recipients that they make donations to the Jewish Community Pantry. “We had such an incredible feeling that week; we were on such a high. I don’t think I slept the entire week. I’ll never forget it.”
Arenzon inherited his sense of giving from his parents, Mauricio and Sheila, who began the business in 1979.
Steven Arenzon’s entire family – wife, Robin; daughters, Naomi, 20, and Jordan, 14; and son, Scott, 18 – have been involved in the charitable arm of the company, which began Gift of Warmth in 1998. “We try to do it every year,” Arenzon said. “We’d drive around the neighborhood on cold days and see kids with nothing on their heads. It is aggravating to see kids outside freezing. So we started donating to local shelters and teamed up with local police officers. We’d donate to the police department a couple thousand hats at the beginning of winter and they would distribute them around the neighborhood.”
The company also is involved with the state’s Big Bundle Up campaign, which is in its sixth year giving warm clothing to those in need. In a recent three-year stretch, Wisconsin Knitwear provided 4,700 hats to Big Bundle Up, which were donated to the United Way of Greater Milwaukee.
The company’s hats are custom-made and shipped around the world. “I remember every hat we’ve made,” said Arenzon, whose company also donates scarves and headbands.
“What we donate is all first-quality stuff,” he said. “Years that we don’t have a lot of overruns, we still make the donations. Because it (donating) is something we want to do.”
The company also donates to organizations in which the three Arenzon children are involved. The three used their family’s giving to create b’nei mitzvah service projects.
“It’s a good experience for my kids, something we hope they take with them to whatever profession they get into,” said Arenzon, who keeps his car trunk full of hats when he’s on the road, and hands the hats out.
The company, one of the few knitting companies left in the country, also helped sponsor the 2015 JCC Milwaukee Maccabi Games.
Mauricio and Sheila Arenzon now live in Florida and have maintained their membership in Temple Menorah in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Knitwear is an extension of a sweater company originally started in Argentina by Mauricio’s father, Julius.
Mauricio is proud of his family’s giving, in keeping with Jewish values. “They help other people,” Mauricio said. “We’re very proud of them and Steven is very proud when he gives a donation.”
A friend once asked Mauricio, “Steven gives so many things away to charity, does he make any money?”
To which Steven replies: “I want my kids to learn that business is not all about just making money.”
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At a glance
What: Wisconsin Knitwear
Owner: Steven Arenzon (family includes wife Robin and three children: Naomi, Scott and Jordan; parents Mauricio and Sheila started the business)
Charitable work: Gift of Warmth, Big Bundle Up, Jewish Community Pantry, local shelters, 2015 JCC Milwaukee Maccabi Games
Mauricio’s business advice: Talk to people, be nice to people and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
January 22, 2015, by Kaite DeLong and John Parnon
MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Giving the gift of warmth. Milwaukee police are working to distribute dozens of winter hats — donated by a south side business owner and his daughter. Those hats will be handed out by officers when they’re on patrol.
There are many things officers work to put a cap on. Usually, it’s crime.
“Often, when police go out in neighborhoods we are meeting someone in crisis. You never know when you might need somebody`s help out there on the streets. Hats for us, it`s the winter, and hats keep you warm. No different than gloves. The majority of heat is lost through your head. It’s the winter. It`s a great tool,” Milwaukee Police Officer Alfonso Morales said.
Hundreds of hats have been donated. They’ll “ride along” with Milwaukee police officers on patrol, and they’ll be handed out to those in need.
This effort began with Jordan Arenzon.
“You can bring a bunch of these and hand them out to so many people,” Arenzon said.
Arenzon is going a service project as part of her Bat Mitzvah.
“I am doing a project called Gift of Warmth and I give these hats to police officers so they can give them out in the area. My dad donated them from his company. We have a little bit over a thousand,” Arenzon said.
Arenzon’s father owns Wisconsin Knitwear. Together, they’re hoping to cap off a cold winter.
“I know there’s a need here,” Arenzon said.
Local knitting company donates winter hats for Milwaukee's homeless
Jan 13, 2015 By Marshanna Hester, CBS 58 WDJT Milwaukee, WI
Inside Wisconsin Knitwear on Milwaukee's south side is a flurry of activity.
"It's a long process, but well worth it," said owner Steven Arenzon. "It's all done by hand, with needles and chain and the machine."
The spinning spools of red, black and green can make you dizzy, but when the colors intertwine, the results can be life changing.
"To see what we do and what we start from scratch and what we accomplish at the end, it makes me feel good," he said.
Wisconsin Knitwear has specialized in producing and manufacturing winter hats, masks and scarves for 35 years. It's one of a few knitting companies left in the country.
As many as 5,000 hats are shipped each day to companies worldwide with the 'Made in the USA' tag. But, no delivery is more meaningful for Arenzon than the those in his community.
"Driving around the city and seeing children and adults who don't have hats especially in this weather," he continued. "This is not fun and you just want people to stay warm."
That's why Arenzon didn't hesitate to donate 1,200 hats to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission as part of the Department of Tourism's "Big Bundle Up" campaign. Winter weather items are collected across the state and given to agencies in need.
"There's a need. It's chilly out," said Megan Kimps with the state tourism agency. "We brought them here and they're going to go to good use."
The donation is coming at a critical time in the community, as the city's homeless is trying to survive in dangerous sub-zero temperatures. Rescue Mission leaders say they've been busy providing emergency shelter for men.
"We don't turn anyone away on these really cold nights," said Dan Ryan, assistant development director. "We have our shelter with about 200 beds. We can bring out additional mattresses and even if we run out of space then, the men can still come and stay in our lobby. We want to make sure everyone is safe and warm on these cold nights."
"We have collected 32,000 items to date and the program this year, just ended on the second and we already have 10,000 items this year alone," Kimps added. "So we're really excited to continue to grow this program and make sure people are warm.
by Tracu Neuman
Dec 20, 2011
Milwaukee Police Officers were called to Lincoln Elementary School Tuesday to hand out knitwear to the students there.
Scott Arenzon, a seventh grader from Maple Dale School, wrote a letter to MPD while preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. As part of his mitzvah (good deed) project, he decided to give away warm knitwear to local kids. His father Steven, owner of Wisconsin Knitwear, donated the hats and gloves.
We talked to Scott about his project as well as Milwaukee Police. The officers who volunteered say they were honored to help Scott with his cause.
By Shelley Walcott
December 4, 2009
MILWAUKEE - As the weather turns cold, 13-year-old Naomi Arenzon prepares a gift of warmth. Her family is donating two-thousand knit hats in honor of Naomi's bat mitzvah. "I would like to help people who don't have stuff for winter and who need it," said Naomi.
Naomi's father Steven owns Wisconsin Knitwear on Lincoln Avenue. The hats are manufactured on site at the south side company. And after deciding on the donation for Naomi's mitzvah project, the family spent this evening, packing up the multi colored hats.
And they enlisted the help of police in District 2, so the hats could be distributed in areas where people will need them most this winter. Officers arrived today, to collect the box loads.
"We can hand them out as we see kids walking around or walking to school in the morning, if they don't have a hat, we're going to hand out a hat to them, so they don't freeze their ears off," said Captain Donald Gaglione.
And kids won't be the only ones who benefit. "We're giving these hats to homeless shelters, abuse shelters and just people who need it," said Naomi.
A well appreciated gift of charity in tough economic times.
Knitting a future in Milwaukee
Wisconsin Knitwear survives while others close or leave
The Business Journal of Milwaukee - November 24, 2006
by Rich Rovito
Steven Arenzon ... "There’s a myth about overseas production being cheaper."
Wisconsin Knitwear Inc. is about to become the last knitting mill to maintain production in the Milwaukee area.
Founded in 1979, Wisconsin Knitwear makes knit hats, scarves, headbands, beanies, face masks, golf club covers and other knit items. When Steven Arenzon's father started the business, it was the smallest of eight knitting companies manufacturing in the area. "We're about to become the sole survivor and we plan to stay," said Arenzon, who is now president.
While other knitting companies have either shuttered their factories or shifted production overseas, Wisconsin Knitwear has no plans to close down or to move its manufacturing, Arenzon said.
"There's a myth about overseas production being cheaper," he said.
That's often not the case, once transportation costs are taken into consideration, he said.
Wisconsin Knitwear has been able to survive in Milwaukee because it serves a customer base that insists on American-made products and quick turnaround of orders, Arenzon said. "Overseas manufacturers can't ship products in two weeks," he said. The company also accepts small orders, something many of its competitors won't do, Arenzon said.
Wisconsin Knitwear will be the last knitting factory in the Milwaukee area once Reliable closes its factory at 233 E. Chicago St., in Milwaukee's 3rd Ward, which is expected by the end of November.
Reliable plans to relocate its offices to 10,000 square feet at the West Allis Center, 1126 S. 70th St., but will shift production out of the country.
In January 2004, another of the area's long-time knitting mills, Everitt, closed its plant at 234 W. Florida St., Milwaukee, after nearly 100 years. Wisconsin Knitwear purchased some of Everitt's knitting machines at an auction, Arenzon said. "These machines are hard to come by," he said.
Arenzon declined to provide the names of customers, but said military surplus stores and a snowboard manufacturer are among his company's clients. The company also produces promotional hats, scarves and items with company names or logos knitted into the material.
Arenzon also declined to provide sales and earnings information. He said business has remained steady over the years, with minimal growth.
"We're always looking for more business, but we'd like to stay small," he said. "We don't want the company to be big. We keep it simple. We're doing good as is."
Arenzon's father, Mauricio, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina, and mother, Sheila, launched Wisconsin Knitwear. Mauricio Arenzon's father, Julius, operated a sweater manufacturing business in Buenos Aires in the 1940s. "Milwaukee used to be important in textiles," Mauricio Arenzon said. "So much has gone overseas. It's sad." Wisconsin Knitwear remains owned by the Arenzon family, but Steven Arenzon is the lone family member involved full-time. Arenzon's parents live in Florida, but take part in the decision-making process.
As a young boy, Steven Arenzon would help around the factory on Saturday mornings, but he never thought he'd have any major involvement in the business.
He moved to California for a few years with dreams of becoming an actor. When that didn't pan out, Arenzon decided to return to Milwaukee in the early 1990s.
"My parents were contemplating what was going to happen to the business," he said. "I decided to come back. I wanted to carry on the tradition." Being the lone remaining knitting firm with manufacturing in the Milwaukee area could be advantageous to Wisconsin Knitwear when it comes to serving local customers or those interested in American-made products, said Maria Monreal-Cameron, president, chief executive officer and executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Milwaukee, Wisconsin - "They have a very unique opportunity to capture the market," Monreal-Cameron said. Wisconsin Knitwear is housed in a 30,000-square-foot, four-story, company-owned building constructed in 1921. The building, assessed at $151,600, once was home to Branta-Rechlicz Furniture Co. Wisconsin Knitwear leased space on National Avenue before purchasing the Lincoln Avenue building in the late 1990s.
About 100 knitting machines line the third floor of the building, where yarn is transformed into knit products. On the second floor, workers sit at sewing machines and put the finishing touches on the hats and other products.
Factory automation is a foreign concept at the plant. "Everything is done by hand," Arenzon said. "There isn't a single computer." Noise from the knitting machines is constant during the company's busy season, which runs from August through February. Work slows considerably the rest of the year, leaving employees to perform maintenance on the equipment, Arenzon said. Employees' hours are reduced during the slow season, but Arenzon said he prefers to keep them on the payroll so experienced workers will be available when the busy season arrives.
The company has about 15 employees during its peak season and about 10 the remainder of the year. Nearly all of the employees live in the area surrounding the plant on Milwaukee's near south side.
The company is considering making lighter knit products that could be sold during warmer months as a way to increase production during slow periods, Arenzon said. Mauricio Arenzon credited his son with strengthening relationships with key customers. "The best thing that happened to me is that my son came into the business," he said. "I'm very proud of him."