If you buy an American flag, you’d expect that it would be made in America. Yet that’s not always the case, says Mary Repke.
“If your flag isn’t properly labeled, think twice,” warns Repke, the VP of marketing at Annin Flagmakers, the company responsible for the American flags placed on the Moon and atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima. “What we’re trying to do is let people know when a flag is made in the U.S. and when it’s not. U.S. flags should be made in the U.S.”
Annin knows something about making American flags. Founded in 1847, by brothers Benjamin and Edward Annin, the company has grown from a two-person shop operating out of Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan into the largest U.S. manufacturer of American flags. Still family-run, Annin now employs more than 500 workers at its New Jersey headquarters and its multiple production facilities in Ohio and Virginia.
Armed with a background in product and brand management, Repke started at Annin four years ago—around the same time that Carter Beard, the company’s sixth generation family owner, took over as chief executive. She was brought on board, she says, to help Annin transition from a straight-up manufacturing outfit into a company with a “strong brand presence at the consumer level.”
To achieve that goal, Repke has focused her efforts not only on Annin itself, but also on its certified wholesalers and dealers. Annin works with them to create eCommerce platforms, she says, and helps them to “be smarter and more efficient in their use of websites and web marketing.” At the same time, Annin is continually working to enhance and expand its manufacturing capacity and performance.
“There’s a lot of technology to flagmaking,” explains Repke. “We as a company invest heavily in the technology of our manufacturing facilities, which [allows] us to work efficiently … and keep our production in the United States.”
This kind of strategic investment helps improve efficiency and cut costs, Repke says, and enables Annin to identify areas in which it can improve. “We save in one area so we can invest in machines in another area,” she explains. “The other thing we do, particularly with our U.S. flags, is [ensure] that all of our raw materials are purchased from domestic manufacturers.”
The company’s commitment to producing the highest-quality products has paid off in dividends. Annin-made flags have flown at the inaugurations of Zachary Taylor and George W. Bush, among other U.S. presidents, and there’s a good chance if you bought a flag in honor of the Fourth of July that it was produced by the company. Annin also played an important role in readying the National 9/11 Flag, which now hangs at the 9/11 Memorial, in New York City.
Fueled by the wave of patriotism that swept the U.S. following the events of September 11th, demand for Annin’s American flags increased precipitously, with orders for flags surging 20-fold from average levels. Annin has seen similar spikes throughout its long history, with demand jumping during the Civil War, the World Wars of the 20th century, and the U.S. Bicentennial.
While it’s best known for its iconic American flags, Annin also manufactures state, historical, and custom flags. What’s more, the company designed the POW/MIA flag and is also working with the father of an Iraq war veteran, Repke says, to create and promote a new flag memorializing troops killed in combat.
“We deliberately did not trademark [the POW/MIA flag] because we wanted any flagmaker in the U.S. to be able to make that flag,” she says. “We’re working with a father now who actually lost his son in Fallujah, and he’s created a flag called the Honor and Remember flag, which he’s trying to get certified in every state in the country.”
Though Annin has unquestionably changed over its more than 150 years of existence, its enthusiasm and commitment to flagmaking remains as strong ever—something Repke attributes to the family at the business’s helm.
“The way they run and manage the company—it’s a place you want to be because they treat everyone like family,” she says. “Having the company progress through the generations of the family [means] there’s a true passion for the business, about the product, and about putting out a quality product.”