Building a thriving global apparel business today is matched stride for stride with servitude, if Isaac Ash, the founder, president and chief executive officer of United Legwear & Apparel Co., is any indication.
Ash founded the New York-based United Legwear & Apparel in 1998, building the business’ foundation with a family-style leadership. Today, ULAC maintains a global presence with distribution and shipping in nearly a dozen countries, and employs more than 200 people.
ULAC provides legwear, bodywear, apparel and accessories and holds licenses with Puma, Skechers and Champion, among others, while also launching the Fun Socks brand.
In an interview with WWD, “Person of the Year” Ash speaks of his family-first leadership style and charitable world view.
WWD: How has your business maintained familial values while forging the “global entity” it is today?
Isaac Ash: I worked for my grandfather and my father when I was a kid, so family business is in my blood. When I started United Legwear & Apparel Co., we were just a handful of people and we treated each other like family. No matter how much the company has grown, we’ve maintained family values by making sure everyone knows they are an important part of something bigger. I like to use the analogy of a bicycle chain: everyone is an essential link, and if one link breaks, we don’t go anywhere.
The people of ULAC spend a lot of time together outside the office, too, celebrating weddings, birthdays, and special life occasions together.
WWD: How would you describe a typical day?
I.A.: When I arrive in the office, I spend time catching up on e-mail. Then I’ll meet with my chief operating officer/chief financial officer and chief commercial officer for top-line updates, and I might drop into a buyer meeting because it’s always important to listen to what your customers are saying.
After lunch, I dedicate most of my time to design and development with the product, packaging, sourcing and quality assurance teams. I say it all the time: “Best quality product is where everything starts.” You only have one chance to capture a consumer and ensure they make repeat purchases. If the product isn’t right, you have nothing.
WWD: What is the most rewarding aspect of your daily work?
I.A.: The most rewarding aspect of my daily work is coming into the office every day and being grateful for what we have built. I always acknowledge that God has a hand in everything we do.
WWD: How does your philosophy for both success and service intertwine?
I.A.: Even when starting out, I made giving back a priority. It didn’t matter how much or how little I was able to give — I always gave something. I learned that the more you give, the more good things come your way. The harder you work, the more success you create, and the more you have to give away. So, you could say my philosophy for success is: “Do More,” and for service, it’s “Give More.”
WWD: What is the most challenging aspect of being involved across multiple retail channels of the apparel/accessories industries?
I.A.: It’s really not challenging if you make sure that you are giving every retail customer the best product possible. We work with buyers as true partners to understand their margin expectations and their shoppers’ expectations and then make it our business to meet both.
WWD: Receiving the “Person of the Year” award, what footprint do you hope to leave by your community service?
I.A.: I hope to inspire others through my actions. You will always be remembered not by how much you had but by how much you gave.
WWD: What lasting advice do you wish to offer aspiring entrepreneurs in our industry?
I.A.: Aspiring entrepreneurs should remember that business is about the “4 Ps:”
1. Product. Great product is the foundation of success.
2. Passion. You need to get up in the morning and have a passion for what you do.
3. People. Surround yourself with hard-working, motivated, loyal people and treat them as you would like to be treated.
4. Philanthropy. Part of the formula is giving back, however big or small or whether it’s giving time or money.