A Tribute to SPESA's Bernie Caplan

Updated: Aug 19

By SPESA

On July 22, 2020, Bernard Caplan passed away in Palm Beach, Florida. Bernie was one of the founding members of SPESA, as well as our Chairman from 2001-2002. He strongly believed in, and regularly touted, the importance of an association dedicated to the representation and betterment of suppliers to the sewn products industry. During his Chairmanship, Bernie laid the foundation for SPESA’s international presence, cultivating relationships with associations and organizations around the globe that we still hold dear today.


After spending nearly two decades with Singer, Bernie spent the next 22 years until his retirement building Brother’s industrial sewing machine presence in the Americas from ground zero into the powerhouse that it remains today.


Bernie was an innovator, a mentor, an incredible businessman, and a warm and welcoming presence at all SPESA events. He had a truly touching and inspirational impact on so many people in the industry. Below are just a few of the stories from SPESA members about what Bernie meant to them, to SPESA, and to the industry.

Bernie Caplan served as Chairman of SPESA in 2001 and 2002. We had the great honor to work for and with him during this time. He was always the consummate gentleman and a great statesman. If you ever traveled with Bernie (which we did often), any doors that you wanted to walk through were immediately opened. He was known and respected worldwide.


Just a few of the hallmarks of his Chairmanship include:

  • Changed the name of the association to better reflect the organization’s expanded focus. It went from being Sewn Products Equipment Suppliers Association to Sewn Products Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas

  • SPESA’s first trade show: Dominican Republic Sewn Products Equipment & Technology Expo in Santiago, Dominican Republic

  • Decision to launch SPESA EXPO and to co-locate the show with Material World in Miami Beach, Florida

On a beautiful morning in September, we were with Bernie and other SPESA leaders in Atlanta when the world changed. Even as we watched in horror as the twin towers came down, Bernie kept everyone calm. Such was his leadership.


We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that he never had a silver hair out of place, was always impeccably dressed, and always wore Gucci loafers.


We also had the privilege of getting to know Bernie’s lovely wife Dot. We wish her our love and condolences.


The sewn products community lost an advocate, a cheerleader, an icon, a friend. He will be deeply missed.


- Benton and Dave Gardner

I met Bernie in 1978 while attending my brothers wrestling match, Bernie’s son Scott was also on the team. He was always a figure that stood out. Impeccable dress and the hair. His hair was his trademark, so distinctive. I’ll never forget the first business trip with took together.

We were at the pool at Caesars Palace, Bernie dives in and comes up out of the pool and not one hair is out of place. Incredible, I’m thinking how is that possible!


My career was started with help from Bernie, landing my first job with Singer. One year later I run into Bernie in our home town getting gas. He starts telling me about a new company he started called Brother Industrial of America. He invites me over that afternoon to talk together. Now keep in mind that I haven’t seen or spoken to Bernie in over a year. Well, he starts pitching me on how he wants me to come and work with him at this new company he formed. He had me convinced in 5 minutes, I never stood a chance.


He was such a great motivator, pitch person, and promoter. So began our journey together establishing Brother in the U.S. market. He was my boss, mentor, and friend from that point on. Twenty-two years together at Brother. I owe my career opportunities to Bernie. He treated me like family. I could never thank him enough. I have nothing but great memories of our time together. His wife Dot is in our prayers as she and the three boys Randy, Scott, and Brad will miss their Dad. Bernie was such a great and dynamic guy. He will always be an everlasting part of my life.


- Peter Holland

My memories of Bernie go back to 1988 when I joined the industry. Bernie was already a larger than life figure in the sewn products industry having taken Brother from its infancy in the U.S. all the way to a major powerhouse; at one time going head to head with the likes of Juki across the entire sewing machine spectrum. With his always well-manicured white hair and moustache and great way with people, Bernie was easy to spot and always commanded a large audience. He was also the consummate salesperson. Ask Bernie how Brother was doing and there was never a bad market! Always a banner year with new records set. While it isn’t sunny every day, for Bernie the sun never set (perhaps that accounted for his always perfect tan!).


One of my fondest memories of Bernie was at a Miami show. I was with a bunch of people at the bar at Joe’s Stone Crab waiting for my table even though I had already amply tipped the maître d'. In walks Bernie with his entourage and, as he walks in the door, you can hear the maître d' announcing “Mr. Caplan, table for 14, please come to the maître d' stand, your table is ready!” He knew everyone and knew how to make things happen.


Bernie was a great supporter of SPESA and his passion for the organization helped truly launch SPESA’s worldwide connections. A true icon of the sewn products industry has passed on. May he rest in peace.


- Lonny Schwartz

Bernie was a founder of SPESA and always extremely supportive of the organization. I remember Bernie as a gentleman who was willing to help and act as a guide and mentor. A single technical question could lead to an entire narrative and history of the project. Bernie will be missed.


- Eric Schlossman

Bernie was a gentleman in a true sense of the word. Always impeccably dressed and groomed, polite and personable, he brought “class” to our industry and to SPESA (not that we lacked it). He had a wide knowledge of the industry, and I, as a beginner at the time, always enjoyed learning bits and pieces about the sewing machine business from him. He was kind and generous with his knowledge and advice. He will be missed.


- Martin Gopman


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