When History & Innovation Collide: An Interview with Lion Brothers CEO Susan Ganz
The sewn products industry has a long history, one that has marked many milestones along the way. The same goes for Lion Brothers, a woman-owned Maryland-based apparel company that celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. At the helm of the Lion Brothers ship is CEO Susan (Suzy) Ganz who has transitioned the company from one of America’s first embroidery businesses into a leading material science and innovation brand within the global apparel industry. We asked Suzy to share the story of Lion Brothers and how the company has continued to adapt and innovate over the years.
Tell us a little bit about Lion Brothers and its history.
SG: Lion was founded in 1899 as an embroidery company, bringing the craft of Swiss embroidery to the United States. Lion’s primary products were embroidered emblems and insignia and first customers were organizations like the Girl Scouts, the U.S. military and uniform companies. The company’s mission was to offer the highest quality products available in the world and ensure that each relationship, customer, employee and vendor was treasured. Our mission now includes a brand promise of delivering innovation with those core values of integrity and business approach that are central to who we are today.
Our heat applied products allow apparel brands and their factory partners to customize and decorate apparel and accessories with speed at time of apparel manufacture, in a customer’s distribution facility or in-store. Lion’s customers include major league sports licensees, lifestyle, fashion and uniform apparel brands, membership organizations and clients in the resort, entertainment and promotional product spaces. We’ve proudly had collaborations with several organizations for 40, 50 even 100 years!
This month, we’re looking at the past, present, and future of the industry. An industry that has seen quite a lot of change in 100+ years. Recognizing that, how has Lion Brothers been able to adapt to industry changes?
SG: Lion has adapted and thrived by continually investing in and delivering innovation. We listen, learn and focus on creating solutions that add strategic value. We leverage technology and material science to create innovations for customers that adds simplicity to their day, beauty and functionality to their products, profits to their P & L, and brand value to their organization or brand’s reputation. Technology is changing how we manufacture products.
We think about digitization and the impact on us as manufacturers. We believe that as a result of new technologies, manufacturing will become increasingly more distributed in the future and that micro-facilities will enable suppliers to serve customers with speed and agility, closer and closer to the end-use customer.
For Lion, our goal is to change the way people customize apparel. Instead of a legacy embroidery process, we help our customers decorate through using heat applied products so that they can quickly and easily customize blank apparel. Our products allow brands to customize with minimal equipment and investment, and because the application process is so fast and easy, customizing on-demand creates tremendous supply chain flexibility and reduces the need for pre-decorated apparel inventory. During COVID, as apparel brands have operated in an ambiguous and difficult-to-forecast environment, Lion’s heat applied products have given apparel brands a toolkit for responding to changing customer demands with speed and the ability to scale as needed. As many apparel brands look to transition from bricks-and-mortar to direct-to-consumer channels, what makes me happy is knowing that our product solutions and quick turn model helps apparel brands navigate this very challenging time.
How has Lion Brothers worked to remain relevant over the past 120 years?
SG: Relevance is about delivering value to the customer. For some clients, they focus on the quality of our products, for others, it’s about delivering new designs, for others, it’s all about speed or business model innovation, so they can offer the end-use customers something new and different. For Lion, our solutions may change, but our core values — of delivering innovation and investing in people, relationships and new technologies — remain our constant.
Diversity & inclusion continue to be major issues impacting the industry. With that said, has being a woman-owned business impacted the way you operate in the industry? And if so, can you share examples?
SG: Women often play a balancing role. There is a natural instinct to protect not only the entity, but the customer. We make decisions with an objective of doing the right thing. This notion of having values as a core part of the mission becomes essential. As an identity company, we know who we are and what we stand for. Diversity and inclusion provides a framework for differing views and opinions, voices and approaches. The value of a broader perspective and collective energy of diversity is critical, particularly in an industry that’s both global and very local.
Why is it important for women to play more leading roles in the industry?
SG: I can give you a philosophical leadership view or a practical view — both are sound. Women make great leaders; they balance vision and values, risk and reward and are often great collaborators and partners. Practically speaking, they also often represent the voice of the customer. So many of the products we bring to market are purchased or worn by women. They are 50% plus of the population, yet a fraction at a leadership level. In an age where collaboration becomes a central style of management, women leaders have a distinct advantage. The industry needs more women leaders to lead in this next stage of business.
Why was it important for Lion Brothers to pursue a line of sustainable materials and threads?
SG: Sustainability remains core to who we are. It is more than materials, it is our entire business approach of sustainability and creating positive impact for people and our planet. In our China operations, we are at zero landfill, which is remarkable! We measure our progress and create new goals each year. Our objective is to lead this effort in a way which brings transformational change to our industry and becomes an industry standard. Developing and transitioning to sustainable materials and threads has meant working with customers and partners who also value sustainability and who are enthusiastic partners in our journey.
In that same vein, how do you make the business argument for brands, like yourself, to invest the time and resources into sustainability?
SG: Sustainability is a business imperative. By bringing sustainability to the forefront of business conversations, it gives us all the ability to contribute to a more sustainable industry and collectively create greater positive impact. If each of us considered even a small investment in how we could incorporate principles of sustainability into our businesses and lives, we would see a return that far outweighs the investment. Each journey begins with one small step.
Suzy is Chairman and CEO of Lion Brothers, and is a passionate Entrepreneur, Board Director, Corporate Advisor and Public Sector leader.
She currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve of Baltimore, part of the Fifth District Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She is also Vice Chair of Maryland's Regional Manufacturing Institute, on the Board of Visitors of Towson University, is a Trustee of St. Timothy's School and is a Director of Sustainable Health Enterprises, a social enterprise based in Rwanda. She is a member of Governor Hogan's Regulatory Reform Commission and is recent past Chair of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, responsible for the business strategy for the State of Maryland.
Suzy is a member of YPO/WPO, Committee of 200 and Maryland's Executive Alliance.
She serves on the Corporate Board of Directors of Thames Technology/Barcoding Inc. and Credly, the leader in Digital Credentialing. She is a past Board member of Applica Inc. (NYSE: APN) and Hedwin Corporation.
Suzy holds an MBA in Finance and Multinational Management from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in Economics from the University of Florida.