Celebrating the Sport Tight’s 35th year anniversary this year, we sat down with Ron Supat, a talented engineer who worked for HIND Performance for 10 years and continues to work closely with GH Sports. During his time at HIND, Ron was the Plant Manager and Chief Industrial Engineer. In his story below, he shares his recollection and experience of the creation of the Sport Tight – a first in history.
Launching A New Product – the first Sport Tight
It was in the early 1980’s when Greg Hind decided to come up with a men’s sport tight. It was a point in history that changed everything. Since medieval times, men were not cool wearing tights. There were rumors that football players wore pantyhose underneath their uniforms for warmth, but nobody would admit to it. It was totally unacceptable for a man to wear tights.
So when Greg came up with this idea of a sport tight for men, it was totally new and it was even frowned upon by people. People would say, “men don’t wear tights.” At that time there was actually no product like a Sport Tight for men or women.
Somehow Greg marketed it, introducing it as something acceptable for men to wear and it worked! He also made a women’s version, which of course women didn’t have a problem with. This new HIND Sport Tight exploded, and HIND was making as many tights as they possibly could make. I remember the first style had stirrups.
Although I wasn’t with HIND during this time, I got word of what was happening, and in 1986 a crazy thing happened. At that time, I was managing a factory in Santa Maria and was talking to a head hunter in Los Angeles to find out if any jobs were popping up because the company I had been working for was very shaky. He said he had a job for me, which I assumed would be in Los Angeles but come to find out was in my neck of the woods…in San Luis Obispo. He asked if I was interested in learning more and I said yes. I couldn’t imagine there would be somebody in San Luis Obispo who would need me. It turned out to be Greg Hind who was promoting their existing Plant Manager, Tom Nuckols, to Director of Manufacturing and was looking for a new Plant Manager. Two weeks later I was back working for Greg. I had previously worked for him from 1974 to 1980.
Trying to Meet the Demand
The company was in the process of blasting off. We still had the old location on Buckley Road in San Luis Obispo and we were producing all of the sport tights we could manage to produce on top of coming up with new styles. We quickly became the largest consumer of lycra in the United States. As a matter of fact, I think at one point we were buying almost every available inch of lycra coming out of U.S. mills. All of the mills would fly their reps in to see us in San Luis Obispo to take care of us. They would wine and dine the upper management because we were spending mega bucks on lycra. Lycra back then was expensive; it was twice as much as it costs now.
The demand for the Hind Sport Tight was beyond high. At one point we had 6 months worth of backorders. We didn’t have the fabric we needed because we couldn’t get the mills to produce the goods fast enough. Distributors would place orders for Sport Tights through our reps, we would tell them it would be 6 months until we could deliver the product, and they would say okay and they would wait. We were the only ones making Sport Tights for men and people were buying them, they were exploding off the shelves.
Creating a Daytona Version of the Flat Seam Machine
In the HIND factory at this time, we were in the process of trying to make everything state-of-the-art. We were working on becoming really efficient and really fast. We were going from an okay start where we weren’t the roughest most backwards factory there was, but we weren’t the most technical, cutting edge factory either.
One of the things we would do is take a flat seam sewing machine (which was used to sew the Sport Tight) and improve it. An analogy would be if you were to go to a Chevy dealer, buy a Chevy off of the lot, take it to your garage, take it completely apart, rip the motor out, rip the suspension out, completely rebuilt it, and take it to Daytona to race. That’s what we were doing with sewing machines at this time, and in particular that’s what we were doing to the flat seamer. We would take the motor that came with the flat seamer and it would go to the bone yard – we had no use for it. We replaced them with all state-of-the art electronic motors that had needle positioners and all kinds of other controls.
The flat seamers did not come with electronic motors at that time. They came with a clutch motor and the problem with the clutch motors is after a short period of time the clutch motor would develop a total on or total off situation where you were either going full blast or not going at all. It was really hard to control because it had a mechanical clutch that engaged the motor to the sewing machine head.
When we went to an electronic motor it used an electromagnetic clutch. However much the seamstress pressed the pedal would affect the speed of the machine. The new pedal had no weight at all compared to that on the old clutch motor that was hard to make work. The new motors really increased productivity and decreased fatigue so quality got better and speed got better.
The other problem with the stock machine was that the seamstresses (who barely weighed 110 lbs) would have to apply 40 lbs of pressure on the pedal to get the machine foot to lift up in order to put the fabric underneath. As you can imagine, they would get tired really fast. We put new pneumatic solenoids on the sewing machines with an air switch to do the work. On top of that, we added a thread cutter. So now, the seamstresses could lift their foot to start the process, sew in a quick controlled manner and cut the thread automatically at the end of the seam. It was really smooth and the pedals were really light to operate. So that was our Daytona 500 version of the flat seam machine and nobody else on earth had that.
Expanding Our Reach
We were becoming very efficient but we had so many orders that there was no possibility that we could keep up. A dilemma we faced is that there were no other factories flat seaming at that time. We couldn’t go to LA, or anywhere else, and find a flat seam contractor. Nobody knew how to flat seam. So we started to reach out to contractors and vet them to see if they were reliable, well known and capable of doing work for us. When we found one that we liked, we would make an investment. We offered to bring in the flat seam machines, teach them how to use them, and then give them work.