It would be easy to miss it. Nestled on a dead end street in the shadow of the Long Beach Road landfill, one of the largest leather closets in the country has been right in Oceanside residents’ backyard for decades.
Celebrating 30 years in the community this year, First Manufacturing Co. is a leather clothing and accessory manufacturer, and its facility in Oceanside forms the beating heart of the company’s business in the United States. While the tanning, cutting and stitching of the leather occurs in the company’s factory in Sialkot, Pakistan, the roughly 45,000 square-foot plant in Oceanside is where most of the company’s sales, marketing, distribution and research and development occurs.
Brand Manager Aaron Hartless’s description of the facility as a closet rings true, except for the scale. Inside, tens of thousands of jackets hang on temperature- and humidity-controlled racks that extend almost as far as the eye can see. Although unsure of the exact numbers, Hartless said at any given time, the plant stores millions of dollars worth of leather clothing and accessories before they are shipped out to shops across the country.
In addition to selling leather products to more than a dozen private brands like Guess, Kenneth Cole, Adidas and Andrew Marc, First Manufacturing produces its own brand of leather products geared toward the American motorcycle scene.
It was 1987 — as the motorcycle market was booming in America — when owner and Pakistani native, Ajmall Cheema, decided to open up the plant in Oceanside and expand his young leather business to the U.S.
The brand, First Classics, still exists today and is the main focus of Hartless and his team of marketing and leather research and development experts. Sponsoring online and magazine ads as well as events such as bike tours, First Classics is a well-known and affordable line of leather biking gear, according to Hartless.
He described the Oceanside facility as a “family operation” that includes both local employees and leather specialists from Pakistan. Recently, most of the plant’s workforce went to Pakistan to celebrate an employee’s daughter’s wedding. “We all treat this like it’s our own company,” said Hartless.
Looking forward, First Classics will be celebrating its 30th anniversary on Sept. 6 by having the starting point of the 2017 Hot Bike Tour — a motorcycle tour organized by Hot Bike Magazine and sponsored by First Manufacturing — in the parking lot of the Oceanside facility. The tour is slated to have stops in New York City and Gettysburg, Pa. and will finish in Luray, Va.
Hartless is currently working on a “Made in the U.S.A” project that would bring some of the manufacturing to America while still keeping the price of the products low. Recent political developments, however, have made the process of bringing leather specialists from Pakistan much more difficult and time consuming, he said.
Additionally, Cheema said he hopes to expand the business and hire more local employees as online sales increase. Over the decades, Cheema said he has had a good experience running his business in Oceanside. “We’re here, we’re happy and we’d like to expand.”