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The origin of the MAGA hat
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In late July, 2016 while touring the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas, Donald Trump wore a MAGA hat. This might seem a less-than-noteworthy development. One assumes Trump wore the hat mostly just to corral his hair on a windy day. Yet the online reaction was swift and torrential.
Some wondered why a man worth more than TEN BILLION DOLLARS chose a hat that looked to cost about $25.00. Many others, meanwhile, wondered where they could buy one for themselves…..
We got a chance to go inside the factory where Trump’s iconic “Make America Great Again” hats are made. Also known as “MAGA” hats, the caps have become a symbol of Trump’s campaign, and inspired myriad memes and parodies.
Each MAGA hat purchased through the Trump campaign’s official website counts as a campaign contribution. According to the campaign, hundreds of thousands of the hats have been sold since Trump began his first presidential run.
The hats are produced by a California-based company called Cali-Fame. According to a 2015 Los Angeles Times interview with the company’s president, Brian Kennedy, about 80% of the company’s employees are Latino. When asked to comment for this video, a Trump campaign representative responded:
“As with so many manufacturers in America, Cali-Fame is enjoying the benefits of the Trump economy while also playing a unique and important role in the production of MAGA hats, the iconic symbol of President Trump’s historic campaign and pledge to Make America Great Again. The facility employs dozens of American citizens from diverse backgrounds, all dedicated and committed to their specialty craft producing a growing count of MAGA hats, totaling hundreds of thousands produced to date.”
The campaign did not respond to our question about how much the workers at Cali-Fame were paid.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: The Trump campaign’s officially licensed “Make America Great Again,” or “MAGA” hats, are made here, at the Cali-Fame headwear factory in Carson, California, just outside of Los Angeles.
Brian Kennedy: The fabric, the cord, the plastic strap, the fabric underneath, the sweatband, the whole hat is made here in America.
Narrator: The company doesn’t only make MAGA hats. It specializes in all kinds of headwear, which it manufactures and customizes. But the company has worked with Trump for years. Before the campaign, Cali-Fame made hats for Trump’s golf courses.
Brian Kennedy: We’ve been making golf hats since the ’50s. Cali-Fame Los Angeles was one of the first golf hat manufacturers.
Narrator: The red MAGA hat retails for $25. Every purchase of a MAGA hat, along with any other item for sale on the Trump campaign’s official website, counts as a campaign contribution. About 100 employees work in the factory, and, according to an interview Brian Kennedy did with the Los Angeles Times in 2015, about 80% of the workforce is Latino. According to the Trump campaign, all employees are verified US citizens. We didn’t speak with any employees during our shoot. But in 2015, MSNBC visited the factory and reporter Jacob Soboroff spoke with some of the workers.
Jacob Soboroff: When you heard that Trump — you’re going to make the hats for Trump — what was the first thought that went through your mind?
Cali-Fame employee: Well, more work for us.
Soboroff: Some of the stuff that he’s said, it’s not been particularly nice to the Latino community. When you guys hear some of that stuff, what do you think?
Cali-Fame employee: I just try to ignore it.
Narrator: Making the hats requires a 23-step process, much of which is done by hand.
Kennedy: So the way we manufacture the hat — the first process is spreading material. We take it right to the embroidery machine, and then from embroidery we’re taking it right to the sewing operation, where we’re creating both the bill and the crown separately, so that eventually we put these two parts together by attaching the sweatband, finishing it with the plastic strap that’s made in the US. Then we steam the hat, press the hat, and we also finish the cord and glue that down before we pack the hat.
Narrator: The hats are shipped to the headquarters of Ace Specialties in Lafayette, Louisiana. Ace is the Trump campaign’s official merchandise distributor, and the company fulfills all orders from the Trump campaign’s website. According to the Trump campaign, hundreds of thousands of MAGA hats have been sold since Trump’s campaign began.
Kennedy: We are one of the few American companies left making hats. There is a need, a niche, for that American product, and that’s what we’ve been really striving for the last couple of years. It’s an incredible opportunity to make this hat for the president of the United States. I think that this hat is an icon for what is going on in the country, and we’re really happy to make the hat for the president. Hopefully we can keep this going.
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