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Sonoma County's Tek Tailor wins North Bay Maker Award for innovative workplace culture

With a sustainable mission to reuse waste materials and keep them out of landfills, the Tek Tailor Corporation, along with two related business units (BPE-USA and Sonoma USA), supports a strong environmental stewardship program that is expanding into multiple manufacturing product lines made local in Santa Rosa.

“The U.S. produces 30 percent of the world’s waste with only 5 percent of its population,” said Steffen Kuehr, CEO and founder of Tek Tailor. “Many items put in (the) trash can be repurposed, providing jobs and income while producing useful products people want and need - while helping to solve the garbage problem.”

Kuehr, who launched Tek Tailor (www.tektailor.com) in 2016, brought the BPE-USA protective equipment and garment manufacturer - owned by a family member - under this new certified Green business (B corporation). BPE-USA makes tactical work-safety gear, such as knee and elbow pads, back support and snap-on tool belts, and clothing for firemen and police. It is a key supplier to the military.

Kuehr also integrated Sonoma USA into Tek Tailor, a firm he started earlier that upcycles vinyl and other banner materials from banks, casinos and the Sonoma Raceway to create unique customized bags and carriers for laptops, totes, corporate custom gifts and other quality hand-crafted merchandise. Each of these brands defines a dedicated market, business model and product category around a common manufacturing technique: sewing.

Tek Tailor is the contract sewing-services arm of the enterprise that bids on quick-turnaround, purchase-order-activated production jobs, such as the recent British Aerospace (BAE in Phoenix) custom order for 25,000 Coyote Brown hydration backpacks. The firm acts fast with make-to-order projects that can require new equipment (digital printing and 3D knitting, etc., in the future) and more workers. The company has 20 employees that turn out 2,500 water bladders per month, along with other items such as picnic bags made from billboard vinyl for Clover Stornetta employees, and tote bags with photos of Sonoma Valley High School students given to these young people.

Kuehr is expanding into the retail market by going through subcontractors under existing distributors. Tek Tailor products already can be found in nearly 30 Ace Hardware and lumber stores.

“We’re not a volume manufacturer that carries extensive inventory. Our model is just-in-time custom manufacturing with quality craftsmanship. Traditional manufacturing often results in waste if goods don’t sell or if consumer preferences change,” he said. “We don’t stock dozens of SKUs in quantity. We have a few samples and store computer-clothing designs in a virtual closet to show prospects options they can view and order online. When firm orders are received, our work begins.”

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