By Jill Radsken
August 06, 2014
Maury Povich, one of tabloid television’s biggest names, is a new daddy.
But his baby isn’t another syndicated talk show about shocking paternity results or cheating spouses. His latest project is called Mother Freedom, an outerwear company based in a factory in New Bedford.
The heritage-inspired apparel line with the tagline “Made in America, Without Compromise” is poised to launch its first full collection this month.
“This is the cradle of textiles,” Povich said, looking out the factory windows onto the Acushnet River one recent morning. The first cotton textile mills began operating in the New Bedford area around 1800. Business boomed for more than a century, before the Depression and competition from other regions finally ground the industry to a virtual halt.
Decades later, Povich, 75, hopes that entrepreneurial efforts such as his will help stem the tide of outsourcing clothing production overseas.
“We have to take back what we are so good at and demonstrate that our products — like our country — are number one,” Povich said. “Let’s bring back the American know-how. Why can’t we make a go of it?”
Povich has invested $2 million over the past two years to make a go of Mother Freedom. He has helped secure a team that brings together Hollywood talent (Rich Orosco, producer and former vice president of marketing at Warner Bros.), business acumen (Chris Vroman), and New York design talent (Elmer Aglubat, formerly of Levi’s and Eddie Bauer) with third-generation sewers from New Bedford.
Together they’ve assembled a brand that includes 13 pieces, all with names chosen for their New England ties. There’s the Hathaway Trucker Vest (named for the road that intersects with I-195 at its highest point in New Bedford), the Whelden Jacket (named for a local cotton mill), and the Melville Blazer (after Herman Melville, the “Moby-Dick” author, of course).
“In a world of disposable items, we want to create something timeless and durable,” Aglubat said.
Povich, who lives in New York and tapes his talk show in Connecticut, has a deep-rooted affection for New England. His father, Shirley, grew up a “townie” in Bath, Maine, before becoming a successful sportswriter at the Washington Post and introducing his son to the media industry. Povich got his first job in Washington, D.C., with the help of former WCVB general manager Bob Bennett.
“The Maury Povich Show,” now known as “Maury,” has been on the air for 25 years, and Povich, who jokes that he is “slated for assisted living,” is the first to admit his success defies explanation.
Critics have long assailed “Maury” and shows like it as trash TV, both for their provocative topics (including adultery, Internet porn, and irrational fears) and the often-outrageous behavior of guests. Fans, however, remain devoted. The “Maury” Facebook page has nearly 3 million “likes.”
Povich stands by the show’s reputation — even as he admits he has little in common with the people he counsels on his stage.
“Any TV research would say, ‘He’s a fossil.’ The fact is the older I get, the more popular I am with young kids,” he said. “There is nothing I have in common from my life experience and the guests. They think of me as a member of family, as someone they can open up to.”
In the post-“Oprah” era, Povich has been the No. 1 syndicated talk show for 163 consecutive weeks, through July 20, for the 18-34 demographic, according to Nielsen data provided by NBCUniversal.
That popularity gives him a certain flexibility.
“I tape when I want to. If there’s a golf tournament, I won’t shoot,” he said.
It has also given him more time to dedicate to his other businesses, such as Mother Freedom. His company Mo Po Productions also runs a successful TV promotion and production company called Stun Creative as well as the Flathead Beacon, a newspaper in Montana that Povich started in honor of his father.
““Everybody thinks of me as an edgy talk show host, but I have a lot of interests,” he said.
A few years ago, Povich’s interests turned to the Bay State when he joined Old Sandwich Golf Club in Plymouth. In 2011, he decided with his wife, journalist Connie Chung, to buy a summer home in East Sandwich. Shortly thereafter, his financial adviser brought him the idea for Mother Freedom.
“I like trying to undertake things that on the surface won’t work,” he said.
Walking the floor of the brick factory in a bright blue Ralph Lauren golf shirt and navy pants, Povich smiled and waved to the Portuguese-speaking stitchers, all women but one, who were busily crafting the jackets and vests.
“I watch your show every Friday,” Dora Freitas called out as Povich passed by her station.
Natercia Salgado (above), who has worked in the garment industry for 40 years, supervises the factory floor.
“I like to put things together,” she said, pointing to the 50-plus pieces laid out on the table that will be sewn together as one jacket. “It’s hard. These aren’t 10-15 pieces.”
She recalls that one vest, made of wool and trimmed with leather, was so challenging to construct, her bosses named it the Salgado after her. “It was the hardest thing to put together and I was always complaining,” she said.
There are 20 workers at Mother Freedom — a modest operation compared to the Joseph Abboud factory across the street which employs hundreds.
But all pieces at Mother Freedom are cut by hand, and a jacket may require 60 to 70 pieces. The business plan includes private labelwork for other fashion brands. But Povich hopes the line’s launch, which includes placement in the Orvis fall catalog, as well as in Fred Segal in Los Angeles and Freemans Sporting Club in Manhattan, will help the company get some traction.
I’m not worried about the profit as much as the resurgence of American-made products that have quality,” said Povich. “We’re not profitable yet, but it will be.”
He thumbs through the racks of samples, admiring a hunting jacket with canvas-lined pockets and a wool peacoat. “I have this,” he said, holding up a quilted vest.
Later, Povich changes into a pair of seersucker shorts, and heads out of the factory for an afternoon round of golf.
“I’m at that point in my life,” he said. “The show is the mother lode. I’m not into counting money. It enables me to do a lot.”