Raising the Standard: Flags are the Family Business for Sandy Van Lieu

Apollo_17_Cernan_on_moonFIT was here (sorta).

The moon landing. The Battle of Iwo Jima. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. These indelible historic moments are united by the stirring presence of the Stars and Stripes, a patriotic symbol of America. Remarkably, one company made flags for all these events and countless more: Annin Flagmakers.

With 500 employees in three factories in Virginia and Ohio, Annin is the largest flag manufacturer in the U.S. Founded in Lower Manhattan in 1847 by Alexander Annin, it’s also the oldest. Sandy Van Lieu, executive vice president and co-owner of the Roseland, NJ-based company—and great-great-great-granddaughter of its founder—studied manufacturing at the Fashion Institute of Technology to become a better manager at the firm.

“We learned how to take apart and put together a sewing machine, how to train a sewing-machine operator, and how to lay out a plant,” Van Lieu recalls. “It gave me credibility with the employees. They said, ‘She’s not just some owner’s kid.’”

In 1994, her first year on the job, she reduced the lead time for making a custom flag from three months to three weeks. Now it takes a single day. Currently, she manages relationships with Annin’s major customers, such as Walmart and Target, and she helps steer the company, ensuring its longevity as a profitable and ethical business.

Though dominated by only a handful of companies, the flag industry is fiercely competitive. But because of Annin’s heritage and the national pride inherent in every flag, Van Lieu is committed to ethical business practices, manufacturing domestically, hiring fairly, and promoting from within.

“It’s a different feeling when you make a flag—I can’t explain it,” she says. “We hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

FIT’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies offers courses in production, marketing, product development, and many other topics. Summer courses and intensives start throughout June and July. View courses and register at fitnyc.edu/continuing-ed.

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