Eastman/Dodge County: Wearing It Well
Mario Matos was a young man in a hurry when he arrived in America in 1975. Fresh from high school in his native Peru, he rushed from job to job in restaurants and sewing factories, always looking for a way to get a toehold on the American Dream.
In 1976, on his way from Miami to New York, the promise of work led him to Eastman. Within a year, Matos married a local girl, Shirley Smith. "He made some first impression," she recalls.
Mario is still making impressions - at the factory he and Shirley own, where he turns out small orders for specialty printed wear with the help of 60 employees.
Matos' company, Chameleon Servicewear, is a garment manufacturer that has used its owners' careful and intense focus on a slender market niche to stay alive, even grow, in an American industry that is withering. The secret, Matos says, lies in the company's name. "
The chameleon is an animal that adapts to its environment in order to survive," he says. "Most of the textile plants in Georgia that shut down were very specialized with pants, underwear and medical apparel, that sort of thing. I had to diversify my product line, so now we have a hundred different products. I think that versatility has helped us stay in business"
In 1992, using $2,000 in savings as seed money, Matos opened his one-man, one-sewing-machine businesses in downtown Eastman. By 2001, the company had outgrown its humble beginnings and moved to a new site at the Eastman-Dodge County Industrial Park. Speed in turning around orders and highly personal customer relations have combined to give Chameleon a unique place in the textile industry as a growing enterprise.
"We try to make our customers feel like family," Shirley Matos says. "We know the names of their children and they know the names of our children." "We compete by being creative," Matos says.
"We compete by producing extremely quick turnaround times." He has seen his wares on workers for Cracker Barrel, the World of Coca-Cola and Sea World attractions in Florida and California. For his contributions to the local economy, the local chamber of commerce honored Matos with its 2005 Vocational Service Award.
In February, Mario Matos announced that his company was adding 30 employees and 8,000 square feet to his plan, an expansion fueled by growing sales.