Denver, Colorado

President Mark Huebner took the opportunity during the pandemic to double down on contract apparel manufacturing and decoration.

Photos Jonathan Castner

The demise of a major sublimation printing company created an opportunity for HookFish Manufacturing, which started printing work for several of Colorado Timberline’s customers.

HookFish provides cut-and-sew services as well as sublimation, screen printing, and embroidery. It’s made sleeping bags, hammocks, and hunting decoys. It will consider any concept a customer brings and decide whether it’s something it can handle.

HookFish recently combined forces with Mountain States Printing and added large-format banners to its mix of services. “We told them we’d help get them set up and teach them the business,” Huebner says. “Now we’re sharing a building and growing our businesses together. In the past, HookFish was just doing apparel and textiles.”

The increase in business enabled HookFish to expand from a 6,000-square-foot facility to a 17,000-square-foot building. “We’ve been trying to take this pause COVID has brought and expand to make more stuff in America,” Huebner says. “We’re always trying to find more ways to do that.”

But during the pandemic, many of the company’s regular customers disappeared. There were no more team sports, so uniforms weren’t required. But with pandemic-related restrictions beginning to lift, that work is returning. HookFish’s sportswear business offers factory-direct clothing with high-performance, largely American-made fabrics.

“I didn’t know how much of our business was team sportswear,” Huebner says. “It had grown to a significant amount.”

Instead, HookFish started making medical gowns and masks to stay afloat, but now that China is back to making masks and shipping them to the United States, Huebner says he can’t compete, so he’s discontinued those product lines.

“If I see another mask, it will be too soon,” Huebner says.

Challenges: COVID-19 may have provided an opportunity for HookFish to expand its business, but when the pandemic is under control, Huebner worries that there won’t be enough workers to handle what he expects will be a boom in business after losing a number of clients

“There’s going to be this mad dash to make stuff, and we’re going to have a serious problem in the labor market,” he says. “We’re going from a COVID mentality to a boom that’s going to be more than pre-COVID. There’s going to be so much pent-up demand.”

Opportunities: As more people are vaccinated to protect against COVID-19 and pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, Huebner says he expects the demand for the services HookFish provides will soar. Team sports and trade shows returning will create some of the biggest opportunities for HookFish.

“A lot of print companies that were built on the events world have suffered,” Huebner says. “We’ve felt their pain. They were great customers that don’t exist right now. The opportunities are going to be endless as we start to crank the wheels again. We’re going to be more strategic in the partnerships we choose moving forward.”

Needs: Keeping its employees and a steady flow of customers who believe in American-made products will ensure HookFish remains a viable business going forward.

“We can’t compete with Chinese labor,” Huebner says. “We need people who will pay more to have it made here on the same mathematical system, geography and time zone. It’s challenging as an American manufacturer to navigate a global economy.”