Every so often in life, you meet someone and connect right away. While our meeting was merely a phone conversation, I know I have a new friend in Marita Srebnick, a beautiful and ambitious Cuban immigrant with a profound passion for American values and an entrepreneurial spirit that has driven and sustained her for all of her 80 years.
The business she founded with her mother (after fleeing Cuba in 1960 when the Castro regime took over their notions factory in Havana) specializes in zippers, threads, sewing parts, notions, hangers, poly bags, fasteners, buttons, cutting room supplies, sewing machine parts…and elastic, the stretchy stuff that’s been in short supply since we all started wearing (and making) masks.
Her story should be a screenplay; a summary can’t do it justice but here goes. Marita’s parents Sofia and Jaime were refugees from Eastern Europe, fleeing the pogroms and arriving in Cuba in 1923. Marita grew up in Cuba but at age 17, when Castro closed the University of Havana, she applied and was accepted at Cornell in Ithaca. “I was grateful, but dying of boredom in upstate New York. I applied to NYU and fell in love with the energy of New York City.”
She and her mom had hoped to start a business there but between the two of them, they’d saved just $6,000 so they opted instead for Miami, then America’s #3 fashion capital after New York and L.A. “Miami grew into a fashion center because Cuban women are excellent seamstresses,” Marita explains. “There were so many small factories at the time, one right next to the other. The only reason we grew was because YKK (makers of threads and zippers) asked us to assemble their zippers. And the only reason this happened was because the company knew my mom from her business in Cuba: they remembered her integrity and that she always paid in full so they’d send us thread on consignment; every two weeks we’d pay for what we sold.”
Then Levi’s gave them a call and Marita jumped on a plane to San Francisco to show them YKK zippers. “I couldn’t believe I was actually meeting with Levi Strauss– me, a poor immigrant from Cuba. I even met Mr. Haas,” she says, recalling the tears she shed at the time. And as luck would have it, this one account kept Scott Notions more than afloat for a good 10 years, until production shifted overseas.
Fast forward to the present: a global pandemic and a difficult decision about staying open. Marita tells her six employees to wait a few weeks to see what happens. “We checked our sales two weeks later: nothing for zippers, nothing for hangers, but we were totally cleaned out on elastic. So I called all my contacts and managed to get some high-quality elastic that sold out immediately. We got more, and we’re back in business! I’m so happy to keep our employees, to help with mask-making, and to finally get my hair colored after two months on lockdown!”
Marita can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 305-576-3328.