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Alexander Dabagh: “It can always be worse”

People have an instinct to help in a crisis. We have an instinctual drive to help others and at times like this when these acts are most evident it is heartwarming to witness complete strangers automatically help others, instinctively, spontaneously, and without any thought at all. Every day we hear of people risking their life […]

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People have an instinct to help in a crisis. We have an instinctual drive to help others and at times like this when these acts are most evident it is heartwarming to witness complete strangers automatically help others, instinctively, spontaneously, and without any thought at all. Every day we hear of people risking their life for complete strangers and I believe it is a result of human nature and deep connection to our community.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Dabagh. He was born and raised in Brooklyn. His parents immigrated from Beirut, Lebanon to New York in the 70s where they met, got married, and built a business. His father, Pierre Dabagh, started Park Avenue International and Pietro, a leather goods factory and in-house label, in 1982 the year he was born. In 2011, Alexander and Pierre opened a second factory called Park Avenue Trimming, which allowed them to cater to every industry from handbags to interior design to hospitality. His family’s business is now one of the last remaining manufacturers in New York City that can create and produce just about anything. As an entrepreneur and innovator, like his father, he is passionate about making something out of nothing, which led him to sustainable fashion and to recently launching a project called, aNYbag. aNYbag is a homonym for “any bag” and “a New York Bag”, which is made by upcycling used plastic and plastic bags and hand weaving them together to create a reusable tote. He is basically turning trash into a luxury made product. Each aNYbag saves approximately 95 single used bags (or 2 lbs of plastic) from reaching New York City’s landfills and waterways.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

My name is Alexander Dabagh and I am a True Yorker. I was born and raised in Brooklyn all my life. My parents immigrated from Beirut, Lebanon to New York in the 70s where they met, got married, and built a business. My father, Pierre Dabagh, started Park Avenue International and Pietro, a leather goods factory and in-house label, in 1982 the year I was born. I basically cut my teeth at the factory spending many days here while both parents worked, to later working here on summer breaks from school. In 2011, we opened a second factory called Park Avenue Trimming, which allowed us to cater to every industry from handbags to interior design to hospitality. My family’s business is now one of the last remaining manufacturers in New York City that can create and produce just about anything. As an entrepreneur and innovator, like my father, I am passionate about making something out of nothing, which led me to sustainable fashion and to recently launching a project called, aNYbag. aNYbag is a homonym for “any bag” and “a New York Bag”, which is made by upcycling used plastic and plastic bags and hand weaving them together to create a reusable tote. I am basically turning trash into a luxury made product. Each aNYbag saves approximately 95 single used bags (or 2 lbs of plastic) from reaching New York City’s landfills and waterways. New York City is my home and the greatest city in the world, and I want my kids and other kids to have the same clean city I had growing up.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

At the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC, I couldn’t see my factory shutting down. We had too much to offer especially with my employees’ skill level to make anything and the space we operate in. Instead of closing shop and letting everyone go we pivoted from handbag production to focus on PPE for NYCs frontline workers and those in need. Since we mainly use domestic resources for raw materials and are one of the few remaining manufacturers still operating in the heart of the Garment District, it took us 10 days to make this transition.

The first step in adjusting our factory’s operations was to ensure the safety and health of our workers. We did this by spacing out the machinery, professionally sanitizing the work space, and limiting the staff present in the factory. Once the factory was adjusted for working safely during these times, we took on the challenge of creating a new system since making PPE was foreign to us. The materials used are different than what we are accustomed to, and the process is unlike making leather goods, which is our specialty and has been passed down to each generation of our family. There were no clear guidelines or instruction manuals on how to make or where to purchase the appropriate materials for PPE. From considering the materials that are most-protective and breathable to considering the comfort around the face with repetitive wear, we heavily relied on our healthcare workers for feedback and input to create a well-designed, functional solution. Once satisfied with the outcome, we began production in their factory immediately and distributed masks, aprons, and gowns to all those in need across the city. We are also now taking orders for companies preparing for opening back up and needing masks for employees.

Many supported our efforts and donated to our GoFundMe. So far, we have raised over 21,000 dollars which allowed us to distribute over 15,000 masks; and thanks to the non-profits and the City of New York that funded the production of an additional 10,000 masks and 200,000 aprons.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Having lived here all my life, I have an intimate connection with New York City. I have seen my city grow and change first hand and witnessed its heroes face the toughest challenges from 9/11 to now this global pandemic that greatly challenged our city. Heroism is the best of human nature — but I believe it does not have to be defined by one great act. We’re witnessing genuine heroism in our doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers putting themselves at risk every day to do their jobs and save ours. Just by helping someone you are a hero in some way and New York City is full of them.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero?

Courage, selflessness, humility, sacrifice, and compassion.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

People have an instinct to help in a crisis. We have an instinctual drive to help others and at times like this when these acts are most evident it is heartwarming to witness complete strangers automatically help others, instinctively, spontaneously, and without any thought at all. Every day we hear of people risking their life for complete strangers and I believe it is a result of human nature and deep connection to our community.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

As thousands of cases of COVID-19 were being confirmed each day and hearing of shortages of PPE for our front-line workers we immediately sprang to action. A friend of mine that is a surgeon at Mt. Sinai called me and said whatever we can make they would gladly accept. Doctors and nurses were being forced to wear the same masks and aprons for their shifts because there wasn’t enough inventory. This is when I knew we could make a difference and help. From that day, it’s been all hands on deck, with my entire factory of 40 producing masks and aprons, with my sisters contacting local hospitals and foodbanks for distribution. We have a factory that makes things in the heart of New York City, I couldn’t let that go to waste especially when the city all the help it could get.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Growing up my heroes were mostly sports figures and those in comic books. It wasn’t until high school that I realized what a real hero was, which is those that put everything on the line to help those in need. My heroes are the people around me who selflessly served others in need and try to find any means necessary to give back to their community, even if it means helping one person. Doctors, nurses, EMS workers, Police, Firefighters, food bank workers, volunteers, etc., these are the heroes of today. These are the people that should be honored and applauded.

And of course my biggest personal hero is my dad. He taught me to always do what is right, and made sure I never took anything for granted. My dad didn’t have a childhood, per se, my grandpa lost his vision while my dad was in the third grade, so he had to leave school and provide for his family. Instead of getting an education he went to work and became an adult at a very young age. He gave up his childhood to support his family to make sure they had food on the table.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

The unknowns of the coronavirus are what is most frightening. Everyday there is a new information, report, outbreak, and/or change in what we thought we knew. By continuing to educate ourselves, stay up to date with scientific research, we can try to best navigate these times and keep our loved ones healthy and safe.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

Like I mentioned earlier, New York City is resilient. We are New York Tough, we will get through this and come back stronger than ever. We have been through some tough times and have come together to push forward.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

The time spent in quarantine has caused many of us to reflect on what is truly important in life. I hope this time will allow people to recognize what matters most and not to stress about the little things. Our families and loved ones are the most important pieces to our lives, so cherish every minute together.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I feel strongly about making a positive impact on society and the environment in particular.

Having lived in NYC all my life, I have an intimate connection with this city. Most importantly, I want to have a clean city for all to live and play in. I have seen my city grow and change first hand. There were areas in NYC that no one ever thought would be inhabited up until a few years ago and are now one of the most expensive zip codes in the country. The increased population growth has also increased our waste leading to a more serious question: Where will it all go?

Being one of the last leather goods factories in NYC initially, I had no intent of getting into sustainable fashion. After seeing the amount of plastic waste that goes through my factory I realized there is more that I can do. I started thinking about how much waste I throw out on a daily basis and multiplied that by the 8 million people living in NYC, which blew my mind. This made me aware of how much plastic surrounds us. I began to spot plastic bags everywhere; on streets, sidewalks, stuck in trees high above my head, blown around by the wind, used as hand covers on delivery bikes, head covers when it rains, and remembered when I was a child wrapping my feet in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet.

Plastic bags have been a big part of all our lives. Everything sold either comes wrapped in plastic or is put in a plastic. Even eco-friendly items are wrapped in plastic and shipped when purchased. There is literally no way around it. To completely eradicate plastic from our lives would be impossible, but the least we can do is some serious damage control by finding a second purpose to plastic bags.

Now as a father of two I want to make sure my kids have a clean city to play and grow up in, this is my way of giving back. That is why I created aNYbag. The goal of aNYbag is to clean New York City one plastic bag at a time making it a cleaner and greener place for all to enjoy.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

If I could have breakfast or lunch with one person in the world, I would have to say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He gives everything his all, lives life to the fullest, and helps those in need. He is the complete opposite of selfish, which is admirable with all his success. He works hard and the gets the results he wants.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A book that made a significant impact on me would have to be The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. There is no particular part that resonates the most, but overall it tells a story on why you should live your life to the fullest. Live for the day as tomorrow is never guaranteed. And I do every day, with everything I do. Whether it is work, family, or personal growth, I give everything my all. With work I am constantly creating or designing something, or taking an existing designs and making them better. With family I love my wife and kids to the fullest and cherish every second spent together, by talking, running home to take them out for a walk before bedtime, or even reading books together. It’s the little things you always look back on that put a smile on your face. And personal growth, I am always pushing the limits with everything I do. I am avid bike rider and snowboarder, so I always to try to achieve something I haven’t previously. Life is too short, give it your all. Love hard, work hard, and play hard.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“It can always be worse.” This is something I have always lived by. Having lost a brother at a young age it put everything into perspective growing up. It made me realize we have everything in front of us and it is solely up to us to determine the outcome. We make the choses in our lives; they may not always be the right decisions and some lead to disappointment, but at the end it could always be worse. Don’t dwell on the past and don’t the little things get in the way, stay positive and keep trying because in the end it can always be worse.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.instagram.com/anybagproject/
https://www.instagram.com/madebyalex/
https://www.instagram.com/parkavenuetrimmingnyc/

www.madebyalex.nyc

www.anybag.com

www.parkavenuetrimming.com

www.pietro.nyc

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