The Voske Kar production site in Yerevan

Las Vegas Firm Brings Apparel Jobs to Armenian Villages and Yerevan

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LAS VEGAS – Arsenal Inc. is a manufacturer of rifles and pistols based in Las Vegas owned and run by Armenian Americans. It has an apparel line which is providing employment for Armenians both in Yerevan and in several Armenian villages, and it actively attempts to inspire others to follow its example. At present, according to Arsenal’s Marketing Director Sevag Sagherian, the Arsenal Apparel clothing line “offers fine-quality European-styled shirts, sweatshirts, caps and hoodies in a variety of designs.” As these all are produced in Armenia, Sagherian said, “This allows Armenians in Armenia to support their families and take pride every time they see ‘Made in Armenia’ stitched onto the items that they produce.”

An Arsenal cap being manufactured in Yerevan

Harry Pakhanyan, vice president for operations of Arsenal, related that Arsenal is the exclusive representative in the United States of a 200-year-old Bulgarian arms manufacturer, and is licensed to use its name. It also makes other products in the US, and has its own manufacturing plant. Pakhanyan said that Arsenal’s top management is primarily Armenian. Its founder Vartan Barsoumian, like Pakhanyan, was born in Armenia. Barsoumian came to the US with his family in 1971 and grew up here. He, like many other Armenians in Las Vegas, moved to this city from the Los Angeles area.

Barsoumian started the business in 1999, and through word of mouth and recommendations, other Armenians joined. Pakhanyan said that it was not initially established as an Armenocentric business, but turned out that way. Barsoumian and Pakhanyan set up, manage and own a conglomerate or family of companies which include distribution and importing companies under different brand names. For example, K-Var Corporation is an online retail shop for a variety of products, while FIME Group offers products similar to those of Arsenal.

The two executives and other Armenians in the company have helped their local Armenian community as individuals, such as using by their business connections and financially supporting the groundbreaking of the Armenian Genocide monument in Las Vegas.

The Arsenal logo

Doing Business in Armenia

Barsoumian and Pakhanyan would go to Armenia frequently for personal reasons on their own over the years. “As we got comfortable in our business,” Pakhanyan related, “we looked to see what we could do to do business there and at the same time benefit Armenia.” Barsoumian and he spent a lot of time in Armenia together over the past 5 or 6 years. They went at least several times a year to explore and talk to local businessmen, as they wanted to establish a side business.

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They decided to create an apparel line for marketing purposes for their brand. Pakhanyan said, “Apparel is a huge thing in our industry.” So they did a lot of research, he said. They already had a few people in their firm who were familiar with this industry. It turned out that one of the first things that people do to go into the generic apparel business is to buy from China. Arsenal initially explored that option but realized that this type of business would be a good one for Armenia. Although Armenia is not as cheap as China for textile manufacturing, it is not that much more expensive, and, importantly, the quality is good, Pakhanyan stressed.

They decided that this would be a good way to start their business relationships in Armenia and through family and friends got introduced to a group of young people who had started a new textile company there. For Armenia, it is considered a midsized company, with about 500 employees. Pakhanyan said that it was clear they really wanted to do international business, so they began to work together in 2019 and the first shipment of clothing from Armenia arrived in the US in January 2020. The company is called Voske Kar LLC, and Artur Frangyan is its founding director.

Arsenal came up with some of the designs in the US, while others were prepared by the design team in Armenia. The products were made in Armenia and Arsenal took it from there.

Voske Kar has a small factory in Yerevan and a few satellite locations in Armenian villages. Voske Kar does outsourcing work for various European and other overseas designers and manufacturers. Arsenal is just one of its clients. It doesn’t make its own brand of products. An attractive aspect of this firm for Arsenal’s executives was that Voske Kar was a community leader, helping bring jobs to the Armenian provinces. This helps local villagers, as well as is a good business practice, Pakhanyan remarked.

One of the satellite locations is a village called Khachik at the border in Vayots Tzor Province. Until the foundation of a small site there, not much besides agricultural work was available in Khachik. Arsenal’s products are folded or packaged there.

Khachik Village

While transportation of products abroad is a challenge, Pakhanyan said, there are ways to accomplish this. Initially various routes were used to export products via air, but just before the novel coronavirus crisis struck Arsenal was going to try a different method. It planned to buy containers, bring them from Georgia through Europe via truck to Germany.

Unfortunately, the virus temporarily halted this plan to export more economically and increase the volume of business. COVID-19 has also required new safety measures in the Armenian factory, which temporarily was shut down and then allowed to work though a “non-essential” business. Apparel and clothing also is not considered an “essential” business field in the US too, hampering distribution further.

Pakhanyan said that nevertheless, with the designs, quality and brand name, Arsenal still intends to expand into other markets, with Canada perhaps being the first new country. He said, “Hopefully we can make this a global brand which we can sell in as many places as possible.”

The first line of products made in Armenia were geared towards the tactical and outdoorsmen market segments, which is where Arsenal’s main business operates. However, Pakhanyan said, “We have a whole line of other designs in the works where we go completely outside of our main existing market. Some use Armenian elements in the prototypes, like the pomegranate or Mt. Ararat (Masis), or combine elements of Armenian military uniforms. We don’t have any specific product like this yet but it is on our drawing board.”

Promoting Armenia

While Arsenal began its explorations into commerce in Armenia some years ago, it did not actually begin this project until after the Velvet Revolution. Pakhanyan said, “I don’t want to say we were lucky, but we had no issues. It has not been any worse or better than any other overseas country in Europe or Asia. It has been really smooth sailing for us with the company we worked with. They were young professional guys, and because they were excited, we were excited. We came with open mind and open heart.”

There were no customs or transportation issues, Pakhanyan said, until COVID-19 struck throughout the world. Armenia, they found, is a good source for textile manufacturing.

“We are not only going there, buying products, and feeling good and happy about it,” he said. “We are also trying to promote Armenia as a source for a lot of different things here. We don’t hide the fact that our products are made in Armenia. We do the opposite—we mention it any time we can.”

Pakhanyan said that if other companies in their own industry or the broader apparel industry can think about Armenia as a source for t-shirts or jeans, and if Arsenal can help steer them to Armenia, that is a win for everybody. He stressed, “This is a part of this process that you can do for the apparel, food, service industry and IT. We are actively trying to work with the IT industry over there and outsource as much IT work as possible from our companies and other projects we get involved with on the side to Armenia.”

Pakhanyan declared to businessmen and investors in the US and elsewhere, “We want to show you that you can do a successful and profitable business in Armenia. We want to go both to the Armenian community and outside the Armenian community. We want to show that though we are a small business here in the US, we can do great things over there—and you can too!”

For more information on Arsenal see its website.

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