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Diana Dobin, co-leader of Fort Lauderdale-based Valley Forge Fabrics, never planned on climbing the ranks of her parents fabric company. She only wanted to help ensure women and minorities got a fair chance to work in a meaningful career.
Forty-five years after the company’s start, she and her brother, Mikey Dobin, run a second-generation company that is diverse and productive in a rapidly changing hospitality sector. Of Valley Forge’s 260 employees, 65% are women and people of color make up 50% of its leadership team. The firm sells fabrics to hotels worldwide, in addition to other customers.
As Valley Forge prepares for an intern class of workers this summer consisting of all women and people of color, Diana Dobin took time during Women’s History Month to discuss with the Miami Herald her career journey in the textile industry and what she has learned along the way. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Growing up in Tuxedo Park, New York, did you aspire to work in the business world and be a leader?
My parents Daniel and Judy are the founders of Valley Forge and they are hippies. When you are raised by two hippies, you don’t even know what a CEO is. We didn’t talk about business growing up. We talked about humanity, saving the world, and music.
My parents went to work because they needed to make a living. It was about covering the mortgage. The business didn’t allow that to happen until I was a teenager. During that time, I applied to two colleges. I was happy that I was accepted to both and went to Lafayette College. I didn’t even imagine I’d be CEO of this company. I always knew I’d work on behalf of women and minorities. That was my goal.
Early on in my career at Valley Forge, my boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, said maybe you can make it your own culture. I thought wow, that’s true, I could do that. Today, I never imagined Valley Forge would be the size it is, or that we’d do business around the world. I always imagined we’d have a culture that is diverse and welcoming of different cultures and genders. We have a lot of women here, and it’s like the United Nations.
How important is it for you that Valley Forge does a large amount of its production in the United States?
It is very important. Valley Forge is a historic place in American history, and the name comes from that time, and place in Pennsylvania. My dad drives a Camaro in American flag stuff, and is into America in all the good ways.
I lived in Asia in Hong Kong for five years from 1993 to 1998 and sold textiles. Once I left Asia, we sourced some products from there, but it’s never been a big part of our manufacturing. We work with 200 factories around the world and do a lot of production in the U.S. We have a printing plant in our Fort Lauderdale headquarters and have a design studio, as well.
We own a U.S. factory that does cutting and sewing in Massachusetts. For draperies and window treatments, we have to make them in the U.S. because every window is a different size around the world.
How has Valley Forge adjusted to pandemic and supply chain challenges?
A lot of people think what we do is easy, and it isn’t. Supply chain is difficult and we went through a hard time in hospitality. It’s still really hard. Price crunches were happening at the same time in getting materials. We were very slow and business stopped. Anyone that says anything otherwise in my industry is not saying what the reality was. We have all these smart people at Valley Forge, so we shifted a lot of people into quality control. For 18 months, they lived it and breathed it. Our eye was on logistics. They are going back into other departments with this information and new training.
The second thing was, with business slow, we reinvested into the company. We built a massive platform that went live in January. We’ve got data, information and all kinds of metrics and analytics to assist us six months from now, and beyond. It’s raised our bar for efficiency.
What is a key thing that’s enabled you to succeed as a businesswoman?
I firmly believe people are who they are wherever they are. The energy and passion and personality you bring to work is also what you share at home or in your personal life. For me, being a woman is a big part of my identity and I like that I am surrounded by individuals who appreciate their identity. For me, it’s not about being a woman in business, it’s about being a person that lives to the values that are important to me. I love that our business became the size it became, because we can be part of the families of so many lives.