On the heels of announcing the end of Saturday mail delivery, the U.S. Postal Service said it is launching a new line of clothing and accessories.
The government agency has signed a license agreement with Wahconah Group, a Cleveland-based fashion apparel company, to support its new "Rain Heat & Snow" brand.
According to a press release, Steven Mills, the Postal Service corporate licensing manger said, "This agreement will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion. The main focus will be to produce Rain Heat & Snow apparel and accessories using technology to create ‘smart apparel’ — also known as wearable electronics."
The Postal Service plans to establish a showroom in New York City's garment district to showcase its new products, which will be available initially only for men.
The goal of the new product line, according to Mills, is to eventually sell Rain Heat & Snow products "in premier department and specialty stores."
Earlier this month, the Postal Service reported a $1.3 billion loss for the three months ended Dec. 31 and announced that most Saturday mail delivery will end this summer.
Over the last year, the agency has also had to cut post office hours, consolidate postal plants and create its own healthcare program for employees in order to stop the bleeding.
Many of its money problems stem from a 2006 congressional mandate that required it to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees. It's been borrowing billions of dollars from taxpayers to make up for the shortfalls.
The Postal Service is, by law, an independent establishment of the executive branch. The agency doesn't normally use tax dollars for operations, but it has exhausted a $15 billion loan from Treasury.
"We're looking at ways we can generate revenue, and we think this clothing line will have market appeal," said Roy Betts, an agency spokesman.
This isn't the first time the Postal Service has made a foray into the fashion world. In the 1980s, the agency sold all sorts of branded goods -- neckties, t-shirts, posters and coffee mugs -- with images of postage stamps on them.
The merchandise, sold in post offices for nearly a decade, was a hit. But Betts said they had to stop selling the goods after lobbyists argued to Congress that the Postal Service's function was just to process mail and sell stamps.
Congressional limitations have held the Postal Service back from developing new sources of revenue many times over the years.
U.S. lawmakers regulate everything from stamp prices to whether the agency can sell gift cards or ship alcohol, which keep the agency from developing new ways to generate cash.
Betts says selling the new merchandise at department stores will hopefully avoid the backlash and stipulations.
Branding experts say the new line could mean a lot of money for the agency.
"Novelty merchandise is big business. Everyday people shell out their hard-earned bucks for something branded that reflects their identity, passions and opinions," said Karen Post, president of the consultancy Brain Tattoo Branding. "[The Postal Service], like many brands...has a big family of supporters that count on it and appreciate its mail carriers."
Both the Postal Service and the Wahconah Group are banking on that.
"You're talking about an American legacy," Wahconah's Crawford said. "We're hoping it will be very successful."