The new CEO of the company managing Hart Schaffner & Marx's Des Plaines factory Tuesday called rumors 123-year-old suitmaker is about to move its manufacturing overseas "utterly false."
"We are fully committed to running this factory to full capacity," Doug Williams said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Herald.
Reacting to reports in The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers suggesting Hart Schaffner & Marx's new owners are cutting costs and may move the Des Plaines production operation to India, where the group owns a fabric mill, Williams said that since January, the company has hired 40 workers in a new pant shop at the Des Plaines factory producing up to 1,000 pairs of pants weekly.
The company - formerly run by Chicago-based Hartmarx Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in January 2009 - was acquired for $128.4 million last August by India-based textile giant SKNL and London-based Emerisque Brands. Hart Schaffner & Marx gained national attention in 2008 when then-President-elect Barack Obama revealed it was his preferred brand and wore the suit to his inauguration.
Hartmarx Corp. once had facilities employing nearly 4,000 people nationwide. But several Hartmarx manufacturing plants, including the company's only other Illinois factory in Rock Island and a warehouse in Michigan City, Ind., were shuttered after the takeover.
The Des Plaines factory until now has made only jackets, while the suitmaker's pants were made at a factory in Anniston, Ala., that has since closed.
Williams, CEO of HMX LLC or the new Hartmarx, said manufacturing pants outside of Des Plaines didn't make sense and the operations were consolidated here to cut costs.
"As we continue to grow the company, we will be sewing here in the U.S. We will be sewing in Canada, and we will take advantage of other parts of the world," Williams said. "But our first commitment is to this factory here."
The Des Plaines factory employs 587 workers who hail from all parts of the world, though a majority have spent their careers in Des Plaines.
Stanley Kowalik, a senior quality manager and 26-year factory employee, said right now the company looks good.
"I hope it stays that way," Kowalik said. "What happens next year, next month, you don't know. I hope we will be OK. Still a long way to go for retirement."
Dress manager Sidney Branford, who has been with the company for 23 years, said he has seen a lot of progress and increased production since the company was taken over.
"Looking at it right now, the future looks good," he said.
Joe Costigan, treasurer for Workers United union representing 467 Hartmarx employees, said he is not concerned about the factory's future.
"This place is working full-time with our members, a lot of them working overtime and we couldn't be more happy about the situation," Costigan said. "The product that our workers put together with so much pride ... it's the reason why this company has got a bright future, and we're just happy to be part of it."
Williams said HMX is partnering with menswear designer Joseph Abboud who will work with SKNL's textile mills to develop exclusive fabrics that will help re-brand Hart Schaffner & Marx.
The group owns a fabric mill in Scotland - Reid & Taylor - as well as Mysore, India.
"That fabric mill becomes a competitive advantage for our company," Williams said. "We look at Hart Schaffner & Marx as one of the crown jewels. Old Hartmarx had 100 years of legacy that it had to fight through, and it was unable to be competitive. We have to come up with compelling products that are relevant to the consumer today and we have to deliver that message, and then we have to execute it."