Grupo M has taken full advantage of the trade allowances afforded apparel companies manufacturing in Haiti. And, to its benefit and that of its manufacturing associates, it hasn’t stopped there.
The Dominican Republic-based vertical manufacturer bought land directly across the border in Haiti — literally walking distance from its headquarters — on the island of Hispaniola and began producing there in 2003, two years before the end of the quota system that sent much of the production previously situated in the Caribbean Basin to Asia.
Spared the wrath of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and much of southern Haiti, the firm had already built up a sizable Haitian manufacturing stream based on the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement act. Created in 2006 and expanded further in 2008, the HOPE act was designed to help rebuild the production base of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country as its poverty lingered and its previous niche as an apparel exporter was decimated by the shift to Asia.
The earthquake produced nothing more than tremors in Grupo M’s factories at the Codevi Industrial Park in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, but it brought on HELP, the Haitian Economic Lift Program, which expanded duty-free status for apparel made in Haiti to 200 million square meter equivalents from their previous level of 70 million to help give Haiti’s reeling economy a boost. RELATED STORY: Helping Bring Hope to Haiti >>
“This is all in the spirit of creating jobs that, even before the earthquake, were very badly needed in Haiti,” said Joseph Blumberg, vice president and partner of Grupo M. “As long as we assemble the garments in Haiti, we’re free to source fabrics and yarns virtually anywhere we’d like, to do finishing, trim and embroidery in our DR facilities or elsewhere, and ship into the U.S. without duty.”
The company is counting on two initiatives — a push into high-technology synthetic fibers, like those used in compression fabrics, and a collaboration with Los Angeles-based Blue River Denim, a laundry focused on the needs of the premium jeans market. While Grupo M expects a modest increase in revenues this year, to about $130 million from $125.8 million in 2011, it’s banking on these new directions to increase volume more than 15 percent next year, to about $150 million, according to Fernando Capellán, president and chief executive officer.
The new association, dubbed the “laundry lab,” “is exactly what is needed to enhance and launch the new vision of our denim business, where…designers and merchants will have the opportunity to develop their new concepts and convert their ideas to product in our unique D.R.-Haiti duty-free environment.”
That should help boost Grupo M’s bottoms output, currently about 110,000 units a week, steering it toward higher-margin products. The current bottoms mix is about 80 percent jeans and the remainder is in casual bottoms. The firm’s T-shirt capacity is more than 400,000 a week with other knit tops and wovens adding about 25,000 a week.
Grupo M employs 6,500 Haitian nationals at the Codevi Industrial Park on the Haitian side of the border, plus another 3,000 on the Dominican Republic side of the border who focus on administration, distribution and related operations activities.
Rony Pierre, Ouanaminthe’s mayor, sees the company’s impact as going well beyond the employees, affecting every aspect of life in the community of 120,000 where, prior to Grupo M’s arrival, only about 200 had jobs.
“I don’t know where we’d be without them,” he said through an interpreter. “Roads are being paved, we’re getting electricity and a sewage treatment project is under way. The government is working hard to improve conditions, to provide potable water for our citizens. Grupo M has helped make these things happen and drawn attention to our plight.”
Grupo M’s customers have also played a role. Blumberg noted that the firm, like many contractors doing work for large brands and retailers, is subject to customer audits of its environment and corporate social responsibility practices “about once a week.”
Its customer roster includes Gap’s Old Navy and Banana Republic units, Hanesbrands, Warnaco, American Eagle Outfitters, Aéropostale, Donna Karan International, Lucky Brand and Dillard’s. The firm’s commitment to CSR began before its involvement with Levi Strauss & Co. but accelerated greatly after it began.
“Grupo M comes to us on a regular basis with ideas for how we can partner to do more in the local community,” said Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi’s. “We’ve worked with them on issues that are particularly important in Haiti — HIV education for workers, access to water for the community and on water reduction programs at the factory. They share our conviction that giving back helps create a stronger connection with workers, and therefore a stronger business.”
Blumberg boasted about recent reductions in the company’s carbon footprint, and also about “coexisting with a union in peace” as the firm purports to be the only apparel enterprise in Haiti that is unionized.
EXCLUSIVE: @tomford is opening its first-ever beauty store. The boutique, which opens November 20 in London’s Covent Gardens, was designed with the over-the-top glam Ford is known for. Read the full story on WWD.com, link in bio. #wwdbeauty #wwdnews (📷: Simon Wagner) #TomFordBeauty
New York-based DJ @harleyvnewton threw a party to celebrate the holiday collection of her dress and pajama line @hvn at the Ladurée Beverly Hills. It Girls @katebosworth, @rashidajones and more joined in on the fun, which included cocktails, croque monsieur sandwiches and a photo booth. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)
For the holidays, @Burberry partnered with 20-year-old artist @blondeymccoy on a series of three outdoor murals in downtown Manhattan. The murals are McCoy’s interpretation of a Christmas eve party, the idea of charity and the spirit of family. His third mural, pictured here, is the most personal. The image depicts McCoy’s grandparents and father in London’s Trafalgar Square in the Seventies. “My work often features lots of sentimental objects.” #wwdeye
For spring 2018, designers applied bold colors and cartoonish motifs on everything from sneakers and belts to key chains. See all the top men’s accessories trends on WWD.com. #wwdtrends (📷: George Chinsee; Prop Styling by @rnasti; Market Editor: @luiscampuzano)
The @dior-sponsored @guggenheim international gala pre-party has a history of drawing cool-girl musical acts to serenade the crowd –– and last night was no exception. @haimtheband performed songs both new and old, and lured a star-studded audience with the likes of Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Mamoudou Athie and more. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
In a partnership between the @metopera and the @englishnationalopera, “Marnie” was born. The opera, with costumes sponsored by @mrporterlive, is an adaptation of the 1961 thriller by Winston Graham. Arianne Phillips, who created the costumes, is no rookie: She’s styled Madonna for her tours and created costumes for a myriad of films in the past. Read WWD’s interview with Phillips, where she talks about her inspiration for the opera’s costumes on WWD.com #wwdfashion
@barneysnyc took a different approach to their holiday windows this year. Instead of Christmas decor, Barneys tapped @thehaasbrothers to tell a story of positivity, gratitude and inclusivity via heartwarming silliness and humor. “It’s about kids and it’s about coming together and being family and loving each other,” said Simon Haas. #wwdfashion (📷: @joshuascottphoto)
Beauty influencer @kandeejohnson makes her foray into hair care with a collaboration with @ogx_beauty — making it the first time that OGX has teamed up for a product creation. The collab includes shampoos and conditioners in three scents. At 39 and a mom, Johnson is a different profile than the emerging social media stars, but is considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world. Read WWD’s interview with her on wwd.com, including the strangest beauty product she’s ever tried #wwdbeauty