By  on May 24, 1994

NEW YORK -- Considered of one of the last bastions of domestic production, wool coat makers are turning to global sourcing in a big way.

The main target of new manufacturing is the relatively untapped and unproven production grounds of Russia and Ukraine, as well as other Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Mix in quite a bit of 807 coat production, particularly in the Dominican Republic, and the scenario begins to unfold, at least for moderate-priced basic merchandise: U.S. manufacturing may dwindle down to an extremely limited existence.

In the higher end of the coat market, domestic manufacturing continues to maintain a foothold.

Gerald Solomon, president of Fairbrook Enterprises, which makes the Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis wool lines, said he has sourced and sampled from Russia and Ukraine, but for now he's staying home.

"Our company is more of a fashion and reorder business, and you can't do that over there," Solomon said. "At our price level, it's not realistic right now," he explained, because cuttings have to be planned on short cycles and involve multifabric production rather than long runs of single-fabric styles, which the overseas plants are geared to.

However, many coat makers -- those in the more mainstream popular-to-moderate-priced market -- say the costs of production and operations here are too high and the availability of quality wool fabric is increasing in other parts of the world, most notably Russia and Ukraine, where a core mill and sewing factory industry is hungry for work.

Coat executives point out that many of these factories had been making clothes for the once-huge Soviet army, and have well-trained, experienced workers.

Neil Haimm, vice president of Lou Levy & Sons Fashions in charge of the firm's Donnybrook division, said the company's production program in Ukraine has become "the most important part of our business, and it's growing by leaps and bounds."

Haimm said company president Donald Levy spent much time in the past few years developing fabric resources and factories in the former Soviet state, with first production beginning in 1992. About 150,000 units were produced that year, followed by about 325,000 units last year.

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