Another American factory is about to bite the dust.
The Gitman Bros. shirt manufacturing plant in Ashland, Pa., will close by the end of the summer as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus. However, production will remain in America and move to the company-owned Measure Up shirt facility in Lafayette, Tenn., according to Chris Olberding, president of Gitman and Gitman Vintage.
The company is offering the 90 workers in the Ashland factory the option to relocate to the Tennessee factory or one of its other two U.S. plants. Gitman is owned by the Tom James Company, which manufactures tailored clothing for English American in Westminster, Md., and Individualized Shirts in Perth Amboy, N.J.
Even so, the closure of the Ashland plant is just the latest blow to American manufacturing. Brooks Brothers has said that it will most likely close its factories in Long Island City, N.Y., Garland, N.C., and Haverhill, Mass., this summer. And there are rumblings that Tailored Brands, which operates a Joseph Abboud factory in New Bedford, Mass., may also be considering closing that facility, especially if it is forced to file bankruptcy, which has been rumored. A company spokesperson said Tailored Brands had no comment.
Ironically, the planned plant closures come at a time when the pandemic and the U.S.-centric trade policies of President Donald Trump have heightened interest in American manufacturing. But producing apparel in the U.S. is significantly more expensive than many overseas countries such as China and Vietnam. Add to that, a pandemic that dealt a major blow to apparel sales in the U.S., putting many retailers and manufacturers on the brink of disaster.
“Like many businesses, we’ve been experiencing the impact of the global pandemic on purchases,” Olberding said, so the decision was the only one that made financial sense.
Olberding said Gitman has a long history in Ashland, one that dates back 88 years, so “it was a very difficult decision to make to close the facility. But we’re not closing the brand.” He added that the plant has been producing personal protective equipment during the pandemic and that will continue as long as it is needed.
In addition, the fall 2020 collection will be completed at the Ashland plant over the next two to three months before it moves to Tennessee for spring 2021 production.
“Although most people don’t realize it, Measure Up began providing custom and made-to-order services for Gitman dating back to the early 1990s, so the Gitman DNA already runs deep in Tennessee,” Olberding added. ”Shirtmaking is in the DNA in Lafayette. We anticipate that this heritage, coupled with the relocation of many skilled sewers to Measure Up, will provide for a seamless transition.”
Olberding said that he has personally been calling customers to let them know the news and assure them that the quality of the Gitman product will not change when the Ashland factory closes. “It will still be made in the U.S.A. and will remain America’s best-made shirt,” he said, adding that in addition to workers, the machinery will also move to Tennessee.
The workers were informed of the company’s plans on Tuesday.
Stephen Granovsky, chief executive officer of Luxury Men’s Apparel Group, which owns the Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester, N.Y., as well as a Samuelsohn factory in Montreal, is expecting to see even more factory closures in the future.
“Apparel manufacturing in North America is a high fixed-overhead, low-margin business,” he said. “It is not easy to scale costs up and down to volume. As a result, with the dramatic drop-off in volume of the past few months, and the continuing sales losses expected through at least the remainder of this year, the very survival of many apparel manufacturers is being challenged.
“We are seeing, in the initial stages, that large companies are rationalizing their production and sourcing by closing their weakest links, their factories. Without further government support as well as real innovation from the industry, we are going to see more closings and more job losses. At Luxury Men’s Apparel Group, we’ve pivoted our businesses in Montreal and Rochester very aggressively over the past year to produce new categories of apparel to supplement our clothing business including uniforms for the U.S. Army and surgical gowns for the Canadian government. As a result, not only are we not cutting jobs, we are hiring quite aggressively. Next up for us is the entry into casual categories of apparel manufacturing. If the government can continue to provide cheaper access to capital, I believe we have a strong future but I don’t know that is true of the industry as a whole.”