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Southwick's Italian owners keep suit production in Massachusetts rather than Asia

NorCal_1

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Brooks Brothers suit maker to open Haverhill plant in January Business brings 325 jobs to city

By Shawn Regan
November 23, 1008

HAVERHILL — It's a big loss for Lawrence, and Thailand, too.

But it's a big win for Haverhill and a huge relief for 300 local workers who won't be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Southwick Apparel, a fixture in Lawrence since 1929, expects to open its new Haverhill manufacturing plant on Jan. 23, according to the company's chief operating officer, Joe Antista.

Southwick, which was purchased in July by Retail Brand Alliance, is moving from a five-story riverfront mill in Lawrence to a vacant portion of a building off Route 97 in Haverhill that is partially occupied by Magellan Aerospace. The building is near the new Lowe's and Target stores off Route 97, near Interstate 495.

Southwick, which specializes in making Brooks Brothers suits and provides 300 union jobs, almost moved to Thailand, company and city officials said.

"We owe this move to Haverhill to Claudio Del Vecchio's firm belief that there is value to 'made in America,'" said Brian Baumann, Retail Brand Alliance's chief financial officer.

Retail Brand Alliance is owned by Claudio Del Vecchio, the son of Leonardo Del Vecchio, CEO of the Luxottica eyewear empire and the second richest man in Italy, according to Forbes magazine. Retail Brand Alliance acquired Brooks Brothers in 2001.

"We could have placed the Southwick operation in one of our Southeast Asia plants overnight and saved a lot of money," Baumann said. "We took a big financial risk to do the right thing."

Haverhill Economic Development Director William Pillsbury said Del Vecchio's commitment to keeping Southwick in the United States was the key to the company coming here.

"It was the U.S. versus Thailand and the U.S. won," Pillsbury said. "Haverhill won."

Carl Proper, a spokesman for the Southwick workers union, said at this time last year he didn't know if he should be negotiating a new contract or a severance package for his members.

"These 300 employees would have had a hard time finding new jobs in this poor economy (if Southwick moved overseas)," Proper said.

Antista said the company decided about two years ago that it needed to find a new, modern manufacturing facility.

"Five floors in an old mill building with a slow elevator and no air conditioning is no place to be making wool suits in the summer," Antista said of the Lawrence mill building. "We needed 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and it wasn't easy to find. We found the Haverhill space by accident, but as soon as we saw it we knew right away it was the right space."

Antista said his company is in the process of making $6 million worth of upgrades to the building at 20 Computer Drive.

"We've invested a lot of money in equipment and renovations and worker training to make the best suits in the world right here in Haverhill," Antista told the Haverhill City Council last week.

The council has approved a tax relief plan for the company. It was the last approval needed for the company to move here.

The so-called tax increment finance agreement, or TIF, reduces by 75 percent for five years any increased property tax valuation caused by the company making $6 million in renovations to the Computer Drive building. The tax break amounts to less than $5,000 per year, but it makes the company eligible for more generous state tax breaks and credits, Pillsbury said.

The TIF deal also requires Southwick to add 25 new local jobs at the new Haverhill plant, bringing its complement of employees to 325. Those jobs represent about $10 million in local payroll, officials said.

The council approved the tax agreement unanimously.

"This shows it's a myth that you can't manufacture in the U.S.," Councilor William Ryan said. "And it's a myth that you can't manufacture with union jobs."

Council President Michael Hart said of Southwick, "It's refreshing to find a company in this country that doesn't need a bailout."

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien asked whether the company's move to Haverhill is going to include an outlet store for Brooks Brothers suits.

"I'm a mother of four with a husband who needs a good suit once and a while," Daly O'Brien said.

Southwick officials said they are looking for a place in Haverhill to open a small outlet store, similar to the one they have next to the Lawrence plant. The Lawrence outlet also will close soon.

Mayor James Fiorentini called Southwick's relocation to Haverhill the important economic development news since Western Electric opened in downtown Haverhill in the 1950s. That sprawling plant employed hundreds of workers. It moved to North Andover years later, eventually becoming the Lucent Technologies plant.

"This is happening at a time when the country's employers are shedding manufacturing jobs at a record clip, at a time when General Motors is talking about not being able to manufacture automobiles without a bailout," the mayor said. "This is 300 people who won't be losing their homes."

Fiorentini said Gov. Deval Patrick's administration worked closely with the company and the city to make the deal happen.

"Gov. Patrick himself intervened to help when the deal almost fell through,'' the mayor said.
 

voxsartoria

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Yeah, fantastic news. del Vecchio is a good owner, I hope that he will continue making good decisions.

- B
 

gnatty8

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Think of all that extra time those poor folks will have to spend in traffic driving from Lawrence to Haverhill..


Good news, and I suspect, the right decision. I personally swore off Brooks Brothers shirts once they started manufacturing them in Malaysia. I was told this was a result of the widespread move to the non-iron cotton in the shirts, although I am not sure what this has to do with manufacturing. I still buy the slim fit non non-iron OCBD, which are still made in the U.S., but the others, not so much. Some of the Golden Fleece are nice, and made in U.S. factories, but fit rather like cassocks.
 

voxsartoria

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Originally Posted by gnatty8
I still buy the slim fit non non-iron OCBD, which are still made in the U.S., but the others, not so much. Some of the Golden Fleece are nice, and made in U.S. factories, but fit rather like cassocks.

The Black Fleece OCBDs are great. Check them out.

- B
 

NorCal_1

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Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007
The Man Who Brought Back the Golden Fleece
By Barbara Kiviat
Time magazine
Soon after buying Brooks Brothers in late 2001, Claudio Del Vecchio took a trip to the warehouse that keeps the company's archives. When a business has been around since 1818, you wind up with a lot of history"”especially when you're talking about the retailer that sold Abraham Lincoln the overcoat he wore to Ford's Theatre, F.D.R. the cape he donned at Yalta, Fred Astaire the neckties he used as belts and generations of men the suits they wore to their first jobs on Wall Street.

It had been years since a Brooks executive had looked at the old catalogs, swatches, advertisements and letters kept in the archives. Modern fashion, it seemed, demanded modern notions. Yet in that repository of the old and classic, Del Vecchio first saw a clear vision of his new company's future. "It was a revelation," he recalls, "a real inspiration. Yes, we're not in 1940 anymore, but this sort of lifestyle still exists today."

Del Vecchio, 50, a soft-spoken Italian, has been working ever since to prove that not only does that dress-for-dinner lifestyle still exist, but selling clothes to match it is profitable. During the 1990s, as part of the British retailer Marks & Spencer, Brooks Brothers embraced the business-casual look and moved toward the Banana Republic slice of the retail spectrum, even producing its own line of jeans. As CEO and chairman, Del Vecchio has yanked the company back to its higher-brow heritage by rolling out new cuts of suits, reinvigorating the made-to-order and tailor shops, overhauling women's wear and upgrading fabrics and construction across the board (with higher prices to match). The result: "It's feeling like it felt in the old days," says Thomas Davis, a made-to-measure shirt specialist who has worked at Brooks Brothers since 1967.

It was in the '70s that Del Vecchio first got to know Brooks. Growing up near Cortina, he worked summers in the tool department of his father's eyeglass factory"”a business that eventually grew into the market-leading Luxottica Group and made the family one of the richest in Italy. Though far from the U.S., Del Vecchio and his compatriots knew to revere Brooks Brothers, thanks to Fiat magnate Gianni Agnelli and the legendary trips he took to New York City to load up on his favorite button-down shirts.

When Del Vecchio came to New York City to head Luxottica's U.S. distribution arm in 1982, he became a frequent customer. In 1992 he persuaded Marks & Spencer to give Luxottica the license for Brooks-branded eyewear. But it wasn't until 1995, when Luxottica bought the parent company of LensCrafters, that Del Vecchio started down a path that would lead him to take over the iconic clothier.

In the deal for LensCrafters, Luxottica also got the midmarket women's-clothing chain Casual Corner. Luxottica couldn't find a buyer for the poorly performing outfit and after two years was on the verge of liquidating it when Del Vecchio said he'd buy it himself. Why? "It was a gut feeling more than anything else," he says. So Del Vecchio left day-to-day operations at Luxottica to strike out on his own. Within a few years, the hemorrhaging at Casual Corner had stopped"”and Del Vecchio was looking to expand into additional retail concepts.

When Marks & Spencer put Brooks Brothers up for sale in early 2001, Del Vecchio pounced, eventually netting the company for $225 million. Out went the fused sports coats, denim pants and two-ply made-in-Mexico sweaters. In came the $2,000 suits, Loro Piana cashmeres and alligator-skin handbags. Mark-down sales became something that happened only twice a year. And brand-education classes"”covering everything from company history to the way a sweater is made"”were instituted for managers and salesclerks alike.

At Luxottica, Del Vecchio spent years in distribution, and with Casual Corner he refined his understanding of supply-chain management. Those strengths were on full display at Brooks as the hands-on Del Vecchio personally met with each of the company's suppliers. Some he had to woo back, like the shoe company Alden, which had made cordovans for Brooks for more than 90 years before Marks & Spencer all but discontinued them. Others he simply had to encourage, like Brooklyn, N.Y., suitmaker Martin Greenfield, whom Del Vecchio asked to make the best suits he could (forgetting about price) and then to travel across the country holding made-to-order events at Brooks Brothers stores.

All the while, Del Vecchio kept returning to the company's history. When Brooks was on the verge of getting kicked out of the tony Americana Manhasset mall on Long Island, N.Y., he spent an entire day talking to the owners about the firm's heritage and convinced them that the quality of merchandise and service would return. And Brooks designers and merchants still travel frequently to the archives, which are kept by a company called the History Factory in Virginia. "There are so many ideas," says creative director Simon Kneen, "you have to pace yourself."

But the big question is whether the "Brooks look" can thrive in an age in which Ivy Leaguers wear sweats to class and celebrities make headlines for going pantyless. "Restrained elegance is not exactly fashionable these days," says Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Forecasting Group. Consider that nearly half of Brooks' 190 U.S. stores are factory outlets. Professional attire in the U.S. has somewhat returned to the workplace since the dress-down '90s, but sales of suits, which make up more than 20% of Brooks' revenue, have been flat at best for the past few years.

So it's probably not a bad idea that Del Vecchio is finding growth in new places"”like abroad. Brooks has had stores in Japan for years but now is breaking into new markets, from Paris to Seoul to Santiago to London. "We want to grow in a healthy way," says Eraldo Poletto, Brooks' president of strategic development and international business. And moving into countries where people have shown interest by ordering from the Brooks website is thought to be sounder than loading the U.S. market with 100 more stores.

Back home, plenty continues to change as well. In May, Brooks started rolling out stand-alone Country Club stores to play up the polos, shorts and tennis skirts in its popular sportswear collection. The new concept also speaks to another trend: nearly half of each Country Club store is devoted to women's clothing.

During Del Vecchio's tenure, women's wear overall has gone from 12% to 20% of Brooks sales, a real spike at a store that for most of its 189 years downplayed the fact that women wore its clothes. These days Brooks is paying much more attention. Take, for example, the classic button-down, which is now specially designed with a narrower placard and smaller collar and comes in four different cuts. Brooks has even opened some women's-only shops.

The company is also actively courting younger, more fashion-savvy customers. Slimmer, more stylish suits have been introduced alongside the classically American, rounded-shoulder versions, and last fall Del Vecchio signed cutting-edge designer Thom Browne to create 50 pieces a season. That doesn't mean, though, that Browne will stray far from the company's DNA. Dipping into the archives, he found inspiration in the cape F.D.R. wore at Yalta, and as a result, come September, Brooks will sell black twill capes with fur collars.

Yet for all the history that Brooks likes to wave around, there is one chapter it prefers to ignore: the demise of corporate sibling Casual Corner. After early success at reviving the chain, Del Vecchio lost control of the enterprise, which he wound up selling to a liquidator in 2005. "You have to look at his record," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consultancy and investment bank Davidowitz & Associates. "It's been, shall we say, mixed."

Del Vecchio attributes Casual Corner's demise to a fundamental shift in how people shop. "The middle-market shopper went like this," says Del Vecchio, raising one hand and lowering the other. "Middle customers started buying what was not aspirational at Wal-Mart, and with the money saved, they could now afford a Coach handbag instead of one from Casual Corner."

That same bifurcation, he says, is helping power Brooks Brothers as it lurches up the fashion food chain. Brooks brought in about $800 million in sales last year, compared with $661 million during its last full year under Marks & Spencer. As a private owner, Del Vecchio chooses not to disclose earnings. But he does say that during his years at the helm, he's been surprised by how much the Brooks heritage resonates with consumers. "It's much more than what I expected," says Del Vecchio. Now if he could just finish convincing everyone that the legacy is still relevant.
 

gnatty8

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Originally Posted by voxsartoria
The Black Fleece OCBDs are great. Check them out.

- B


Forgot about those.. Yes, I had heard those are quite nice.. Do you know how they fit relative to the slim fit OCBD? Slimmer still I imagine?
 

voxsartoria

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Originally Posted by gnatty8
Forgot about those.. Yes, I had heard those are quite nice.. Do you know how they fit relative to the slim fit OCBD? Slimmer still I imagine?

Slimmer body and arms, smaller and higher armholes, and nicer details. More thoughtfully put together. Not remotely like what BB used to make in the heyday (which would have had softer cloth, better roll to the collar, but also full cut), but nice it's own way and not so vapid as the current mainline shirts made in NC.

I've never seen a non-US BB shirt so I can't comment on those.

- B
 

gnatty8

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I normally wear a 16" in the slim fit, so it looks like the L would work, which is a 16 1/2". Think I will try a few of those..
 

Enfo

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Good for Haverhill. Way better city than Lawrence.
 

gnatty8

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May be the only thing good in Lawrence.. I lived in Lowell for a time after grad school, and I remember thinking "could be worse, I could be in Lawrence.."
 

forex

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Originally Posted by gnatty8
I normally wear a 16" in the slim fit, so it looks like the L would work, which is a 16 1/2". Think I will try a few of those..

If you wear 16",I'd get BB3.BF OCBDs are indeed great,I think they are made in NC as well.I am not sure where all regular made in US OCBDs are made,I assume in NC.
 

gnatty8

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Originally Posted by forex
If you wear 16",I'd get BB3.BF OCBDs are indeed great,I think they are made in NC as well.I am not sure where all regular made in US OCBDs are made,I assume in NC.

I am quite sure Peachtree Center does not carry BF, do you know if Lenox does?
 

NH_Clark

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Originally Posted by gnatty8
May be the only thing good in Lawrence.. I lived in Lowell for a time after grad school, and I remember thinking "could be worse, I could be in Lawrence.."


ummm... I've lived almost 14 years in Lawrence.. and still own 2 houses there. Lawrence's reputation is much worse than reality. It is a great place.. especially being latino.
I could say the same for Lowell... but we won't go there.


Back to the story... I've been by where the new building is being finished and although a longer commute than a cheap taxi ride in Lawrence, it is a beautiful building and certain not to suffer the major issues the old mill building did; freezing cold in the winter and sweltering hot in the summer.
 

NH_Clark

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Originally Posted by voxsartoria
Some good Vietnamese food in Lawrence, though.

- B


you must be thinking of lowell.. now, if you want some good Dominican food
 

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