Fashion trends boost local clothing plant

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Amidst the tough economic news of the last 18 months or so -- which worsened following the terror attacks a year ago, one Cape Girardeau manufacturing facility stands out as a beacon of hope.

Officials at Thorngate Ltd., the local manufacturer of clothing for Hart, Schaffner & Marx, recently announced plans to increase employment by 10 percent at the Cape Girardeau facility.

The parent company is Hartmarx Corp., which operates through subsidiaries across the nation, including Thorngate.

The Hartmarx chief executive officer, Ken Hoffman, recently visited the Thorngate plant and announced the reason for the good news on the local hiring front: Resurgent demand, owing to a sharp jump in the popularity of traditional men's suits in the workplace.

To put it another way, there appears to be a turn away from casual wear and a consequent resurgence in demand for more professional business attire across the country.

Hartmarx executives are asking Thorngate to increase production by about 60 percent, from 5,000 suits a week to about 8,000 a week. Thorngate already is working employees overtime to meet demand. Now the plant is looking for an additional 50 employees right away. If demand continues to rise, more hiring could be in the offing.

To say the least, a move back toward more traditional business attire is a cultural trend worth noticing.

Saying several factors are driving the trend, Hoffman said during his Cape Girardeau visit:

"The people who started the dot-coms did so in T-shirts and jeans. But those people are now out of work. They're looking for jobs now, and they're coming to us in droves."

Moreover, Hoffman says that during the economic downturn, people out of work have been fighting for available jobs and have needed every possible edge. Thus, he says, a return to more emphasis on good appearance as job seekers and employers alike seek to maximize their opportunities.

It is good to see a local manufacturing employer, long a mainstay of our economic base, benefiting from a social trend few would have predicted just three or four years ago.

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