…While Local Apparel Contractors Experience Boost
By DEBORAH BELGUM
L.A. clothing contractors have never been busier.
It started when retailers, who had kept their inventories lean in recent months, started boosting them in time for back-to-school sales. But the biggest jump is coming from news of a looming July 1 strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which has sent clothing manufacturers scurrying to find an alternative to goods being shipped from Asia.
A possible strike by the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union idling 7,000 workers could mean that apparel destined for store shelves would be stranded on boats.
“A lot of retailers are worried,” said Peter Ma, president of Rigo International Inc., a Los Angeles apparel company whose men’s wear line is manufactured in Asian factories. “A lot of goods have been diverted to local production. They may pay a higher price, but they know they will get the goods.”
Even a brief strike would have major repercussions. “A three-day backup of goods could actually mean two weeks of actually getting things delivered,” said one major L.A. manufacturer.
That has sent clothing manufacturers hedging their bets. Those that rely on getting their clothing lines from factories in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, S. Korea, the Philippines, Turkey and Pakistan, are trying to find contractors to sew some of their goods here.
“We are producing more in L.A. and Mexico than we have done in the past,” said Ed Redding, executive vice president of importing for John Paul Richards Inc., a $100-million women’s wear company that has 80 percent of its goods manufactured in Asia. “We’re hoping the strike gets resolved but if it doesn’t we’ll be airing in some goods too.”
Particularly nervous are clothing companies that sell back-to-school clothing that has to be in stores no later than August.
“The possibility of strikes always make manufacturers uneasy,” said Karen Macias, vice president of MGM Apparel Inc., an L.A. sewing contractor. “For a small manufacturer that is doing a couple of million dollars in sales a year, losing a huge sales order could really, really put them in danger. If your order is late, stores don’t have any sympathy for that.”
Even manufacturers that normally produce most of their goods in L.A. are having a problem. Now that contractors are so busy, loyal customers are having to wait in line. “We deal with 40 something contractors and 30 of them are getting a little cocky right now,” said Steve Maiman, owner of L.A.-based children’s wear manufacturer Great Escape and co-owner of junior company Story Apparel.
Contractors are used to seeing their business trickle away to offshore factories or south to Mexico at factories along the border. When Sept. 11 came along and retail sales nose-dived, several smaller sewing contractors in town had to close their doors.
“February was the worst February we had in 30 years,” said Donald Owen, vice president of California Joy Inc., an activewear and swimwear contractor in Glendale. “But then things started to rev up, and we are 40 percent busier than normal.”
Added Macias “I am getting lots of calls from manufacturers who are willing to give us tons and tons of work. Right now I am in a position to choose if I want to work with them based on the prices they pay.”
Times are particularly good at Trinity Sports Inc. a large contractor in Vernon. “We refuse more business than we receive,” said Aaron Lee, a manager at the 55,000-square-foot facility that is cranking out 20,000 pairs of jeans and pants a week. “People are doing last-minute orders.”
While some clothing companies are preparing for some kind of strike, there are others who are waiting to see if a work stoppage really materializes.
“We can divert the clothes to other ports,” said Ma, who is considering sending his goods to New York. “Or we can fly them in by air, which is expensive.”
In the meantime, local contractors are enjoying the moment. “We’re booked until the end of the month,” said Owen. “Then we take it one month at a time.”
Joe Rodriguez, the executive director of the Garment Contractors Association of Southern California, notes that L.A. sewing contractors may be in for high times as manufacturers worried about future terrorist threats and disruption in shipping move some of their production to domestic sources.
“Some of these manufacturers have decided that the future is kind of cloudy out there,” Rodriguez noted..”