It is rare to find a textile manufacturer that has not moved its production offshore. One exception is Fox Apparel, which is that rare clothing maker whose niche supplier approach has managed to buck the prevailing trends. And it may be on the forefront of a way of producing goods that's both better for the country and better for business.
This isn't to say that the Asheboro, N.C., privately owned company has not had some tough times in trying to compete against cheaper foreign supply sources. Nor is it the expectation that difficult circumstances are going to go away any day soon. But this has not thwarted Fox Apparel's determination to stay in the game, both for the sake of its employees and the country.
"I have been in this business for the past three decades," President Wallace Thompson says. "At one time, we operated as many as seven plants. Today, we have one." While that's because of a drastic reduction in business, he does see a bright side to this. "We now have a single 186,000-square-foot plant, and there are advantages to having all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. It does make things easier to manage."
While it is always good to look at the silver lining, the fact is that it is contained within a particularly dense dark cloud. "While I understand the business reasons for going to Vietnam or China, and, I'll admit, at one time I considered it, I think you lose something in the bargain," Thompson maintains. "One is quality in consistency of fit. The other is that there are a lot of people looking for work in this country. They don't have the education to be a doctor or a lawyer, but they want to put in an honest day of work to be able to support their families. The manufacturing base in this country can no longer provide the jobs that used to be there for these people. Over the past five years I have thought about closing or selling the business, but, particularly after 9/11, I just feel an obligation to do what I can to offer my employees work and try to do my part to maintain the made in America manufacturing tradition that made this country strong."
Nor does Fox Apparel engage in the prevalent practice today of cutting expenses by reducing labor. "If we have to eliminate a function, we don't eliminate the people who did it. We find other jobs for them to do."
The company makes specialized garments for the U.S. Army and wildland firefighting uniforms. Last February, it was awarded a five-year $103.4 million contract to produce new army combat trousers which, among other features, incorporate a more effective camouflage design along with comfort and accessibility features that more effectively integrate with body armor. This means approximately 200 new manufacturing jobs in Asheboro's Randolph County region of North Carolina, which roughly doubles the employees of Fox Apparel.
According to the fibre2fashion Web site, the cochairman of the Congressional Textile Caucus, Howard Coble (R-NC), is on record saying, "With so many textile and apparel manufacturing jobs being exported overseas ... I am particularly proud that the U.S. Army will supply its men and women with uniforms produced right here in the 6th District. We have worked with Fox Apparel in the past, and I know its employees do outstanding work. I am thrilled that there will be many more joining their ranks thanks to this Army contract."
Thompson is also quoted as noting that the new
contract provides some peace of mind for his company and his employees. "I
told our people that they can stop looking over their shoulders, and that
their jobs are not going to China. My passport has expired, and thanks to this
contract, we can grow this company right here in Asheboro. In addition to the
stability this contract provides, it also means that Fox Apparel is now the
prime small business contractor for the federal government."
Since that time Fox Apparel has also be awarded several more contracts including a recent Coast Guard contract. This will ensure Fox Apparel's workers another 5 years of supporting the US military. Each contract makes Fox Apparel that much stronger with a long-term look to the future.
Makers of Wildland Fire Fighter, Coast Guard, Army ACU, and
many other uniforms.
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