Creating trends in men’s clothing is keeping the Hart Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman brands prospering. One of those trends is a reaction to the casual dress codes in effect in many offices.
“You’re seeing a trend back to people dressing up again,” W Diamond Group Corp. owner and CEO Doug Williams observes. “You’re seeing more dressing up by the 26- to 40-year-olds, and the 40- to 60-year-olds are following suit.” For W Diamond Group Corp. – manufacturer of Hart Schaffner & Marx and retailer of Hickey Freeman – following suit literally means selling more suits.
“You’re finding in young people there’s a desire for heritage, and our Hart Schaffner & Marx brand being more than 125 years old has that heritage,” Williams asserts. “There is a desire to support their community, so being made in the USA is a positive. The customer sees the quality, and they’re willing to forego multiple purchases of poor-quality products and make an investment in better-quality products.”
Marketing to millennials – consumers born before the turn of the 21st century – differs from selling to baby boomers. “It starts with the product and the styling of the product to make sure it’s relevant to the next generation,” Williams points out. “It’s a combination of social media – which they pay more attention to – working with influencers.” Williams cites the placement of Hart Schaffner & Marx suits on NBC’s hosts covering the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as being an influencer.
Although the basic elements of men’s suits never change – two- or three-button jackets with side and breast pockets and lapels – those elements are shifting subtly in size and position based on the latest fashions. “The jacket is shortening,” Williams reports. “So where a jacket today is 29 to 31 inches long, it was longer in the past. You saw the move away from pleated trousers several years ago. What you see today is the consumer wearing clothes a little tighter to the body, and this same thing is happening with sportswear.”
W Diamond Group also designs and sources Hickey Freeman sportswear. “We want to give them an entire lifestyle experience and take a larger part of their closet,” Williams explains.
The company establishes rather than follows trends. “We were doing slimmer suits and shorter jackets four years ago,” Williams maintains. “So as it becomes more readily adopted, you establish the trend, and as it gets more adopted, you’re going to have to figure out what the next trend is, and the next one.”
W Diamond Corp. was founded in December 2012 and licensed Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner & Marx for 40 years from Authentic Brands Group, which bought the trademarks from HMX Group in an auction after HMX’s bankruptcy. Also in 2012, W Diamond Group bought the Hart Schaffner & Marx plant in Des Plaines, Ill., along with many other apparel industry assets of HMX Group.
“When we partnered with Authentic Brands Group, they had the capital to acquire the trademarks,” Williams explains. “I would never have had enough capital to do both, and they are a great brand management and development company. They are amazing partners and are very helpful in driving the business on a global basis.”
Since acquiring those apparel industry assets, W Diamond Corp. has divested itself of most of them except for the Hart Schaffner & Marx plant, the Hickey Freeman retail store in New York and the ecommerce business of Misook, which is a women’s apparel brand.
The Hickey Freeman suits are manufactured at their original location in Rochester, N.Y., by Samuelson of Canada, which also runs two factory outlet stores in Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y. The Hickey Freeman sportswear that is sold at Hickey Freeman’s only full-price retail store in New York is sourced primarily from European suppliers by W Diamond Group.
Besides the single retail location, Hickey Freeman suits also are sold in nearly 300 department and free-standing clothing stores to which Samuelson of Canada distributes. Hart Schaffner & Marx suits are sold in approximately 400 specialty stores and nearly 400 department stores.
Williams plans a multimillion-dollar expansion in production technology and equipment at the single 250,000-square-foot Hart Schaffner & Marx plant in the next 24 months. “We’re running at full capacity today,” he maintains. “We plan to expand our capacity by another 30 percent. We feel that ‘Made in the USA’ has a real cache that the consumers are responding to.”
The company has just started to develop private-label suit manufacturing, which is approximately 2 percent of the factory’s production. Although the production increase will be made in the same amount of space currently being used in the factory, Williams estimates the labor-intensive methods utilized in suit manufacturing might require hiring another 200 employees.
Williams and his family stepped up to the bat to purchase the Hart Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman plants and save its employees’ jobs. “A huge motivating factor to me personally was to ensure that these companies survived and thrived and these jobs were saved,” Williams emphasizes. “The second factor is it’s a great opportunity for American manufacturing to make money. For so long, everybody says American apparel manufacturing can’t be competitive, and I disagree and am proving that fact. Today, over 600 families in the Chicago area depend on us to be successful, and I take the responsibility very seriously and really focus on ensuring their success.”