Obama suitmaker struggles to survive

May 5, 2009 3:41:54 PM PDT
The future is up in the air for an Illinois company that's been manufacturing apparel for more than 100 years. Hartmarx, a label worn by President Obama, is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

On Tuesday night, the company's owners and its workers hope the clothing maker can survive.

Despite the attention President Barack Obama has brought to the company, Hartmarx reports consumer demand is down and credit is tight.

Now workers hope plans to pull the company out of bankruptcy will include keeping their jobs.

The Hartmarx company in Des Plaines has just finished a custom Hart Schaffner Marx suit for its most famous client.

Beneath the lapel at Grant Park, it's a Hartmarx. At the inauguration, the president's coat and topcoat - both Hartmarx. And another custom suit accompanied the president to the inaugural balls.

Now Hartmarx workers hope that the president will hear their pleas for help.

"Everyone needs their job. And we wish the President Obama, is going to give us more work and we make a great jacket for him. I don't know what we're going to do next," said Linda Chin, Hartmarx employee for 41 years.

"It's hard now to find another job. It's really hard," said Lorena Vences, Hartmarx employee for 11 years.

For decades the facility has turned out high end menswear.

The process starts with yards of fabrics stretched out for patterning. The patterns are cut and seamstresses assembled to pieces to create the suit. Making the suits takes many skilled hands and eyes.

Hartmarx employees 1,000 in Illinois and more worldwide.

In January, the company filed for bankruptcy and reportedly among the bidders there is a bid to liquidate which would end a 125 years tradition and put hundreds out of work.

The union representing the workers urges the bidders to invest in the future of Hartmarx.

"We believe that the banks and the decision-makers, if they look at the long haul, they will move towards the bids that will keep these companies going for another 120 years," said Joe Costigan, Workers United/S.E.I.U.

"The economy is down now, but in a given situation i actually believe that things are going to change and we should have a chance to prove that this company can survive," said Ruby Sims, Hartmarx employee for 31 years.

Hartmarx would not provide anyone to do an interview. Their spokeswoman said everyone was tied up with the negotiations and would not comment further.

Wells Fargo is said to be their largest creditor. Wells Fargo would not comment.

Workers plan a vigil Thursday to try and encourage bidders to keep the business going.


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