This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing men's and boys' shirts (including polo and sport shirts) from purchased woven or knit fabrics. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing work shirts are classified in SIC 2326. Knitting mills primarily engaged in manufacturing outerwear are classified in SIC 2253.
315211 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors)
315223 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Shirt (except Work Shirt) Manufacturing)
Sales of men's and boys' shirt reached $6.5 billion in 2001. Although knit shirt continued their dominance of the sector, woven dress shirts made slow increases. Men's knit shirts sold 686 million units, and men's woven sport shirts accounted for 253 million units. Although casual dress was still prevalent in corporate America, economic uncertainty and widespread layoffs were key in bringing back a more polished look to U.S. offices and service industries. Management no longer had to entice workers with casual dress policies and workers felt projecting a more professional image would be a wise decision in the increasingly competitive market for jobs in the early 2000s.
One important issue affecting the industry was cost. Shirt manufacturers in the early 2000s had greater competition for consumers dollars because of less disposable income. Manufacturing costs, however, continued to rise with shirt makers forced to find ways to save in other areas to keep costs low. Continuing an important trend of the 1990s, shirt manufacturers moved production to more affordable factories overseas. The closing of Hathaway's, the last major U.S. shirt manufacturing plant in 2002, marked the end of U.S. domestic shirt production.
Domestic shirt makers also experienced increasing competition from less expensive imports. In 2002, the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements laid plans to impose quotas on imports of textiles and apparel from Vietnam. Due to an increase in imports from the country, quotas were proposed on all cotton and man-made fiber knit shirt imports from Vietnam. Imported cotton knit shirts from Vietnam made up .6 percent all imports in that category in the United Sstates in the first five months of 2002. Man-made fiber knit shirts from Vietnam accounted for 0.2 percent of imports.
U.S. shirt production is heavily concentrated in the southeastern states, especially North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Georgia, which together account for about 55 percent of total shipments. North Carolina and Georgia account for one-quarter of the almost 2 million U.S. jobs in textile production, apparel manufacture, and production of synthetic fibers and cotton. California also commands a huge percentage of the jobs, about 181,000 in various textile-related industries, three times more than all of New England.
The two most important supplies for men's and boys' shirt establishments are knit fabrics and broadwoven cloths. For most of the twentieth century, knit and woven shirts were assembled from cut pieces of fabric according to the "bundle system." Sewing a dress shirt requires anywhere from 20 to 40 operations under this system. Each operation is the specialty of a certain sewing-machine operator, who performs his or her single task on a large bundle of cut pieces, reties the pieces in the bundle, and then sends them along to the next operator.
At any moment there are thousands of garmentpieces lying on the factory floor, a huge "work-in-process" that represents the manufacturer's inventory. It takes less than 20 minutes of actual labor to assemble a shirt in this system. But those 20 minutes are spread over a production cycle that lasts as long as six weeks, from the time separate pieces are cut to the time they are packaged for distribution. The bundle system maximizes the productivity of individual operators but also results in a costly build-up of in-process inventory and hinders manufacturers' flexibility to respond to changing consumer demand. The industry's largest manufacturers report that department stores and mass merchandisers are the biggest consumers of their products. In addition, a number of firms are expanding sales through their own retail divisions, especially factory stores at outlet malls.
The historical development of the men's and boys' shirt industry can be divided into two basic periods: the eras before and after the 1918 introduction of the soft-collar-attached shirt. The current state of the men's and boys' shirt industry is the result of a range of influences, including wars; political, industrial, and technological revolutions; government policies; apparel construction and design changes; introductions of new natural and synthetic fibers and/or improvements in their resiliency; and the fleeting nature of fashion preferences.
The American Revolution of 1776 gave birth to the U.S. apparel industry. It created a climate in which the activities of urban-based industrialists, bankers, merchants, and other professions and crafts could flourish. Progressing in step with this newly emergent and triumphant political and economic class of white men were styles of dress reflective of their own particular preferences. These tastes were largely utilitarian in design and style. Early uniformity in fashion tastes facilitated mass production of ready-made shirts.
From its infancy at the end of the American Revolution to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the U.S. apparel industry was nurtured by a highly protectionist trade policy. Between 1816 and 1829 tariffs on imported clothing rose from 25 to 50 percent, where they remained until 1860. Additional duties were imposed if the imported clothing arrived in the United States on board a ship of foreign origin.
The introduction of sewing-machine technology in the 1850s precipitated the downfall of these tariffs and allowed U.S. shirt manufacturers to compete in international markets. The increased productivity generated by sewing machines propelled the U.S. apparel industry to a world-status second to none. The industry's main advantage lay in its ability to reduce the cost of labor per shirt, which led to a sharp decrease in the selling price of its product. The sewing machine had a profound structural impact on the organization of the workplace. It ultimately led to greater divisions of labor based on outinization and specialization. Highly paid, skilled tailors were replaced by low-wage, semiskilled, or unskilled laborers who arrived from Europe to work in U.S. factories.
Another milestone in the shirt industry occurred with the outbreak of the Civil War. Prior to the war, manufacturers and retailers of ready-made apparel had been hampered by the absence of standard clothing sizes. To facilitate its clothing orders for private manufacturers, the Union Army's Philadelphia Quartermaster collected body measurements from more than one million recruits and conscripts. These measurements were organized into tables of standardized body proportions that could be easily applied to the manufacture of civilian garments.
In the early twentieth century fashion began to have a greater influence on the direction of the men's and boys' shirt industry. Affluent, well-dressed men eschewed the soft shirts being offered by Sears, Roebuck and Co. in favor of the "stiff-bosom" shirt, a marker of mental, as opposed to manual, labor. Cluett, Peabody's "Arrow" line of stiff-bosom shirts came in 20 starch-collar styles of the "poke" type: a plain standing collar without tabs. By 1906 fashion tastes had shifted from the poke-type detached collar to embrace the fold or turned-down collar style. Arrow promoted this new collar through the creation of the "Arrow collar man," whose sex appeal over the next dozen or so years managed to drive the sales of Arrow's 400-plus detached-collar styles to the $32 million mark. In 1911 the notched detached-collar shirt was all the rage. Accompanying advertisements told consumers that this new type of collar saved time, money, and temper since it prevented buttonholes from ripping, did not tear fingernails, and bypassed the use of metal collar boutonnieres.
A new fashion wave swept across the United States in 1918: the soft-collar-attached shirt. During their tour of duty in World War I, many American men became impressed with the relative comfort of the soft-collar-attached khaki army shirt, especially when compared to its more irritating starched, collar-detached civilian counterpart. In fact, just prior to the widespread circulation of the collar-attached shirt in its various civilian guises, the market was booming with sales of military shirts, replete with regulation army cuffs and pocket, collar, and sleeve insignias.
In 1920 John M. Van Heusen introduced a three-ply collar constructed in a one-piece arc. It incorporated the advantage of the starch collar's crisp appearance with the comfort of the soft collar. It also had the advantage of retaining its shape longer than other collars due to its construction. By 1925 the Van Heusen Shirt Company ran advertisements declaring it the "collar of the century," while incorporating the new collar into the design of their entire line of shirts. Van Heusen also pioneered a patented weaving process that introduced the one-piece collar, which would become an industry standard. The collar's novel quality lay in its uniform thickness, designed and constructed without any lining so that, even after repeated wearings, it proved to be wrinkle-, blister-, and buckle-resistant.
World War II also spawned important changes in shirt production. First, the war-effort contributed to the economic integration of the southern- and northern-based apparel industries, whose prior operations had been largely conducted on a regional basis. The war also introduced new synthetic materials that eventually found their way to the apparel industry. Immediately following World War II, some shirt manufacturers began using nylon and other synthetic fibers. Though receiving enthusiastic support from the public, not all major shirt producers were willing to plunge into the nylon shirt fad. Cluett, Peabody announced that no Arrow-label shirts would be produced from nylon. Along with other traditional shirt producers, Cluett, Peabody questioned the propriety of using synthetic fibers as a "shirting fabric."
During the 1950s three major technological changes occurred that had a great impact on the shirt industry. Concerns about the longevity of synthetic fibers were silenced when Du Pont became the first U.S. commercial producer of the manmade fiber polyester, marketed under the brand name Dacron. Consumers prized polyester for its wrinkle resistance and iron-free maintenance, its ability to maintain shape after repeated washing, and its permanent heat-setting treatment process that helped maintain pleats and guard against shrinkage and sagging. The ease with which polyester could be blended with other fibers was also a boon to manufacturers.
The year 1956 witnessed the introduction of wash-and-wear, all-cotton shirts. Thanks to a special resin treatment, apparel made of natural fibers was now able to withstand repeated laundering without losing its original shape or appearance. Three years later manufacturers began treating apparel with special finishing processes that allowed stains to be washed out with plain cold water. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), of St. Paul, Minnesota, introduced the revolutionary "Scotchgard" process during the 1950s as well. The oil-based spray proved resistant against the harshest of conditions and could be used in a wide range of products to prevent penetration of moisture, dust particles, and oil staining.
The two major segments of the men's and boys' shirt industry were moving in opposite directions in the 1990s. In 1995 U.S. manufacturers shipped 1.13 billion knit shirts (including T-shirts, sweatshirts, and polo shirts), valued at $5.84 billion, up from $4.89 billion in 1992 and $3.92 billion in 1991. These gains were entirely due to a jump in shipments of T-shirts and tank tops, which climbed from 565 million shirts at $2.09 billion in 1991, to 833 million shirts at $3.99 billion in 1995. Earnings from boys' knit shirts showed the most growth, with 1998 sales doubling those from the previous year. By contrast, shipments of woven shirts (including dress, business, and sports shirts) declined steadily over the same period, from 105 million shirts at $1.11 billion in 1992, to 88.4 million shirts at $990 million in 1995. But woven shirts made a slight recovery near the end of the decade, at least in discount clothing stores. Total sales of men's woven sport shirts in discount stores during the first half of 1998 rose 3.8 percent compared to the same period in 1997, from $355.0 million to $368.7 million. Total sales of men's knit sport shirts in discount stores rose only 1.3 percent over the same period, to $712.7 million.
The very different fortunes of these two segments of the industry were attributable in part to the "casualization" of American clothing tastes, expressed in the trend toward corporate dressing-down, which hurt sales of dress and business shirts. By the mid-1990s dress-shirt manufacturers were responding to this trend by developing new lines of casual woven shirts, sometimes known as "Friday wear." T-shirt sales not only gained from this trend but also benefited from the synergy between corporate merchandising campaigns and the desire of millions of Americans to wear clothing expressing their loyalties to sports teams, rock groups, and other popular icons. Sports apparel by itself generated almost $1.5 billion in sales during 1998.
Although these trends had markedly different impacts on the various branches of the U.S. men's and boys' shirt industry in the 1990s, both knit and woven shirt producers felt the effect of competition from overseas manufacturers, who were producing cheap goods with cheap labor. Additional long-term uncertainties were thrown into the mix by the passage of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the 1995 Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC).
The apparel industry has been extremely susceptible to import competition over the last 50 years and has frequently lobbied the U.S. government to impose tariffs and quotas. The share of imports in U.S. consumption of both knit and woven shirts rose substantially from the 1970s to the 1990s, although import penetration was much higher for woven shirts. The Multifiber Agreement (MFA) had regulated U.S. imports of textiles and apparel since 1974. On the basis of bilateral agreements with individual countries, the MFA established import quotas on most apparel items, including suits. NAFTA, GATT, and ATC dismantled many of those protections. For example, ACT increased the number of items allowed into the United States under the apparel quotas and will phase out quotas on shirts altogether by 2005.
How did shirt manufacturers respond to the challenges posed by foreign competition? One strategy involved a combination of downsizing U.S. operations by closing plants and laying off production workers, as well as outsourcing an increasingly large portion of work to company-owned plants or contractors in Mexico or the Caribbean Basin. Many U.S. companies manufacture shirts with cheap foreign labor by sending cut fabric to these foreign plants, where they are sewn and finished. The finished items are then shipped back to the United States at preferential duties. Between 1991 and 1995 the value of such "807" imported shirts (a figure that included the value added in both the United States and abroad) rose from $183 million to $1.03 billion.
If offshore production gave U.S. companies a chance to produce their goods with cheap labor, domestic production entailed its own set of advantages, especially proximity to the huge U.S. consumer market and the opportunity to respond rapidly to shifting consumer demands. One major shirt manufacturer, Hampton Industries Inc., estimated that the production cycle (the time from cutting the fabric to the product's arrival at the company's distribution center) for shirts produced in the Far East lasts as long as six months. For shirts produced in the Caribbean Basin, Hampton estimated that the production cycle lasts about ten weeks, and for shirts produced in the United States it lasts just five weeks.
Leading U.S. shirt manufacturers have also capitalized on domestic production advantages by pursuing a consumer-driven "quick response" strategy. This strategy integrates numerous dimensions of the production cycle with an eye toward shortening a cycle's duration, implementing productivity improvements, and shrinking inventory levels through the immediate transmission of consumer taste to manufacturers. The quick response strategy depends on a manufacturer's investment in state-of-the-art communications systems, known as electronic data interchange (EDI). EDI systems link manufacturers to retailers' computer-recorded sales information, allowing them to track changes in consumer preferences as they happen.
Quick response strategies also attempt to reduce inventories and accelerate production cycles so that changing consumer preferences can be quickly translated into modified products. The most far-reaching attempt to accomplish these goals involves the replacement of the bundle system of assembly with "modular" production. In modular systems teams of multi-skilled operators work together to produce a single garment or a single part of a garment, such as a collar. Pay is based on an entire team's output, giving incentive for team-members to shift tasks when backlogs develop. Workers focus on maximizing the number of finished pieces produced by the whole team, rather than on the number of individual operations performed. Individual worker productivity in a modular system is not normally as high as that of specialized workers in the progressive bundle system; however, modular systems reduce inventory and accelerate the production cycle for assembly of an entire garment. Although modular systems have received strong backing from industry analysts, industry leaders, and unions, manufacturers have been slow to change their management and human resource practices.
Sales of men's and boys' shirts reached nearly $6.5 billion in 2001. Men's shirts accounted for about $4.7 billion, and boys' shirts added nearly $1.8 billion. Men's knit shirts was by far the most popular category in the sector, with 686 million units sold, with woven sport shirts accounting for 253 million units.
Trends affecting men's shirts in the early 2000s were color and prints. Tropical sportswear, including Hawaiian print shirts, and striped and patterned shirts resurfaced in the new millennium. With a struggling economy and a climate of uneasiness following the events of September 11, 2001, consumers wanted to return to a happier time and the industry was glad to oblige, showing a variety of bright colors and prints popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The popularity of surfing worldwide drove sales of surfwear beyond the sport and into mainstream society.
Bucking the 1990s trend of "casual Friday" and a more informal look in the workforce in general, American corporate culture in the early 2000s demanded a more dressed-up look. With a shaky economy and widespread layoffs throughout the United States, employers could once again demand a more professional image from their workers. Outside of the business world, service industries were also interested in showing their best side in the early 2000s. Though knit shirts continued to outsell woven shirts, demand for dress shirts were slowly rising in response to these factors.
High-tech fabrics in dress shirts were gaining popularity with manufacturers and wearers. Although traditionally made of cotton or cotton-blend fabrics, synthetic microfibers became more prevalent in dress shirts. These microfibers are commonly made up of polyester with polynosic. Rayon and nylon blends are also popular, and rayon or nylon Polynosic blends are the most expensive of the fabrics. They typically sport a peached (or sanded) finish that lend a textured feel to the shirt. Some mimic the look and feel of silk but are washable and dryable. Easy to care for and stain resistant, these fabrics are appealing to consumers. Cotton still remained the leader among dress shirts, however. Button-down collars were still consumer favorites, with spread collars gaining in popularity.
T-shirts made news in 2003 when manufacturer Hanes began manufacturing their premium men's shirts without the sometimes annoying labels. Replaced by printed on tags, the company had success with the line and began implementing the label-free idea across all their undershirt lines. Jockey International also began eliminating labels in their underwear lines. On the horizon are label-free outerwear T-shirts, children's shirts, and all Jockey International products.
Cost was an important concern for shirt manufacturers. With less disposable income, shirt makers had greater competition for consumers dollars. With the cost of manufacturing shirts on the rise, shirt makers were forced to keep prices down and find ways to save in other areas. Most looked for more affordable factories and as of 2002, all major shirt manufacturing plants had moved out the United States in favor of countries with lower cost factories.
In response to concerned textile industry lobbyists, the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements planned to impose quotas on imports on textiles and apparel from Vietnam in 2002. Industry members specifically asked for quotas on all cotton and man-made fiber knit shirt imports from Vietnam due to the large increase in imports during early 2002. Although these increases were significant, the import market was relatively small with cotton knit shirts from Vietnam making up 0.6 percent all imports in the United States in the first five months of 2002, and man-made fiber knit shirts at 0.2 percent. The industry argued, however, that such increases can affect the domestic industry.
Discount stores, national chains, and department stores dominated sales of men's and boy's shirts. Discount stores owned an 18.9 percent share of the market in 1997, with earnings of approximately $9.6 billion. Major chains owned about an 18.7 share of the market in the same year, with earnings of approximately $9.5 billion. Department stores owned a 17.7 percent share of the market, with earnings of approximately $9.0 billion, but specialty chains such as Gap are rapidly gaining ground. In 1997 specialty chains had a 10.6 market share, with earnings of $5.4 billion, an increase of more than 17 percent.
The largest producers of men's dress shirts are Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. (Van Heusen, Geoffrey Beane, Izod, and Gant brand names); Cluett, Peabody Inc. (Arrow brand); and Salant Corp. (Manhattan and John Henry brands). In 1999 Supreme International of Miami, Florida, purchased the John Henry and Manhattan brands from Salant for $27 million. Supreme International then licensed its entire dress shirt inventory to Phillips-Van Heusen for $44 million. The deal helped Phillips-Van Heusen maintain its stranglehold share of the U.S. dress shirt and designer dress shirt markets. The company had sales of $1.4 billion in 2003.
Another leading producer of men's dress shirts was C.F. Hathaway Shirts, a division of Warnaco Group Inc. Founded in Waterville, Maine, in 1837, Hathaway is the nation's oldest shirtmaker. However, the company lost $5 million in 1995. In November of the next year a group of investors purchased the Waterville factory and hired industry veteran Don Sappington as CEO. The deal was supported domestically by the federal government, state and city agencies, and a $1-million grant from the Economic Development Administration. Within two years of the purchase, factory production was back at full capacity. In 1998 the new management decided to advertise the brand name again for the first time in 15 years. The ads concentrated on marketing cotton shirts in the $45 to $65 range, with blends selling at $40 to $45. The struggling company threatened to collapse again in 2001 before being sold to Winsong Allegiance Group. That year, it lost a bid to provide shirts to the Air Force, and an attempt to purchase the company was made by the nonprofit Made in the USA Foundation. The inability to secure financing for the sale sealed the fate of Hathaway's manufacturing plant—the United States' last major shirt manufacturing plant—which closed in October 2002. Hathaway then joined Arrow and Van Heusen in producing their shirts overseas.
Another venerable name in the shirt-making industry, Boyd's—founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1876—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994. Jack Culian attempted to rescue the store in July 1996, buying the Boyd's brand name for $3,500 and raising $200,000 from investors. In October 1996 Boyd's reopened its doors with the motto "a new era with an old friend." But the seller of traditional dress shirts and formal attire could not turn the corner. With four salespeople, less than a thousand customers, and industry trends heading toward more casual business attire, Boyd's closed its doors for the final time in September 1999.
Total employment in the men's and boys' shirt industry in 1994 was 73,600, among whom 66,800 were production workers. These figures represented the results of the industry's long-term downsizing, as employment had been dropping at a fairly steady pace since the early 1980s. Although total employment was declining, the average hours worked by production employees exhibited a modest but steady rise, going from 36 hours per week in 1981 to 37.1 hours per week in 1992. For the same period, these workers' average wage rose from $4.55 to $6.56 per hour. By 1994 average wages had reached $6.95. Women annually accounted for more than 50 percent of the workforce during the 1990s, while racial minorities accounted for more than one-third.
Occupational categories in the men's and boys' shirt industry fell within four production-related classifications: cutting, sewing, finishing, and miscellaneous departments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that the number of workers in each of these categories would undergo a continuous decline through the year 2005. Assuming a continuation of the more-or-less forward momentum of the industry's productivity, employment of sewing machines operators was projected to experience the steepest decrease. In 1999 management took care of its workers, entering into a three-year contract that included wage increases, an additional paid holiday, and better health care benefits.
In the year ending April 2002, imports of knit cotton shirts were led by Mexico, holding a 21.19 share of all U.S. imports, with overall volume in the category down 4.8 percent. Man-made fiber knit shirt imports were also led by Mexico, holding a 35 percent share of U.S. imports, with volume down 7 percent in this category. Honduras was second, with an 18 percent share of the U.S. import market. Imports in this category from Korea and El Salvador made the largest gains, showing 64 percent and 50 percent increases, respectively, over 2001. The leading supplier of woven cotton shirts was Bangladesh, with a 13.8 percent market share; Hong Kong followed, with 10.42 percent share although overall volume in the category fell 15.9 percent. Finally, man-made fiber shirt imports also fell 12 percent, with Korea the leading supplier holding 32.4 percent share of the U.S. import market; China was the second leading supplier in the category.
Reducing the large number of sewing machine, assembly, and packaging operations necessary in the manufacture of a single dress shirt has been a hurdle that the industry has been struggling to clear. According to Ernest Schramyr, president of Jet Sew, one key variable factoring into the production cycle of a shirt batch—generally 1,500 shirts—has been the length of time it takes to move from one operation to the next. In an article in Bobbin, Schramyr discussed an alternative shirt production system, which called for the installation of already available robotic units as a means of expediting many assembly operations. If implemented, Schramyr said that a typical shirt would require only 27 (instead of 40) total operations.
Manufacturers have also been exploring the unit production system (UPS) as an alternative to existing assembly operations. Under the UPS garments are manufactured one unit at a time rather than as parts of a series or bundle. An overhead conveyor whisks garment pieces to sewing operators, who quickly stitch a collar, button, or pocket before the machine shoots the clothing to another worker. Some manufacturers that have experimented with the UPS report increases in productivity, but no statistics are available for the industry as a whole. The most notable drawbacks associated with the UPS are its relatively high start-up costs and, according to traditional investment criteria, its tendency to generate a marginal return on investment.
After years of research and development, a major breakthrough in menswear was achieved in early 2002 with the arrival of the all-cotton broadcloth, wrinkle-free dress shirt. Sold at JCPenney department stores, the Stafford Executive debut in stores was the result of work at JCPenney's Research and Technology Laboratory in Carrollton, Texas. Nancy Harper, men's product development director for JCPenney, stated: "A wrinkle-free cotton shirt has been the holy grail for manufacturers and retailers since we began working with this technology more than 10 years ago." While the wrinkle-free technology had worked well in the heavier fabric used in pants, shirts posed more of a challenge as it weakened the lighter-weight fabric. Producing a shirt with the wrinkle-free technology that would be able to tolerate daily wear and washing was more difficult to achieve without using a cotton-poly blend for strength. A leader in the wrinkle-free technology, JCPenney's Stafford cotton-poly wrinkle-free shirts, which debuted in 1993, became the bestselling dress shirt in the United States.
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