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Des Plaines-based suit maker celebrates year since its rescue
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky tells Lennart Bjorklund, executive vice president of manufacturing for HMX, of the job her great aunt got at Hart Schaffner & Marx in Chicago soon after arriving from Russia in the early 1900s.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

From left, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan, and Doug Williams, CEO of Hartmarx's new owner HMX, talk about the suitmaker's new line of clothing.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, left, Ruby Sims, president of the union chapter representing Hart Schaffner & Marx employees, and Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, cheerfully mark the anniversary of the suitmaker's emergence from bankruptcy.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

Doug Williams, CEO of HMX, stands before a backdrop of a new line of clothing by menswear designer Joseph Abboud.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan shows off his Hart Schaffner & Marx suit.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

The label inside Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan's suit.


Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald

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Published: 8/11/2010 12:50 PM | Updated: 8/12/2010 12:22 AM

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Hundreds of Hart Schaffner & Marx employees, top management, and state and local officials today marked the anniversary of the takeover that saved nearly 600 jobs at the suitmaker's Des Plaines factory.

The company - formerly run by Chicago-based Hartmarx Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in January 2009 - was acquired for $128.4 million last August by India-based textile giant SKNL and London-based Emerisque Brands.

Hart Schaffner & Marx was thrust into the national limelight in 2008 when then-President-elect Barack Obama revealed it was his preferred brand and wore a Hartmarx suit to the Inauguration.

Hartmarx Corp. once had facilities employing nearly 4,000 people nationwide. But several Hartmarx manufacturing plants, including the company's only other Illinois factory in Rock Island and a warehouse in Michigan City, Ind., shut down after the takeover.

"Even though some of our friends did lose (jobs), the jobs in this plant stayed," said Ruby Sims, president of the Local 39C chapter representing Hartmarx employees. "Everything remained the same, our benefits, our seniority. All we wanted was a chance. We got that chance."

The Des Plaines factory today employs 587 workers, hailing from all parts of the world, a majority of whom have spent their careers there.

Since January, the company has hired 40 workers in a new pant shop producing up to 1,000 pairs weekly. Before then, the Des Plaines factory made only jackets.

"It's truly a success story," said Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan, who sported a Hart Schaffner Marx suit at today's festivities. "A year ago we were here fighting for jobs for our community. Everybody came together - management, union."

Employees were treated to lunch today after brief speeches by top management, state and local officials.

"This is really a celebration of an entire team of people," said Doug Williams, CEO of HMX LLC or the new Hartmarx. "This is the first step of many and we've got to be sharp everyday."

Williams visited the Des Plaines factory in June to quash rumors that the 123-year-old suitmaker is about to move its manufacturing to India where SKNL owns a fabric mill.

He spoke animatedly about a recently unveiled line of clothing by menswear designer Joseph Abboud who is working with the group's textile mills in Scotland and India to develop exclusive fabrics that would help re-brand Hart Schaffner & Marx.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat whose 9th district covers much of Des Plaines, touted Hart Schaffner & Marx's survival as an example of the strength of American manufacturing.

"Betting against the American worker is a serious mistake," she said. "We want to see that 'Made in America' label."