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How’s Business?: Garment Industry

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If foreign imports have hurt any business hard, count the garment sector in. During the mid-20th century the industry here boasted of nearly 200,000 jobs. Entering the final decade of that century it had just less than 100,000 jobs.

And now, in the beginning of the 21st century, it’s down to nearly 50,000 jobs. This, of course, is the result of being belted by foreign commerce. So what does one do under such a squeeze?

I spoke with Charles Wen of B&C Fashions at 109-09 15th Ave. in College Point. B&C Fashions has moved into the uniform market by producing sweaters and knitwear for the New York Police Department, as well as polo shirts for postal workers. A move to uniforms in this industry could just be a big bingo.

Check out these statistics. Approximately 10 percent of the U.S. workforce uses uniforms. Fortunately for companies such as B&C Fashions, it is Uncle Sam who is big on uniforms. The U.S. government is approaching a $2 billion uniform expense budget.

But here’s great news for our guys that is twofold. There is the Buy America Act and the Berry Amendment, explained to me by Wen. The Buy America Act is for orders less than $100,000 and requires the product to be 50 percent American-made. The Berry Amendment is for orders in excess of $100,000 and requires the product to be 100 percent American-made, which is great news for B&C Fashions and many other garment producers here at home.

Wen gave me an interesting illustration. There were several bids performed for the NYPD in which an Armenian import was accepted. The initial cost was a lot lower, but it was actually much costlier in the long run, Wen said. When bids like that are lost, workers have to be left go.

In turn, much-needed income tax revenue is lost — to say nothing for the increase in unemployment payments. According to Wen, in a case like this it could be said that we are subsidizing Armenian workers. Nevertheless, the uniform market presents opportunities that have brought us from a state of pinkish red to a state of profitable black.

So how’s business in the garment industry? The fact cannot be denied that it is extremely tough. Constant costly market planning combined with sensitive inventory planning is essential. And one must remember that overseas competition will continue with intensity. But B&C Fashions just might have uncovered a potential bonanza.

Joe Palumbo is the fund manager for The Palco Group, Inc. and can be reached at palcogroup@aol.com or 718-461-8317.

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