High-end fashion brands come to Westminster

Most people would not associate high-end fashion with an old automotive parts building. In Westminster, however, metal stamping equipment has given way to women's dresses, suits, separates and accessories.

In the last few months, Carlisle Etcetera LLC, which deals in lines of women's clothing from the Tom James Company, set up its distribution center in the former Marada Industries building on Independence Way. The Tom James Company bills itself as "the world's largest manufacturer and retailer of custom clothing," according to its website.


Opened in May, the 110,000-square-foot Carlisle Etcetera facility is filled with clothing.

The distribution center has a lot of everything — skirts, dresses, jacket, suits, shirts, blouses, pants and accessories. While the building houses distribution operations for several brands, the majority of the clothing is for the brands Carlisle and Etcetera.

Dana Neff, operations manager for the distribution center, said there are distinct differences in price and style for the two brands.

Carlisle offers a conservative style of clothing, with the average cost per outfit of about $1,200. Etcetera offers flashier clothing with bolder prints and patterns, with an average cost per outfit of about $900. The clothing lines are for four seasons: spring, summer, fall and holiday.

"It's hard being a woman and working here because all you want to do is go shopping," Neff said, then laughed.

The clothing design process

Charles Pellegrini, director of quality control for the facility, said a new clothing line starts when the company shops the markets of Europe. Designers will get inspiration from everywhere, including clothing samples, magazines and videos, he said.

Once the clothing is designed, Pellegrini said, New York pattern makers create samples of the clothing and fit it to models. After the samples are approved, a Chinese manufacturer makes the garments and transports them by ship to New York, where Tom James Company has its headquarters. Selected lines are then shipped to the Westminster distribution center, he said.

Preserving exclusivity

Approximately 1,200 consultants sell the Carlisle and Etcetera brands. At the beginning of each season, the consultants receive sample sets of clothing, along with a lookbook showing what's available, Neff said.

The consultants set up showrooms in their homes and make appointments with women interested in purchasing Carlisle and Etcetera clothing.

There are also a number of outlet stores that sell the Carlisle and Etcetera brands. Neff said the company purposely does not do a lot of promotion for outlet stores so the brands can keep their exclusivity intact.

"You have to know someone to get the clothing, so we want you to know someone to get into the stores," Neff said. "[The outlets] have all of our previous seasons. So right now, since we're in the fall season, fall 2013 just went into the stores."

Through New York, Hong Kong


The Westminster facility can hold in excess of 400,000 pieces of clothing at any given time. A group of 65 people organize the clothing, then inspect, package and distribute it five days a week.

The hundreds of thousands of clothing items are circulated around the 110,000-square-foot facility using an overhead track system. Each article of clothing is either on a hanger or folded. Everything is in bags.

The clothing is separated by brand, by size and then finally by order. Everything is color- and numerically-coded, making shipping and distribution easy, Neff said.

While the distribution process is on a grand in scale, Neff said it's all about the details.

If a woman orders an outfit with a skirt and jacket made out of the same material, the company makes sure the two items come from the same bolt of fabric. That way, Neff said, there won't be slight variations in the two articles of clothing.

Quality control, Neff said, is a very important part of the distribution process. If a garment is wrinkled or has a bad hem, it must be taken out of circulation and corrected.

"We don't sell anything that isn't at 100 percent," Neff said.

Packaging is also a big part of the detailed process, Neff said. Clothes aren't just thrown into boxes and shipped. The packers carefully fold the clothing, gingerly place it into the appropriately sized box and cover it with tissue paper before it is sent out.

"When you spend $500 on a dress, you want to open the box and have it look nice," Neff said. "That's something that we really stress."

Getting to Westminster

Carlisle and Etcetera were previously based in New York. High building rental costs, however, prompted the Tom James Company look for a new distribution space along the eastern seaboard, Neff said. The company heard of space in Maryland, found the building in Westminster and purchased it December 2013.

"Now we own the building and we don't have to pay rent," Neff said. "It's pretty nice."

Since opening in May, the Westminster facility has shipped 250,000 pieces.

"We've been fully operational for about four months," Neff said. "It's amazing…. To move into an entire warehouse, to fully staff an entire warehouse and to have all new employees do the job that was done so well in New York … was pretty damn good."

New York to rural

The majority of the 65-person staff consists of local people, with a few transplants from Tom James' New York operations. Neff said it took some people from New York a little time to adjust to life in Carroll County.

"When they were coming down to see if they wanted to move here, they were like, 'Where are the crosswalks? How do you walk everywhere?'" Neff said, then laughed. "They were like, 'There's so many farms and so much green.' It's a really different culture."

Daniel Jean-Joseph, director of warehouse operations, was one of the New Yorkers who followed operations to Maryland.

"It's a big, big difference," Jean-Joseph said. "I love it. It's laid-back compared to New York. I don't have to rush, rush, rush."

Jean-Joseph said it used to take him 75 minutes to commute from his home on Long Island to the warehouse in New York. Now, it takes him five minutes to get from his home to the Westminster facility. Jean-Joseph said he can even ride his bike to work.

Pellegrini said he splits his time between New York and Westminster. The calmness and open-air surroundings of Westminster are a welcome relief to the hustle of the Big Apple.

"It's nice and quiet," Pellegrini said. "The air is great here."

Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or

The series


Sunday: Fuchs North America

Monday: Advanced Biotechnologies Inc.

Tuesday: Carlisle Etcetera LLC