Fashion and function meet at tailor's English American encouraged by 20 percent increase in sales


WESTMINSTER -- For Secret Service men, the seamstresses at English American Tailoring Co. will add hidden pockets for carrying weapons. For professional wrestlers, they'll cut extra wide patterns to fit monstrous shoulders. And for celebrities and U.S. presidents, they'll take special care when making buttonholes or hemming slacks.

Workers at the Cranberry Road plant are seamstresses for the stars, and business is looking up.

Overall sales increased 20 percent this year compared with last year, and pants sales increased 70 percent, Chief Executive Officer Mark J. Falcone said in an interview Monday.

"We looked at the recession and chose not to participate," he said.

English American is a division of The Tom James Co., a Nashville, Tenn., clothing conglomerate with five other manufacturing divisions.

The plant's 320 workers make 60,000 custom suits a year that are sold under the Brooks Brothers, H. Freeman & Sons and Tom James labels. Most are men's suits. About 5 percent are for women.

The company is one of Carroll's top 10 employers and has been in business for more than a century. Its customers include Richard Nixon, the Statler Brothers, pianist Peter Nero, Red Sox pitcher and Finksburg native John Dopson, and former Colts player Art Donovan.

Mr. Falcone said sales are up for a variety of reasons. One is that last fall, the company began making custom suits for Brooks Brothers. Any Brooks Brothers custom suit that costs under $1,300 is made here, he said. The New York chain represents about 10 percent of English American's business, he said.

Another reason is that the price of a custom-made suit has moved closer to that of a ready-made suit in the last five years or so, Mr. Falcone said, because custom suit makers have become more efficient.

English American has not increased the wholesale price of its suits for 1 1/2 years, and has added the "golden fleece of lining" -- a fabric called Bemberg that feels like silk -- as an incentive to buy its suits, said Mr. Falcone.

Suits made at the plant cost from $550 to $3,200, depending on the material, he said. Most of the suits sold cost $700, he said.

English American's sales in 1991 were $18 million and are expected to be $20 million this year, Mr. Falcone said.

Some of the increase in pants sales resulted from a change in sales technique -- salesmen who visit customers' offices and homes began recommending two pairs of pants to match each sport jacket instead of showing the pants separately, he said.

A decision by Tom James to have more of its pants made at English American also fed the sales increase.

English American has hired 20 workers in the past four weeks to help keep pace with the increased sales, and plans to hire more. But Mr. Falcone said he did not know how many.

Workers are members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America union, and most are paid by the piece. The salary ranges from $5.75 to $14 an hour, with the average salary about $8.25 to $8.40 an hour, he said.

More than 30 percent of the work force, mostly women, has been at the plant for 20 years or more, Mr. Falcone said.

English American plans to renovate its 80,000-square-foot plant to make operations more efficient, Mr. Falcone said. The company is consulting with an engineer, and work on the $300,000 project is expected to begin within the next year.

The company also plans to renovate its plant-based showroom store, where 2,000 custom suits are sold a year. The store is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday.

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