Disappearing Fog?; Carroll County: Eldersburg jobs in jeopardy as London Fog struggles to regain business, considers moving.


THE TRAVAILS of London Fog Industries Inc. have been known for years. So the struggling rainwear manufacturer's bankruptcy filing this month is not a total surprise.

The firm, with a distribution center and headquarters employing 275 people in Eldersburg, is dumping its outlet store leases and cutting costs in a last-ditch effort to survive.

Employees at the Carroll County facility -- 40 percent of the work force there five years ago -- will keep their jobs for the time being. But the new chief executive, William Dragon Jr., may move the 150-person headquarters to his home base of Seattle; 20 Eldersburg jobs have already been relocated.

There's no assurance that London Fog will emerge from years of mismanagement, deep cutbacks and heavy debt to become a strong player in the outerwear market. It spoiled long-cultivated relations with quality retailers by rapidly building a chain of its own outlet stores, most of which will now close. The challenge is to recover department stores' business and to produce quality products that live up to the company name.

The raincoat maker started in Baltimore 77 years ago, moving the headquarters to Carroll County in 1976. Its last U.S. factory was closed in Baltimore in 1997, as the firm turned to cheaper foreign-made apparel with its own labels. The move to recreational casual wear has found stiff competition, while demand for traditional raincoats popularized by London Fog is declining.

The scrapheap of history is littered with brands that were once household names. Some trademarks that survive do so with diminished quality and consumer appeal. London Fog must strive to avoid that pitfall as it becomes a smaller company. That will likely mean further job cuts at the Eldersburg distribution center, although its strategic location on the East Coast remains an asset for London Fog.

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