Joseph Abboud: Lean Manufacturer

Ann sent me an article about Joseph Abboud and his recent commitment to Lean Manufacturing which appeared in the Boston Globe (if gated, try this). I also got a press release from his PR company (reprinted at close). Keep in mind this is all the more remarkable as JA Apparel is a 600 person unionized shop. An excerpt from Made in New Bedford: a suit designer retools:

NEW BEDFORD — Last year the Joseph Abboud suit factory did something not seen in at least a decade in this old textile capital: It added jobs.

The men’s suit designer expanded its workforce nearly 20 percent to 590 employees and is investing millions of dollars in a sleek new production system at a time when other apparel makers have shrunk or disappeared from the struggling seaside city.

More than 4,000 workers made men’s apparel in New Bedford less than 15 years ago, including a large plant that supplied menswear for JC Penney stores until the plant moved to Southeast Asia several years ago. Today there are fewer than 600 men’s apparel employees in New Bedford — all working for Abboud.

The company, founded by Boston native Joseph Abboud and now headquartered in New York, has grown to $400 million in annual sales over the past two decades. The hope is that the eventual savings from adopting lean manufacturing will justify keeping its only suit factory in the world in a high cost region.

The aforementioned “sleek new production system” would be Lean Manufacturing of course. A semi-snide aside here. I’m still a little peeved that Joseph Abboud did not win the presidency of the CFDA; rather, Diane Von Furstenberg got it. In my rarely humble opinion, I feel that Joseph represents a new direction in US apparel manufacturing and his ascendancy could have been a catalyst toward driving a new model of domestic manufacturing. DVF represents old-think heavily leveraged monopolistic, licensed lines. Does she even manufacture anything anymore? With this news it’s possible that Joseph Abboud’s leadership will still be an impetus for others to make the conversion to Lean. Little by little, word is getting out. Outsourcing production offshore is not as cost effective as people have thought. Joseph’s proof enough of that. Returning to my kvetching that Abboud didn’t take the CFDA presidency, Ann remarks:

I look at it as industrial Darwinism. The industry evolves, the little guys give way to the conglomerates thanks to takeovers and cost containment efforts. That leads to offshoring, which leads to a raft of problems with logistics and quality issues (not all at the manufacturers’ sites). That leads to the rise of businesses whose job is to fix these problems. That leads to increased cost, as does rising wages in the formerly cheap countries (China may or may not count – we’ll have to see if the gov’t continues to subsidize the industry). That leads to increased costs at the consumer end. That leads to opportunities for smaller manufacturers, which leads to growth, which leads to little guys giving way to the conglomerates.

Joseph Abboud is an interesting figure. Wiki says he’s the first designer to have won the CFDA award two years in a row. He’s also the author of Threads: My Life Behind the Seams in the High Stakes World of Fashion. I haven’t read it but it has respectable reviews. Hopefully he’ll follow up later, once his model has made its mark on the industry.

Follows is the press release. It’s interesting with no kvetching and bloated opinionated meanderings. Speaking of unnecessary opinions, the referenced one week turnaround on a suit -even of this caliber- is too long. I worked at a lean manufacturing suit maker and with the exception of cutting, you can do this in a day -and even that bears improvement (I have plenty of ideas about that). What I found particularly interesting about the press release is that it was a joint release from UNITE HERE (formerly UNITE). Obviously, JA is paying more than lip service to their production people.

For Immediate Release


Lean Manufacturing Techniques and Exceptional Quality Keep Factory Competitive With Overseas Labor and Allows Quick Turnaround of Fine Tailored Men’s Jackets and Trousers

NEW YORK , N.Y. — January 8, 2006 – JA Apparel Corp. announced today it has opened a new distribution center at its New Bedford, Massachusetts factory, re-affirming the Company’s commitment to its unionized U.S. workforce as it builds on the continuing success of the Joseph Abboud lifestyle brand.

Marty Staff, President and Chief Executive Officer of JA Apparel, said the Company’s revitalized Joseph Abboud brand and strong business momentum has been aided by the fine tailored men’s jackets and trousers that are made at the New Bedford plant. Staff said the close proximity to the manufacturing facility allows Joseph Abboud to quickly respond to the needs of large retailers and smaller specialty stores, providing an important advantage in an industry now dominated by “fast fashion.”

Mr. Staff said: “Historically it can take as long as 12 weeks to make a fine tailored men’s suit, particularly if labor is being done overseas. But our workers are beginning to embrace our ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques and we continue to find ways to shorten the amount of time it takes to manufacture our suits and deliver them to retailers and customers. The New Bedford facility helps ensure that we are responding rapidly to the needs of our customers, which gives us a unique competitive advantage. This factory is really the heart of our company.”

‘Lean Manufacturing’ is a process originally begun in Japan at companies like Toyota Motor Corp. The goal of the process is to eliminate waste and promote efficiency by empowering workers to learn a variety of separate skills and achieve goals in a collective fashion.

The new distribution center trims the time it takes to manufacture and ship suits by 7 days. This is particularly important in the fast-growing Personal Style System™ segment of the business, where men can order custom ‘made to measure’ suits from Joseph Abboud through large retailers and specialty stores. Custom suits ordered through the Personal Style System™ can now be made and shipped in as little 7 days.

Mr. Staff said: “The consumer rules. He wants what he wants when he wants it, and he wants it gift-wrapped with a smile. We have to be responsive to today’s market.”

As many as 1,200 suit jackets and 950 pairs of trousers are made each day at the New Bedford factory, which is the exclusive producer of Joseph Abboud suits, sportcoats, and dress trousers for the U.S. market. The success of the Joseph Abboud brand has driven stronger demand for the fine tailored jackets and trousers made at the factory. About 90 new jobs have been added in the past year, bringing the total number of unionized workers at the factory to about 520, said Anthony Sapienza, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp.

Mr. Sapienza said: “The fact that we have so many new workers in the last year tells me we are on to something good here. I’m proud of the way our unionized workforce in New Bedford has stepped up to answer the challenges posed by cheap overseas labor and is helping to rebuild the apparel industry in its historic home in New England.”

Bruce S. Raynor, General President of UNITE HERE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) said the unionized workers at the New Bedford plant are pleased to see that their partnership with JA Apparel is prospering.

Mr. Raynor said: “The success story of the New Bedford plant should serve to inspire business leaders who are not sure if they can remain competitive in their industry with union labor. UNITE HERE and JA Apparel have formed a true partnership. We are pleased to have this opportunity to show how we can compete with overseas labor, both on quality and on price.”

Historically the factory has performed contract work for a variety of men’s and women’s manufacturers and retailers. In 2004, the factory, formerly known as Riverside Manufacturing Corp., was renamed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp.


The Joseph Abboud Brand embodies sophisticated American style for traditional menswear. Joseph Abboud brand instills confidence through tailored collections and unique sportswear that are crafted from the world’s finest fabrics and defined by superior fit, exceptional quality and remarkable luxurious style. Since its inception in 1987, the brand has grown into a $400 million worldwide retail lifestyle brand with an expanding number of products in the following categories including men’s apparel and accessories, boy’s apparel, and home furnishings. Joseph Abboud brand names include Joseph Abboud, Joseph Abboud Jeans Inc., JOE Joseph Abboud, Joseph Abboud BOYS, and Joseph Abboud Home. Joseph Abboud branded products are available in superior department stores and specialty stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia.

Press contacts:
For JA Apparel Corp.:
Ellen Murphy
Robinson Lerer & Montgomery

Amanda Cooper
Press Secretary, UNITE HERE

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  1. I read his book when it first came out in paperback. It’s a fascinating read, and a lot of fun. There are a couple of good smackdowns, but he also talks frankly about the business and industry. And it’s a good tutorial for how a couple of very small missteps can really sink a business.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    Thank you for bringing this one to the forefront, ladies. This is precisely the type of thing I need to keep an eye on.

    On the DVF aside: [/snark ON] I’m so with you! [/snark OFF]

  3. Phyllis says:

    Kathleen – you would really love his fashion memoir “Threads: My Life Behind the Seams In The High-Stakes World of Fashion” (Ann loaned me the book.) It’s a great riff on many facets of the business that you know so well, and his gimlet-eyed view of the industry is very refreshing. He honestly admits his mistakes and savors his successes without sentiment or delusion. Plus – he wears his own designs! How many designers do that these days? It’s a great book.

  4. Thomas Cuningham says:

    mr. abboud is no longer connected with the company that bears his name. I belive the buyout group that purchased abboud and riverside is experienced in improving manufacturing efficiency and I’m really pleased to hear that it’s working.

  5. J. Peirce says:

    The post above says that Mr. Abboud is no longer connected with the company that bears his name. Here is some added info on the relationship excerpted from a lengthy DNR Magazine article dated 9/10/07:

    JA Apparel Sues Abboud In Dispute Over Jaz Launch
    Sept. 10, 2007
    NEW YORK — The legal fireworks have started up again between designer Joseph Abboud and his namesake company, JA Apparel Corp.

    JA Apparel filed a civil suit last week against Abboud on issues related to the latter’s new Jaz men’s wear label, the launch of which was first detailed in DNR on Aug. 6. Specifically, JA Apparel charged that Abboud’s stated intention to use his own name to help publicize Jaz would violate JA Apparel’s ownership of the Joseph Abboud trademarks. The company is seeking a permanent injunction forbidding Abboud from using the Joseph Abboud name on any marketing, advertising or promotional materials related to the Jaz brand, as well as unspecified monetary damages.

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