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One year on: Garland factory alive

October 22, 2022

[Source: The Sampson Independent]

In 2020, the Garland Shirt Company shuttered, leaving a void in the town and hundreds of residents without work, dimming a longstanding manufacturing behemoth. The next year, Garland Apparel Group stepped in and acquired the former site of Brooks Brothers, officially reopening the doors in October 2021. A year on, the factory shines like the beacon it once was.

When the shirt factory closed in 2020, approximately 150 people lost their jobs. Even more significant, it meant the end of a long chapter of garment manufacturing that served as Garland’s heartbeat, the cut-and-sew factory serving as the rural community’s largest employer for decades — some 70 years.

Garland Apparel Group sought to revive the sleeping giant and start a new chapter.

The company reopened last year as Garland Apparel Group, bringing back many former employees, and now has a staff of 109, “with more openings to come in the next year,” company officials said this week.

“We are creating products for local customers such as Alexander Julian and Raleigh Denim, shirts for Brooks Brothers are back in production, and we have international customers in Korea and Japan,” stated Sacha Smits, president of Garland Apparel Group, in a statement acknowledging the official one-year anniversary on Thursday. “We even create the hall-of-fame coats for Ultimate Fighting Championships. The new addition to the factory is tailored clothing where we produce uniforms for the U.S. Navy.”

Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and financial issues back in the spring of 2020. The move meant closure for facilities, including Garland’s mainstay. The closing of Garland Shirt Company, opened in 1954 by Brooks Brothers, was a stunning blow for the small Sampson County town of less than 700.

The location was shopped around for potential tenants and, in July 2021, the factory’s purchase by Cayenne Acquisitions Group, LLC was announced, with Garland Apparel Group, LLC to lease it. Company officials said the long term goal was said to have anywhere between 220 to 240 employees.

Garland Apparel Group officials this week called the resurrection of the factory “an outstanding example of the grit and determination of Southeastern North Carolina workers.”

From its origins, the factory specialized in bespoke shirting, including the exclusive production of Brooks Brothers’ iconic twill button-down oxford — with garments crafted through the experience of local, unionized tailors and craftspeople. Shirts worn by U.S. Presidents were made within those walls in Garland.

The textile industry in the U.S. has taken a significant hit over the last several decades, as more cut-and-sew companies took their manufacturing division abroad or closed. Garland Apparel Group officials said having a U.S.-based facility was key to their mission.

“The expert cut-and-sew talent (workforce) in the greater Garland area was key to our decision to locate to this region,” said Kenneth Ragland, managing member of the Garland Apparel Group LLC following the acquisition.

The company was subsequently awarded a $250,000 Building Reuse Grant grant, which is for buildings that are a “fundamental building block for economic development.” The Garland factory was identified as such an attractive location, and the funds were used to renovate the building, and make needed repairs.

More than 100 jobs were expected to return to Garland by the end of year 1, according to the initial announcement. That has been delivered.

More than 180 are projected by the end of year 3, the company has said.

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