American Apparel’s purchase secures jobs in Selma

Published 11:59 am Friday, February 20, 2009

A purchase by American Apparel Inc. of a Greenville, S.C.-based company will guarantee jobs for 1,400 employees throughout Alabama for at least a year and adds 25 to 30 jobs in Selma.

Additionally, the move increases American Apparel’s sales by $40 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year and makes the company the largest manufacturer of military work uniforms in the country.

Chief Operating Officer Jim Hodo made the announcement Friday that American Apparel had purchased the majority of Wellstone Apparel LLC’s assets. The terms of the purchase are confidential, and the contract will close in 60-to-90 days after government approval.

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“We think it’s a great thing, in Selma particularly,” Hodo said. “It means this company is going to be a much stronger and competitive company going forward.”

Wellstone Apparel will consolidate two plants in Mississippi, which will be absorbed by American Apparel. The purchase also allows American Apparel to bring back the majority of its laid-off workers at its Centre and Oneonta plants.

Sen. Hank Sanders said the announcement gives Selma hope on the heels of layoffs at other local plants.

“It’s that light in the dark,” Sanders said. “It’s a great thing for Selma. It’s a symbol, and it means a lot.”

Probate Judge Kim Ballard said not every company takes measures to protect its workforce like American Apparel. He said it shows a commitment to not only the employees, but to Dallas County.

“When we can have something like this happen in Dallas County, it’s good news,” Ballard said.

American Apparel’s Selma plant produces 20,000 pieces a week, while Wellstone’s Mississippi plants – in Tylertown and Columbia – add another 3,500 pieces a week to production. The company produces work uniforms for the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, which military personnel wear everyday.

“We’re very pleased and proud of that,” Hodo said.

Chuck Lambert, vice president of manufacturing, said American Apparel diversified over the last seven or eight years while fabrics and designs changed. For example, the company now produces fire-resistant uniforms worn by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company continues to diversify with the purchase of Wellstone, which adds U.S. Navy work uniforms to its production line.

“This is just another step toward us continuing our growth,” Lambert said.

And that growth means American Apparel is accepting applications for employment now. Interested persons may go by human resources at American Apparel in Selma to apply for the job.

Supervisor Ardenia Rattler has seen most of this growth throughout her 40 years spent working for the company. Lambert announced the purchase to employees on the floor Friday morning, to the delight of Rattler. Employees paused from their work and clapped when they heard their jobs were safe.

“A lot of jobs in Selma have already moved on,” Rattler said. “So this means a great deal.”

Angela Haith sewed pockets on uniforms while Lambert made the announcement only a few feet away. With layoffs across Selma, job security had cast a cloud over the plant. Haith said she and other employees met each morning in the lunchroom to hold a prayer vigil for the company and its employees.

“It’s just a prayer the Lord has answered,” she said while the sewing machine hummed. “Selma needs the jobs.”

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said not only would the purchase provide job security for existing employees, it brings new jobs with competitive wages to Selma, which is sorely needed.

“It’s a positive during a period of time when we’ve got companies laying-off,” Vardaman said. “Good news during bad times.”