Men's and Boys' Work Clothing

SIC 2326

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing men's and boys' work shirts, workpants (excluding jeans and dungarees), other work clothing, and washable service apparel. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing separate trousers and slacks (including jeans and dungarees) are classified in SIC 2325: Men's and Boys' Separate Trousers and Slacks.

Industry Snapshot

The $800 million men's and boys' work clothing sector of the U.S. apparel industry remained relatively immune to the deluge of imports wreaking havoc on the domestic markets of their apparel counterparts in the late 2000s. This stability was due in part to the U.S. economy's structural shift to service-providing industries and occupations where career and work apparel tended to be the norm. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment estimates, approximately 9 of every 10 new jobs were added in service-providing industries such as transportation, communications, public utilities, trade, health care, finance, insurance, real estate, food handling and production, sanitation, and government. At the same time, the increasing trend to a cultural climate of corporate uniformed-employees as a means to foster brand recognition and customer loyalty brought new life into the industry and held the promise of future growth.

Imports did, however, play an important role on the workwear industry's input side as more companies turned to lower labor and material costs in order to reverse the long-term slide in profit margins. To this end, the outsourcing of work formerly performed within establishments to contractors outside U.S. borders had become an established trend.

One major demand-side development, which was expected to fill the void left by the falloff in industrial and agricultural markets, was the ongoing structural shift to a service-based economy. This shift carries with it the potential to open vast areas of untapped demand for washable, nontailored uniforms in health care facilities, personal care services, fast-food chains, and other food preparation and service institutions. Viewed as a strategy to build customer recognition and loyalty, using corporate uniforms was an established trend among some airlines, banks, fitness centers, retail chain stores, and major hotels by the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The men's and boys' work clothing industry also got a boost from a growing interest in workwear as fashion. Brands such as Carhartt and Dickie's used this trend to begin marketing overalls, jackets, shirts, and workpants to the public as fashion wear. The industry also attempted to augment sales with more functionality in work clothing (i.e., features to extend their useful life, deflect UV rays, wick away moisture, retain color, and help promote company image).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 110 establishments operated in the men's and boys' cut and sew work clothing manufacturing industry in 2007. Industry-wide employment was approximately 6,611 workers, 84 percent of whom worked in production, who received a payroll of more than $154 million. About 49 percent of companies employed fewer than 20 workers, while 18 percent reported more than 100 employees. The largest concentrations of the industry's establishments were located in California, Florida, New York, and Texas, according to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports. The primary materials consumed by the men's and boys' work clothing industry, when ranked by cost, were broadwoven fabrics; knit fabrics; and materials, parts, containers, and supplies.

Background and Development

In a less spectacular manner, the ready-to-wear work clothes industry followed the historical trajectory of the more colorful men's apparel industry. As the onset of the industrial era in the early nineteenth century spurred the transformation from rural to urban life, the demand for working apparel soon surpassed the production of custom tailors and housewives. To meet the increased demand, manufacturers began mass producing work clothes. However, these early efforts were inferior to the earlier handmade clothing in quality and were avoided because they were uncomfortable. As improved fabrics were introduced to the men's apparel industry, mass-produced work clothing became widely accepted. During the same period, improved and expanded sewing machine technology provided added impetus to the emerging industry and boosted its output to unprecedented levels. An extensive survey on the height and chest measurements of more than 1 million soldiers was compiled during the Civil War, providing the first mass statistical data on the form and build of U.S. men, and fueling the industry. Immediately after the Civil War, these results were made available to producers of men's ready-made work clothes, providing a scientific basis for better-fitting clothing.

A milestone event that dramatically accelerated the need for ready-made work clothes was the Gold Rush of 1848. The prospect of getting rich drew thousands of men to the West to pan or mine for gold. Concluding that these adventurers would need tents for shelter, Levi Strauss journeyed to California with a supply of heavy fabrics to make tents. Among these fabrics was a French material referred to as "de Nime," which Americans pronounced as "denim." Aware that no one was meeting the need for durable work clothes, Strauss began to make denim workpants that featured large back pockets to hold mining tools. By adding metal rivets to strengthen the durability of the pockets, Strauss discovered a trend that brought him almost instant success, and the men's work clothes industry started booming. The continued settlement of the West, in the prairie and mountain states as well as in California, created a steady market for ready-made work clothes for decades to come. To meet the growing demand, large work clothes manufacturing centers appeared in Chicago and St. Louis.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, the steady growth of a workforce comprised of semiskilled and unskilled laborers, who were engaged in various mass production-related occupations across the entire range of manufacturing and agricultural industries, proved a boon to work clothes producers. After World War II, an unprecedented rise in the consumption of consumer durables was matched by the growth of a repair industry whose workers were outfitted with nontailored work uniforms more often than not. The work clothes industry continued to expand steadily until the early 1980s when it began to stagnate, causing envy on the part of the non-work clothes apparel industries that were subject to the economic instability of the traditional business cycles.

During the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the distribution network servicing the men's and boys' work clothing industry went through a fundamental transformation. For articles like washable uniforms and service-related apparel, laundry rental companies were historically the major source of distribution to large companies. However, when corporate demand for a more customized look requiring a greater assortment of new fabrics, styles, and colors started to be demanded of the industry, many of the industry's larger firms bypassed the traditional laundry rental channel and opened their own corporate accounts to sell directly to the wearing customer. Consequently, domestic fabric mills that supplied materials to the work clothing industry also began to have closer working relationships with workwear manufacturers in a joint effort to better serve the industry's developing corporate accounts.

Mass merchandisers and discount outlets accounted for the largest share of sales for individual purchases of work clothes, followed by smaller specialty stores located outside major urban areas. Another development featured the appearance of farm/fleet stores, which were large stores in rural areas that carried a wide assortment of work-related items from work clothes to farm equipment. The stores' core customer base consisted of farmers and truckers who wore functional work clothes while working.

With the economic shift from manufacturing to service industries, the men's and boys' work clothing industry had to make adjustments in its product lines in the late 1990s. Being the first to invest in the latest apparel technologies, the large firms were best positioned to seize the opportunity and offer a greater volume of high quality garments at lower cost than their smaller rivals. These large manufacturers led to the industry's regrowth, but it remained unclear whether the big companies would eclipse their smaller competitors.

Catalog sales picked up noticeably during the 1990s. At the end of the twentieth century, Internet sales increased with the rising popularity of e-commerce.

The elimination of Multifiber Arrangement (MFA) quotas had a significant impact on the larger U.S. textile and apparel sector, and effect that was obvious by the early 2000s. When the quotas were lifted, the U.S. market was flooded with apparel imports, especially from China, which caused the United States to invoke a WTO safeguard to place short-term limits on imports from China. The two countries signed a three-year agreement ending in 2008, and the National Council of Textile Organizations and others in the industry called for a renewed agreement limiting the amount of Chinese imports. However, while China was restricting its exports, one-third of the textile and apparel manufacturing plants had been shut down, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and China's Ministry of Commerce officially declared it would not place any licensing requirements on textile and apparel exports as of 2009.

Current Conditions

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) reported that production of men's, and boys' workpants decreased 11.8 percent in 2007 to 14.5 million garments whereas 8.2 million work shirts were manufactured, 14.5 percent fewer than the previous year. The value of work shirts decreased from $122.8 million in 2006 to $106.0 million in 2007, a drop of 13.5 percent, while the value of workpants fell only 3.5 percent, from $197.2 million to $190.2 million.

According to, worldwide, the market for workwear was worth $4.3 billion in 2008. In terms of volume, Asia consumed the most workwear at 44 percent of the world share, Europe had 26 percent, and North America, 23 percent. Latin America and Africa had nominal percentages. Additional estimates showed that 6 percent of the world's working population wore some type of uniform or work clothing for their job. In North America, both the value of workwear and the percentage of workers who use it were expected to increase--by 4.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively--by 2014.

One consideration in the industry equation in the late 2000s was what analysts called the "Wal-Mart Factor," which referred to the impact the discount supply chain had on special apparel suppliers, including workwear. Wal-Mart held a 12 percent share of the apparel industry, although it had a target of 30 percent. With more than 4,100 stores offering a wide variety of apparel from this industry, Wal-Mart's annual clothing and footwear budget was $35 billion.

Wal-Mart was also in the news in the late 2000s as one of the leaders in the trend to "go green." After coming under attack for its labor and health care practices in 2005, Wal-Mart announced a new set of long-term objectives in 2008, "to use only renewable energy, create zero waste, and sell products that sustain resources and the environment," according to Gourmet Retailer. Others in the apparel industry followed suit, as they made strides to incorporate environmentally wise practices into their methods and products. Some apparel manufacturers started to use organic cotton; retailers built their businesses using solar power and other eco-friendly features. Earlier in the decade, several organizations had banded together to create the system of organic certification called the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to determine whether an apparel company meets a certain level of "green friendliness." Wal-Mart and Sam's Club both used the standard to certify their organic cotton products.

Industry Leaders

One of the industry leaders in the late 2000s was Levi Strauss and Co. of San Francisco, California, with $4.3 billion in 2008 sales and 11,400 employees. In 2009, the company sold its products in 110 countries, and relatives of the founder, Levi Strauss, continued to operate the firm. Dearborn, Michigan-based Carhartt Inc., which was founded in 1889 and was still run by the founding family as of mid-2009, produced men's work clothing in factories in the United States, Mexico, and Europe. Another significant player in the industry was Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co. of Fort Worth, Texas. Founded in 1922, Williamson-Dickie was another founding-family-run business, with 2008 sales of $1.1 billion and 4,160 employees.

The three top uniform suppliers in the United States were Cincinnati, Ohio-based Cintas Corp. with $3.7 billion in 2008 sales and 31,000 employees; ARAMARK Corp. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (which was also a food service provider) with $13.4 billion in sales and 260,000 employees; and G&K Services Inc. of Minnetonka, Minnesota, with $1.0 billion in 2008 sales and 7,800 employees.


Between 1996 and 2006, employment in the cut and sew manufacturing industry in the United States dropped more than any other industry tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 604,600 workers to 185,500. The BLS projected more significant losses of around 8.4 percent annually between 2006 and 2016 and predicted that employment would be down to 77,200 workers by 2016.

In the late 2000s, production workers, who earned an average of $14.37 an hour (mean), accounted for 76 percent of employees in the cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry. The largest segment was sewing machine operators, who accounted for 47 percent of the industry total.

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