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A look back: Hartmarx celebrates its one-year anniversary

August 12th, 2010  |  Connie Eyer

Hartmarx, the Chicago area men’s clothier that outfitted President Obama on election night, as well as provided him with his inaugural suit, top coat and tuxedo, this week celebrated its one-year anniversary of a very close call with liquidation. Hartmarx, now known as HMX Group, was sold last June to Britain-based Emerisque Brands and SKNL North America BV. 

In spring 2009, the 122-year-old company was forced into bankruptcy protection after citing lower borrowing capacity under Wells Fargo, a senior credit facility.  Hartmarx had attracted three potential buyers, two of which, it was reported, intended to keep the company intact. Rumors flew, however, that Wells Fargo, which was a recipient of federal bailout funds, was leaning towards a third buyer that favored liquidation. This threat, however, was enough to galvanize workers, supporters, union leaders and federal lawmakers to put a little pressure on Wells Fargo. Two Congressional members at the forefront of this fight, Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill), who spent 13 years in the employ of Hartmarx, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill), whose great-aunt also worked at the company, urged the bank to keep the company afloat.

During a few days that month, rallies featured labor leaders and workers, along with Rep. Hare and Illinois Treasurer Alex Giannoulias, who threatened to cut off the State of Illinois’ $8 billion in business with Wells Fargo if the company proceeded with liquidation plans. The Hartmarx workforce, in a page taken from that of the Chicago-based Republic Windows and Doors, whose employees staged a successful sit-in to secure the 60 days’ severance and unused vacation days they were lawfully owed, voted to occupy the plant if liquidation were the outcome.

Finally in late June, parties returned to the courtroom for the bid hearing and, after resolving concerns that had arisen, the sale to Emerisque was approved.

Fast forward to this year: in light of continual depressing employment figures, it’s a happy day when 600 employees can take time out to celebrate their jobs being saved.