Clothier begins operation today in Elkridge

CHINESE FIRM COMES TO HOWARD

August 31, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

ELKRIDGE -- Wang Jian Guo doesn't speak a whit of English, but the Chinese businessman's dreams are quintessentially American: Big.

Today, Mr. Wang (pronounced Wong) will open a cashmere sweater manufacturing and distribution plant here that he predicts will eventually produce 50,000 sweaters annually and boost his company's U.S. sales from $2.7 million to about $4 million within a year. Worldwide sales for the company should be boosted by the plant to about $10 million from $7.5 million, he predicts.

"The potential for the company in America is very big," Mr. Wang said through an interpreter.

The 42-year-old businessman's vision for his 5-year-old company, Wang Zi Cashmere Products Inc., includes no less than: opening as many as 50 retail stores nationwide to market his clothing; greatly expanding the company's U.S. wholesale business; launching a trade center for showcasing Asian-made products; and becoming an exporter of an array of American-made products to China.

Wang Zi Cashmere Products is the first wholly Chinese-owned company to open a manufacturing site in Maryland, according to state economic officials.

Howard County and state officials are pleased that they convinced the company to locate in Maryland.

"Mr. Wang has very ambitious plans, which shows he's pretty visionary," said Curt Matthews, a spokesman for the Maryland International Division at the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Eventually Wang Zi's 30,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution plant it acquired in the Route 100 Business Park will employ up to 200. Initially, about 50 U.S. workers will be employed and trained by Chinese technicians to produce the line of men's and women's sweaters and other cashmere clothing.

Sally Freedenthal, merchandise manager for Wang Zi, expects the Elkridge plant to begin turning out samples for potential wholesale customers by the end of September.

"Once we start getting orders in, we'll start production. But for the first six months we'll really be in a training mode," said Mrs. Freedenthal, a former merchandise manager for the now defunct Garfinkel's department stores.

The company will focus heavily during its first year on developing a mail-order catalog and opening retail stores in the Baltimore-Washington market, Mrs. Freedenthal said.

Plans call for opening up to six A Touch of Cashmere stores in the market. The first store is scheduled to open late next month in Potomac Mills, an outlet mall in Northern Virginia. Other potential store sites include Towson, said the merchandising manager. The company also is considering Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and cities in California for retail sites, she said.

Currently Wang Zi produces cashmere apparel at its plant in Dailing Province -- where 800 people are employed -- for export to wholesale customers in Japan, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States. American wholesale customers include J. Crew, a mail-order house specializing in upscale collegiate-style clothing.

His interest in broadening business in the United States was piqued by reports from the company's chief financial officer, who had been working in the states for several years assisting a New York distributor of Wang Zi's products. The officer believed the U.S. market for the company could be much larger.

Thanks to a relaxed policy among Chinese government officials who are slowly opening the country up to foreign trade, Mr. Wang was able to act on his instincts for the company, a joint venture a Japanese concern and the Chinese launched in 1987. Mr. Wang has since bought the company and is its sole owner.

Mrs. Freedenthal said Mr. Wang settled on Howard County for his U.S. base because of business and personal contacts he has in the area, and because of the proximity of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the port of Baltimore and major interstate highways.

Mr. Wang plans to become an intermediary for other Chinese and Asian-based businesses interested in entering U.S. markets. accomplish that, he has set aside 10 suites in what is called the Wang Zi International Trade Center located at the front of the Elkridge plant.

Mr. Wang is attempting to lease the offices to Chinese and Asian-based companies interested in showcasing products to American buyers. Mr. Wang also wants to expand his export business to shipping an array of U.S. products, from leather hides, computers and medical equipment, to mainland China.

"I want to develop American business and contacts, but I also hope by doing so I introduce Americans to the good reputation of Chinese products," said Mr. Wang. "My other goal is to expose Americans and Chinese to each other's cultures."

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