100 Years Of Making Suits

Haas: Now A Century Old, Haas Tailoring Co. Is Still Looking To The Future Even As It Recalls With Pride Some Of The Famous Who Have Purchased Its Made-in-baltimore Suits.

April 21, 1997|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Stock options aren't just for chief executive officers anymore.

Long traditional at Silicon Valley start-ups and in the upper echelons of corporate America, options are moving into the mainstream. PepsiCo Inc., Starbucks Coffee Co., NationsBank Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. are among companies that now grant stock options to on, who is vice president of marketing. "Because of the skill level, it may take two employees to replace one retiree. You can't even find tailors in Italy anymore."

Garment-making skills were more plentiful when Jacob Haas, a German merchant who was John Haas' grandfather, founded the clothing business on Broadway off Eastern Avenue in 1897. Milton J. Haas, John's father, took over the company in 1932.

The Baltimore clothing industry was so competitive that every manufacturer had to find its own niche. After World War II, Haas specialized in making Sunday clothes for coal miners in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

Over the years, Haas moved from Broadway to East Baltimore Street to Paca Street and, in 1968, to its current plant. Today, the company sells suits through about 600 retailers nationwide. About 5 percent of its sales are ready-made suits, and an even smaller percentage is women's clothing. Made-to-order suits account for all the rest.

Customers choose fabrics through the retailers, who send Haas the selections and measurements. Haas employees enter the measurements into a computer, which produces a pattern of each suit piece. Workers cut the pieces, which are then sewn together. The company delivers suits in four or five weeks.

David Jaster, manager of the Shirt Broker in Denver, said his store orders between 600 and 700 garments a year from Haas. "They are probably one of the premier custom manufacturers in the country," he said.

Suits run from about $600 to $1,400. Jaster's Haas customers include former basketball player Moses Malone, several of the Denver Broncos football players and a television anchorman.

Haas clothed Arsenio Hall during his run as a late-night talk show host. Other Hollywood Haas clients include James Earl Jones, James Caan and the musical groups Temptations and New Edition.

Haas has made military -- and civilian -- clothes for retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. And it's what big-time defense lawyers are wearing, like O. J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran and Timothy McVeigh attorney Steve Jones.

Finally, Haas makes suits for a long list of basketball players, including Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd and former University of Maryland star Joe Smith.

Haas' Maryland operation includes a retail store at its factory and a direct sales force that calls on customers outside the office. Local customers include former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Orioles' Roberto Alomar and Glendening.

The local retail operation, where suits sell for about $500 to $1,100, accounts for about 2 percent of the company's sales.

"We're not much of a retailer," Matt Haas said.

Indeed, industrial Sinclair Lane is hardly a premier location for an upscale retailer. And it didn't help that the company had a national advertising campaign featuring Alomar ready to go last year when his dispute with umpire John Hirschbeck erupted.

Still, the company insists on selling suits in its own store. "It's our kitchen," John Haas said. "We can see our product."

Looking into the future, John Haas is optimistic -- at least when it comes to customers. There will always be demand for finely tailored suits, he believes.

Finding a supply of the skilled workers the company needs as its employees retire is another question.

"One of the things we worry about," John Haas said, "is whether there's going to be enough skilled labor."

Pub Date: 4/21/97

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