180s to make combat jackets

Baltimore firm wins Marines contract

May 25, 2006|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

180s may be best known for making clothing that adapts to an athlete's changing body temperature, but now the company is using its technology to outfit America's troops.

The Baltimore-based company has won an $8.1 million contract, with options that could bring the total deal to $42.7 million, to make combat desert jackets for the Marine Corps. The contract calls for 180s to make more than 60,000 jackets in the first year.

180s officials said they couldn't talk in detail about the design because of Department of Defense confidentiality rules. But the company said it would use the concepts it has used to make products that can be adjusted to account for body temperature changes during aerobic activity, such as gloves with retractable tops that runners can remove when their fingers get hot.

180s is working with a manufacturing facility in Tullahoma, Tenn., and should complete the order by September 2007. A Department of Defense announcement said the jackets would "enhance the Marines' survivability in a high desert and a cold/dry environment."

"When you go back to our design philosophy, outfitting a soldier's needs are kind of at the extreme of what we do with a lot of our products," said Craig Hazenfield, vice president of sales and marketing for the company.

The company made a name for itself a decade ago with its invention of an ear warmer, a twist on the traditional earmuff that wraps around the back of the head so as not to mess up the hair. One of its latest creations is the Quantum Vent jacket, which enables runners to regulate their body temperature by pulling cords that open and shut a vent in the jacket.

Hazenfield said the company is trying to expand its military business to increase its year-round revenue. Much of the company's products are "cold gear" and sell better in the winter months. The military business would complement its Gorgonz brand, a line of work wear that sells well throughout the year, he said.

"We recognize that the military is an important part of our business strategy, and we continue to pursue that," Hazenfield said.

Military contracts are attractive to companies because they're typically large. There's also certainty that the federal government won't default on a contract. Much of Maryland's prosperity has been attributed to companies that do business with the federal government.

Baltimore-based Under Armour, the maker of apparel that wicks sweat from the body, also provides a line of its apparel to the military.

"They're usually large orders, which is never a bad thing. They don't usually order two, they usually order 20,000," said Jim Kucher, executive director of the Entrepreneurship program at the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore. "And the perception is certainly that you're not going to have the collection problems."

The potential for business with the military is expected to grow with the effects of the national military base reshuffling, and the growing defense and homeland security budgets.

"Increasingly, we are observing Baltimore-area firms secure sizable contracts with the defense establishment: contract awards that we have in recent times come to associate more firmly with suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia," said Baltimore economist Anirban Basu, chief executive officer of the Sage Policy Group Inc.

The new contract for 180s comes as the company works to reposition itself under new ownership.

New York Investment company Patriarch Partners became the majority owner of the company last year. The company had become popular but was having trouble managing its growth.

Susan Shafton, who has worked with high-growth companies such as Gap Inc. and Federated Department Stores Inc., was brought in as president and chief executive officer last summer.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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