Home to corporate juggernauts like Kodak and Xerox, Rochester, New York has a rich industrial history. In addition to some of America’s largest companies, the city is also quietly home to Hickey Freeman, one of the country’s oldest and last surviving (and arguably one of the best) clothiers. Founded in 1899 by Jeremiah Hickey and Jacob Freeman, the company is still at it, making suits in their sprawling 77,000 square foot factory in Rochester. Having been to several other clothing factories in the U.S., I have been interested in paying a visit to Hickey Freeman for the past several years. I wanted to see firsthand the quality of the Hickey Freeman full canvas construction. Needless to say, when I finally got the opportunity to see the operation I was not disappointed.
The factory in Rochester ranks up there as one of the most well organized I have ever seen. Wait, I should clarify that last statement a little bit. Hickey Freeman’s plant is one of the most well organized clothing factories that I have come across in the U.S. Allen Edmonds also has a pretty amazing production facility in Wisconsin that I have toured. There aren’t a lot of clothing companies still operating in the U.S., which is why it is interesting to see how advanced the Hickey Freeman process and facilities are. Everything is clean, well organized and modern. And all of this in the same building the company was founded in. Pretty amazing if you ask me. All of the garments move through the production line on special trays that the company has produced especially for its needs. In most clothing factories pieces and parts are bundled. You will notice in the photos that special care is given at every step to preserve the desired shape of the clothing as it snakes its way through the process. This example just illustrates the care and attention that goes into making a Hickey Freeman suit.
Another thing that stood out to me about the factory is the diversity of the work force, something that is also unrivaled at any facility I have been to previously. The plant manager told me they have workers from 17 different countries under one roof. It literally is the closest thing to a melting pot that I have ever seen working together. And everyone is working toward one common goal, to make fine tailored goods.
In the past few years Hickey Freeman has gone through a bit of a reorganization and was taken over by a new ownership group. Through that process the company has taken on three very skilled stewards in Doug Williams, Joseph Abboud and Mike Cohen to help lead the brand. I would think it would be tough to find three better people to run an American clothing company. Williams as the CEO of HMX Group (Hickey Freeman’s reorganized parent company), Abboud as group creative director and Cohen as Hickey Freeman president.
I have spent some time with Mike Cohen and he could be the best dressed guy in the game. In addition to being painfully nice and in possession of a much evolved sense of style, Mike can literally construct an entire suit by hand. Now that’s not something many executives can say. Cohen also understands the ins and outs of what is happening in menswear at the moment. Mike is the type of guy you want to go out drinking with and talk shop. The simple way to say this is that: Mike gets it.
All of this adds up to a return to the classic style and expert construction that gave Hickey Freeman the reputation it has today. To see HMX Group revitalize and re-brand the company should be pleasing for anyone interested in wearing a quality American made suit.
The photos below are pretty extensive, but there was so much to see in Rochester that I couldn’t resist sharing all of these with you.