Made in Rochester | Hickey Freeman | A Continuous Lean.

Made in Rochester | Hickey Freeman

Feb 2nd, 2011 | Categories: Clothing, Factory Tour, Made in the USA | by Michael Williams

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.

Comments: 19

19 Comments to “Made in Rochester | Hickey Freeman”

  1. robbie
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 2:13 PM

    great post!

  2. mistermidwester
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 2:50 PM

    This is probably my favorite tour series yet. Looooove Hickey Freeman stuff even though I personally own only one thrifted piece.

    The patina of the worn wood floors of the production area are almost as beautiful as the clothing! :)

  3. JonIndia™
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 3:17 PM

    made in America. nice. MW you took a massive amount of pictures.

  4. Speedmaster
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 5:12 PM

    Outstanding! I grew up and still live/work in Rochester. Great post! ;-)

  5. JDParkes
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 5:42 PM

    Did you get to check out another great Rochester clothing label, Adrian Jules? Some of the finest bespoke suits available in the US.

  6. Makaga
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 5:54 PM

    Thanks for a great post! Was always hoping to see the insides of the HF factory!

  7. Ray Hull
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 7:28 PM

    Great stuff at HF, but their mature styles and padded shoulders never appealed to me. Now, they are making natural shoulder models.

    Until the 80s/90s, upstate New York hosted some of America’s finest clothing manufacturers. A bit east of Rochester, in Syracuse, Learbury was still cranking out Brooks and Polo suits in the 90s; not sure if they still are, but they produced high-quality pieces. And of course, Syracuse was home to the famous (and finest) Nettleton Shoes until about 1990. East of there, in Utica, Duxback, a sort of LL Bean hunting wear manufacturer held on until the mid-70s. Northeast of there, I believe Daniel Greene bedroom slippers were originally made in Dolgeville.

    And further east, along the Hudson, in Glens Falls, Troy Guild manufactured dress shirts for the finest stores in America, again until about 1990. Their distaff side, McMullen blouses, probably the finest Peter Pan collar chintz blouses made in the USA stopped production by about the 80s. Both of these brands, using the finest imported fabrics, pearl buttons, etc. were stalwarts of Saks, Neiman Marcus, Paul Stuart, etc. And they all had killer, genuine factory stores.

    I once needed a new tuxedo shirt and was passing through Glens Falls, so I popped into Troy Guild’s factory store and they didn’t have any in my size. My timing was perfect: “No problem” said the store manager, “I’ll run down stairs and pull one off the line.” Back he came in a few minutes with a Paul Stuart model–still warm off the ironing board.

    So, those of us living upstate never had to venture to NYC to buy great clothes, you just had to pick your Thruway exit or ride up the Northway to Glens Falls.

  8. Tom Hemphill
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 7:29 PM

    Great story & wonderful pictures. And it’s all here in the USA. Even more wonderful.

  9. william
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 7:48 PM

    Go Rochester ! What a great story that company is and the melting pot of workers doing such a great job ! What did you think of the rest of Rochester?

  10. ferme
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 8:35 PM

    I really love HF. I used to only be a suit guy until I bought a HF sportcoat. I find myself forgetting to take off my coat when I get to the office because it fits so well.

  11. rinamix
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 9:04 PM

    Loved the story. I totally agree that Hickey Freeman is one of the finest Men’s Made in America brand.

  12. safra
    on Feb 2nd, 2011
    @ 11:17 PM

    this is very important. there needs to be a better appreciation for “homemade” quality. we spend too much time and interest to that abroad.

  13. Neil Cohen
    on Feb 3rd, 2011
    @ 1:36 PM

    I just got my first Hickey Blazer, though I grew up with a father who only wore Hickey, and I LOVE it. It’s actually one of the new styles being made for Opening Cermony Btq., and it’s just that extra bit of hip, that looks great with jeans, which is how i wear it. You know when you wear a Jkt and it just feels perfect……that’s my new H.F blazer.

  14. Timmrush
    on Feb 3rd, 2011
    @ 2:52 PM

    As a Rochester native, it is great to see this post. Great American craftsmanship from my hometown. I was back in town for a graduation a few years ago and stopped by the HF outlet downtown. I got an insanely beautiful 100% cashmere herringbone blazer. It was a steal at $500, down from around 1,500. One of those items of clothing that every time I wear it, I get compliments. Definitely worth the trip if you’re in the downtown area.

  15. Andrew
    on Feb 3rd, 2011
    @ 10:11 PM

    Very happy to see that Hickey is well set for the future. One of the few brands that never let their image tarnish. Staying true to their heritage and sticking to the quality that brought them to today has paid off. Very nice post- thank you.

  16. david himel
    on Feb 4th, 2011
    @ 1:58 AM

    hmmm not so much a melting pot as it is a stew….the more immigration the more sewers and workers there are to rebuild North American industry. The biggest problem besides costs/subsidies to produce in China that the schmata trade faces in Canada and likely the U.S. is a lack of qualified sewers….no body wants to do it…hundreds of kids graduate fashion school every year and they all think they will be designers…but there are no indigenous sewers…Americans and Canadians dont want to work that hard…and a lot of immigration policy focus on attracting young people with tech skills or immigrants with money….so in reality the business is limited by the potential for labour I face that every day in my clothing business and it is one of the biggest barrier points
    nice post Michael

  17. Wesley Verhoeve
    on Feb 6th, 2011
    @ 1:50 AM

    Yet another inspiring and great story with the pictures to go with! Thanks! I own one of their items and it’ll last me forever.

  18. theru
    on Feb 7th, 2011
    @ 9:14 PM

    Every suit I own is a Hickey and some are still going strong the 10 years after I bought them after I graduated from college. I’m from Rochester, and its a point of pride to wear them at work in DC.

  19. David C
    on Mar 2nd, 2011
    @ 1:31 AM

    Excellent post! I love to see my city get exposure for the positive things. If I am not mistaken, the St. Paul area used to be know as a garment district.