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Marine Corps enlists CNY fashion designer, awards $46.8M contract to produce new fitness uniforms

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Mark Weiner

syracuse.com

Washington – A small Central New York fashion design firm has won a $46.8 million contract from the U.S. Marine Corps to produce a new line of fitness training uniforms for service members.

American Fashion Network of DeWitt will supply the Marines with up to 1.8 million T-shirts and shorts over the course of the five-year contract.

The woman-owned small business was among four companies that won contracts to supply lightweight, breathable physical training clothes to the Marines, according to the Department of Defense.

All told, 17 companies submitted competitive bids for the deal, Pentagon officials said.

Jackie Wilson, owner and CEO of American Fashion Network, said it’s the single biggest federal contract her fashion design firm has received since she spun it off from a partnership in 2011.

“It’s a wonderful order,” Wilson told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard. “I have so much pride to be able to be outfitting the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Until now, Wilson’s top customers have been mid-tier retailers Kohls, JC Penney, American Eagle Outfitters and Belk.

The federal contract has already allowed American Fashion Network to hire five new employees at its design studio and the company will seek to fill three more openings in DeWitt, Wilson said.

The business directly employs 16 people at its DeWitt headquarters and in satellite offices in Los Angeles and Milwaukee.

Wilson said the Marine Corps training uniforms – the product of designers, brand managers and artists that work at her DeWitt headquarters – will be 100% American-made, as required by terms of the contract.

Her company will work with long-time suppliers in the Los Angeles area that will manufacture the clothing, Wilson said.

American Fashion Network typically designs private-label apparel and exclusive store brands for retailers, and contracts with factories around the world that produce the finished goods.

Wilson said she’s glad the federal government insisted on American-made clothing – a move that will help her suppliers add jobs and create a stable U.S. manufacturing base.

“I feel very fortunate and very excited,” Wilson said. “It means more jobs all over the country, not just in Syracuse. The U.S. government is really putting their money with their mouth is by awarding contracts to small, women-owned businesses.”

U.S. Marine recruiters, with Recruiting Station Cleveland, sprint 880-meters, during a combat fitness test (CFT) at Canton, Michigan, Nov. 13, 2020. The CFT is a combat oriented test, which includes an 880-meter sprint, ammunition can lifts and a maneuver under fire. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nello Miele)

The fashion design firm saw revenue grow 10-fold from 2013 through 2016. But the company suffered a setback during the coronavirus pandemic when millions of dollars in sales were canceled, Wilson said. She declined to provide specific revenue figures for the privately-owned firm.

To diversify, the company decided to begin competing for government contracts last year, Wilson said.

The Marine Corps physical training uniforms will be made of synthetic material, similar to other tech clothing, with reflective taping, she said.

Marines will be issued the physical training uniforms upon entering boot camp. The uniforms also will be sold on Marine bases to those who want to buy an extra supply. Wilson declined to disclose the per-unit cost.

She said the contract will provide long-term stability for her design studio in a business that’s constantly changing.

“In the fashion business, there’s an ebb and flow of business,” Wilson said. “This gives us a foundation. The contract goes for five years. It’s just a wonderful contract for us to grow on. The government is really investing in our country to give us this foundation for growth.”

Most clothing sold at American retail stores is manufactured overseas. But Wilson said she hopes the industry will follow the federal government’s example.

“Now it’s time for the American retailer to step up and do the same thing,” she said.

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