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112-year-old US Apparel Maker In Pa. To Close

Bemoaning the disappearance of so many textile jobs, she said: "I am an American girl and I wish more people would think like me and would have left the industry here and not send it overseas."

Indeed, it's a minor miracle that Fessler held on this long.

Though domestic production has ticked up recently, more than 97 percent of the 19 billion pieces of apparel sold in the United States last year were made somewhere else, primarily in China and other Asian nations, according to Labor Department data compiled by the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Employment has declined 75 percent since the late 1990s, from 621,000 jobs in 1998 to 151,800 today.

Fessler had been a rare breed among apparel manufacturers not only for its longevity, but also because it controlled all aspects of production. The company weaves its own fabric, cuts it and sews it into private-label garments shipped to stores around the nation.

"There aren't very many vertical, made-in-the-USA apparel companies left," Meck said. "It is an incredible feeling to watch those garments go out the door."

FesslerUSA began life in 1900 as Meck & Co., producing cotton underwear at a factory in Schuylkill Haven, a river town about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Meck's father sold it to the Fessler family in 1960. Meck joined other family members to buy the company back in 1994 â¿¿ just as the North American Free Trade Agreement was claiming its three biggest customers.

The family weathered that crisis by pivoting from high-volume, mass-market apparel toward higher-end pieces made with more expensive fabrics, a segment of the market that foreign manufacturers were unable or unwilling to touch. Fessler thrived because it could produce quickly and in small quantities, and its fashionable tees appeared on the racks of such retailers as Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.

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