45-year-old Baltimore garment manufacturer receives State grant for producing PPE during COVID-19 pandemic
When it comes to fashion, Phil Spector believes in doing things the old-fashioned way. For nearly 45 years, his company, Fashions Unlimited, has manufactured custom garments and fulfilled cut and sew orders for many of the world’s most well-known brands and designers. As one of the few apparel manufacturing facilities left onshore and the only remaining factory from Baltimore’s original garment industry, Phil attributes his company’s success to its quality, which means completing much of its work by hand.
“People gravitate toward us because of our quality,” he says. “We started in 1976 with two machines, and our operations really haven’t changed dramatically over the years. We still use many of our original machines and do our cutting and sewing by hand.”
But while the technology Fashions Unlimited employs hasn’t evolved much, the company has developed a reputation for its advanced techniques and expertise, and the inventive products it creates. In 2018, named Fashions Unlimited one of the Top Innovative Companies in the Industry for its niche work in stretch fabrics, including swimwear and high-performance apparel.
In addition to meeting his clients’ expectations, Phil has also always ensured Fashions Unlimited does its part to support the local community. The company regularly works with local entrepreneurs in Baltimore’s art and design community to help bring their business ideas to life and prioritizes working with clients who produce products for typically underserved populations, including transgender consumers.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maryland in March 2020, the company quickly took action to help in the state’s response. Using their expertise, equipment, and materials, the Fashions Unlimited staff of 32 employees began cutting and sewing protective masks and gowns to assist with the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the state. Between March and May 2020, the company produced about 120,000 masks.
Around the same time, Phil identified a solution that would make life much easier for his staff and significantly increase his company’s capacity – an automated cutting machine.
“I have a few people who have been cutting for me for years now, but it’s getting harder and harder to find a skill like that,” he says. “When I saw this machine, I knew I could increase my business. Without needing a person to cut, we could complete what was previously a half-day’s work in about 20 minutes. But the machine was out of our price range.”
With the automated cutting machine priced at $172,000, Phil approached the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MD MEP) for help. He was encouraged to apply for the Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Grant, offered by the Maryland Department of Commerce to support the manufacturing of critical needs and PPE. MD MEP assisted Phil with his application, and he was successfully awarded $100,000 to use towards the purchase of the new machine.
Today, nearly a year later, the new automated cutting machine is now installed at Fashions Unlimited’s location in Pigtown. The company received an additional $16,000 in support funds from MD MEP to offset the costs of training its employees to operate the machine through the Maryland Department of Labor’s EARN initiative. Now that it is up and running, Fashions Unlimited is in talks to utilize the new machine to cut garments for more Maryland brands, including Ella Pritzker Couture, GC2B, Sparta Luxe LLC, and Lifting Labels. With these new opportunities and a staff that has grown to 50 people, Phil is very optimistic about the year ahead.
“We have been very fortunate to have had a lot of work over the past year. We get calls every single day to do work, and I always have time for local people,” he says. “We’re hoping to increase even more this year, and we’re looking forward to a very good year. It’s tough being a clothing manufacturer in this country, but we’ve survived for 45 years through good times and bad. I’m happy that we’re in Maryland and have always been in Baltimore – I’ve always had a good experience in this state, and the State has always been helpful to me and have listened to what I’ve had to say.”