Apparel Makers Assess Damages in Haiti and Organize Donations

A 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti on Jan. 12 killed tens of thousands, brought business to a standstill and shut down the principal seaport near the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

In addition, the capital’s Toussaint L’Overture airport temporarily suspended commercial flight activity because the tarmac was clogged with civilian and military planes hauling in relief supplies. Authorities said extensive damage was seen at the country’s main port outside of Port-au-Prince, where some terminals were destroyed and freight cranes tumbled into the water.

Clothing makers, who in recent years have shifted production to Haiti to take advantage of a U.S. free-trade program, were using other factories outside of Haiti to make up for production that could be sidelined for weeks.

Hanesbrands Inc., based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said three of the four Haitian factories it uses to sew men’s casualwear and T-shirts were expected to be affected by the earthquake. The company said it is using its factories in the Dominican Republic, Central America and Asia to fill in orders.

One of Hanesbrands’ factories in northern Haiti was not affected by the earthquake and will be shipping its production out of the neighboring Dominican Republic.

“Of the company’s three contract operations near Port-au-Prince, two have reported little to no damage, and one has reported some structural damage,” the company said in a press release. “These three operations are also expected to be affected by infrastructure issues, at least temporarily, involving the ports, roads, bridges and power systems.”

Gildan Activewear in Montreal, Canada, said it uses third-party factories in Haiti to sew most of the fabric produced at its textile factory in the Dominican Republic. Initially, reports showed that two out of the three factories it uses were intact while the third factory had suffered substantial damage.

Haiti supplies a portion of Gildan’s basic T-shirt requirements for the U.S. screen-print market. Company officials indicated that Gildan’s inventory was strong enough to resolve any supply problems, but it was also increasing production at its factories in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Apparel has become an important business in Haiti. In 2008, apparel made up two-thirds of Haiti’s $350 million in exports to the United States. That production has been helped by the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act, which provided tariff-free access to the United States.

Several apparel organizations are collecting shoes and clothing to ship to Haiti in a massive relief effort. The American Apparel & Footwear Association members are donating goods to Kids in Distressed Situations Inc., based in New York, which is putting together shipments to Haiti, and Soles4Souls Inc. in Nashville, Tenn.

Also, Fashion Delivers Charitable Foundation Inc. in New York is asking for donations of lightweight apparel such as T-shirts, tops, shirts, jeans, slacks, sportswear and activewear as well as basic items such as underwear, socks and sheets.—Deborah Belgum