Last week, Hardwick Clothes might have found it.
As reported on the front page of this newspaper, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley D. Rucker on Tuesday approved a plan that allows Bradley County’s longtime manufacturer — which is the oldest privately held clothing producer in America — to have Burlington Worldwide labeled as a “critical vendor.”
For some who might be scratching their heads, let us explain. In fact, allow us to defer to the wording used in the article, as filed by Cleveland Daily Banner staff writer Brian Graves, in the Wednesday edition.
In our story, the veteran newsman defined the term “critical vendor.” It is integral to the telling of the Hardwick Clothes bankruptcy update:
“‘Critical vendor’ status provides the company filing for reorganization the ability to continue business with another company whose goods and services are necessary for business operations during the reorganization process.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but ... that’s BIG!
Because Burlington Worldwide is a key vendor that supplies services, and fabric, that allows Hardwick Clothes employees — about 225 of them — to continue the production of some of the globe’s most sought-after apparel.
The judge’s ruling, which came in Chattanooga, is pivotal because it allows Hardwick Clothes to proceed with a six-month payment arrangement negotiated with Burlington on a $352,000 debt the Cleveland company owed prior to its filing for bankruptcy protection.
During that half-year period, Hardwick Clothes will continue to receive goods from Burlington on a cash up-front basis for the first two months. The third and fourth month will allow for 30-day credit terms, and the fifth and sixth months will allow Hardwick to purchase materials from Burlington on 60-day credit terms.
For legitimate companies that offer a worthwhile product and are integral members of their community — and who are serious about emerging from bankruptcy for the good of all, most especially their employees — such rulings are vital.
That’s because struggling companies have no hope for survival if they can’t do business with vendors that are key suppliers of the raw materials necessary to make a product. Such reliance upon partners in commerce is just as relevant in the automotive, appliance, furniture-making and food-processing industries, among others.
Without engines, tires and glass, automobile makers cannot make automobiles.
Without giant rolls of steel, electronics and wire harnesses, appliance makers cannot make appliances.
Without leather, wood and screws, furniture makers cannot make furniture.
Without fresh produce, flour, meal, sugar and seasonings, food makers cannot make food.
And so the same is true for clothing makers. Without fabric, they cannot manufacture world-class apparel. And when we say world-class, it should be remembered Hardwick Clothes contracts with globally respected brands.
Of the struggles facing Hardwick Clothes, this should be remembered. When the Cleveland manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection — due to a required payment of $4.6 million to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to cover liabilities related to the company’s termination of its pension plan — Burlington Worldwide was among the first to step up in support by asking to be recognized as a “critical vendor.”
Obviously, Burlington wants a path to recover the $352,000 debt by Hardwick; but, we believe the supplier also is looking long term. Its executives believe the Hardwick Clothes partnership is worth saving, assuming the manufacturer can regain its feet.
Such court decisions are pivotal to any bankruptcy case, especially those involving hundreds of employees, some of whom have given their lives and careers to a company.
Hardwick Clothes is a long-established Bradley County manufacturer. It has a quality workforce and its employees are our friends, our neighbors and our loved ones. Their futures are tied directly to the fate of their employer.
It is our long-held belief that everyone deserves a second chance.
That includes people. That includes causes. That includes clothing manufacturers.
American industry continues to fight an uphill battle. Foreign competition in this global economy is taking its toll.
So when a Cleveland underdog embraces the spirit necessary to deliver the American Dream to American workers, it is a fight well worth defending.
Our best wishes continue for Hardwick Clothes.
Our support for its workers, and their families, remains unconditional.
We urge the company and its business partners to stay the course.
We encourage the courts and the stakeholders to find a way.