Out & About

Clothes horse

One of the biggest employers in Chico is Koret of California, Inc., which employs between 320 and 356 people at a clothing distributing center at 1100 Marauder, out by the airport.

What do they distribute? Mostly moderately priced women’s coordinated sportswear, with the target customer being age 45 or older. Koret also has divisions making belts and small leather goods, including Polo Ralph Lauren briefcases.

Who’s in charge? It’s run locally by Dan Kempers, who deferred comments to corporate headquarters. Koret is a subsidiary of Kellwood, which owns clothing labels including Sag Harbor and My Michelle (think JC Penney and Gottschalks). Kellwood is based in St. Louis, Mo., and used shares of stock to acquire Koret in 1998. A few years ago, Koret contracted with Spectrum Logistics to manage the plant, sparking fears that the workers’ union would not be recognized.

Who started the company? The late Joseph and Stephanie Koret, who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. The business they opened in 1938 merged with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1979. Their Koret Foundation is one of the largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts in the state, with assets totaling more than $300 million.

How can I invest? Kellwood is a $2.1 billion corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol KWD. In its quarterly report in May, Kellwood reported a 19.6 percent decrease in sales to $570.7 million, with the company blaming “cautious buying of both the retailers and consumers.”

What else do they own? There are 43 Koret factory outlet stores.

Why haven’t they moved to Mexico like all the other clothing manufacturers? Keep reading.

Does anyone not like Koret? Some workers’ rights advocates, who picketed the San Francisco factory after 300 employees, plus 500 contract workers, were laid off in June 1990 so the factory could be transferred to Guatemala. Another Koret operation is in El Salvador. The Bay Area facility got dinged by the Department of Labor in 1997 and had to pay $16,800 in back wages.