Podcast: Couple Quietly Saves the Haverhill Southwick Clothing Legacy and Creates New Jobs

Former Brooks Brothers manufacturing plant in Haverhill. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The high-profile shuttering of Haverhill-based Southwick Clothing in 2020 was well known, but not so the story of how the company’s legacy was rescued and put people back to work—some as owners.

Closing the maker of Brooks Brothers clothing meant not only the loss of 400 jobs, but an end to the only job some workers ever had since moving to the United States. May Tan, Southwick’s then-chief financial officer tasked with closing the factory, and her husband Ed Pap, told the story during a live interview during WHAV’s morning show.

During the final days of the plant, she said she found an older Vietnamese woman in tears. Tan said the woman came to Haverhill after years in a refugee camp and her worst fear was being unable to support her family. The encounter moved Tan to create Southwick Social Ventures, secure social investment backing, win a five-year U.S. Army dress pant subcontract in 2021 and locate to the same Lawrence building where Southwick began in 1929.

“When Southwick Clothing Company closed, most of the employees were without employment or severance. So, we started to actually support the local people who live around the Lawrence area. The factory is located right in north Lawrence, in Everett Mills, where the first factory mills started. Our employees are able to either bus or walk to work. It’s all about supporting the local economy there,” she said.

Tan calls those with the company “artisan sewers” and gave them the opportunity to become part owners of the cooperative that now makes a line of clothing called Lawrence Trousers.

“We have currently about six employees who qualify,  have qualified. They have to be there a certain time and then you have to buy in. For people who have been with us a long time and have shown dedication to their craft and to the company, we give them bonus programs that make them eligible to be employee owned,” she explained.

Tan serves as chief executive officer, while Pap serves as executive vice president. He said they received a positive response to their trouser label.

“I think the most common question we have is that “Where have you guys been?’ because actually we’re really at the this point probably, maybe the one or number two real manufacturer of (premium) trousers, of this scale, in the United States,” he noted.

Pap said Southwick Social Ventures has 26 full-time employees along with a small number of part-time employees. They are planning on offering an expanded line of Lawrence Trousers this fall.

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