Leather Gloves and Mittens

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of dress, semi-dress, and work gloves that are made exclusively of leather or leather with lining of other materials. Excluded are establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of athletic gloves, classified in SIC 3949: Sporting and Athletic Goods, Not Elsewhere Classified; semi-dress and work gloves made primarily of cloth, classified in SIC 2381: Dress and Work Gloves, Except Knit and All-Leather; and safety gloves, classified in SIC 3842: Orthopedic, Prosthetic, and Surgical Appliances and Supplies.
Historical data shows that the industry has been shrinking in both output and the number of manufacturers over the latter part of the twentieth century and the earlier part of the twenty-first century due to competition from lower-priced imports. The U.S. Census Bureau ceased reporting gloves and mittens as a distinct manufacturing category (NAICS 315992) beginning with its 2007 and 2008 editions of Value of Products Shipped and Statistics for Industry Groups and Industries.

The U.S. glove industry began about 1760 when Sir William Johnson, founder of Johnstown and Gloversville, New York, brought in a group of glove makers from Perthshire, England, to make deerskin mittens and heavy gloves for nearby farmers. Native Americans had shown Johnson how to use the local barks for dying and tanning. The abundant supply of deer hides and the availability of streams and lakes for tanning the hides and transporting the finished gloves to nearby farm communities helped the industry flourish.

Nineteenth-century inventions that mechanized glove cutting and sewing increased productivity in the industry, but the industry still needed skilled workers. In the 1890s, many glove workers came from Italy. Fulton County, where Johnstown and Gloversville are located, remained the U.S. glove-making center, home to the now defunct industry association and union headquarters. Through the 1930s, the U.S. Department of Labor noted, men cut most of the materials for gloves in the area’s many small factories, and most of the sewing was performed by women. Sewing of the heavier work gloves was done in the factories on heavy-duty machines, while work on the dress and semi-dress gloves was often done on a piece-work basis in homes.

After World War II, competition from cheaper labor abroad began to cut into the American market. This trend continued into the early 2000s. Shipments of leather gloves and mittens declined from $101.6 million in 1998 to just $60.6 million in 2001. The value of shipments then dropped further to $52.5 million in 2005 before rising again to $64.7 million in 2006. Total value of the overall industry was $139.6 million that year.

The leather segment of the glove and mitten manufacturing industry amounted to about 46 percent of total business leather gloves and mitten industry shipments in 2007. Of the more than 100 establishments operating in this industry, less than half primarily deal with leather. The industry as a whole saw employment decline from 18,793 in 2005 to 17,403 in 2006. The average hourly wage for the 13,516 production workers in 2006 was $11.02.

According to Dun and Bradstreet, in 2009, this industry had just 78 establishments, which generated $58.6 million and employed 2,232. Over three-fourths of the companies had fewer than 25 employees. However, the top 25 percent of the largest companies (those with 25 or more employees) generated nearly 75 percent of the industry’s revenues. Businesses were fairly evenly spread throughout the United States, with Texas leading in number of firms with eight, following by Washington and Wisconsin with six each and New York and Illinois with five each.

One industry leader was Totes-Isotoner Corp. of Cincinnati, Ohio, which was a leading producer of umbrellas, slippers, and windproof leather gloves, among other products. Other industry leaders included Boss Holdings of Kewanee, Illinois, with 2009 sales of $48.96 million, and Wells Lamont Corporation of Niles, Illinois, with estimated sales in 2007 of $35.6 million.

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