The McCalls printing plant in Manhattan, Kansas, will shut down at the end of 2021. The plant currently employs 85 people and prints and folds sewing pattern tissue. It has five tissue presses and two folding machines.
“It was a difficult decision to close Manhattan,” says Abbie Small, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Craft at Design Group, the company that has owned McCalls and Simplicity since January 2020. “We are grateful for the dedication and service of our employees there.”
At its height in the 1970s, Simplicity and McCalls combined printed 200 million sewing patterns each year. That number is down to 20-30 million today. The Manhattan, Kansas plant has been in operation for approximately 50 years. It once employed 1200-1300 people, according to a source we spoke with who wished to remain anonymous. Before the pandemic, there was a round of layoffs and last week remaining employees were told of the forthcoming closure. Most will be laid off, while some will do their jobs virtually. “Anyone who was anyone worked at McCalls back in the day,” the source we spoke with said. “Now they say, ‘They’re still open?’”
Printing and folding for pattern tissue will be consolidated to the Simplicity plant in Wisconsin. The pattern envelope printing will be outsourced. Small says the Simplicity printing plant can print on a sturdier tissue. “We had been hearing consumer complaints about the quality of our tissue,” she says. “So this will be an upgrade. Outsourcing the envelope printing will allow for higher print quality and capability as well.” Small says the closure and consolidation are not related to the cyber attack the company faced at the end of 2020 which shut down production for over a month.
Besides printing and folding patterns for the Big 4 pattern brands, the Manhattan plant also prints and folds tissue for many indie sewing pattern companies. Small says they plan to continue these contracts. She says the indie pattern companies will also benefit from the improved quality once the printing services consolidate. The move will not cause a price increase for the contract jobs, although the supply chain and distribution challenges happening worldwide may have an impact at some point.
The printing presses and folding machines at the McCalls plant were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s and are some of the only operating machines of their type in the US. According to the source we spoke with, the machines will not be sold but instead will be scrapped as will the replacement parts.
Small, who returned to DesignGroup in October after a 34-year career at Simplicity, says she’s pulling together a committee now to examine every aspect of the company’s sewing patterns. “Our motto is ‘keep the sewing machines sewing,’” she says. “We’ve seen a huge surge in sewing during the pandemic. Now we’re looking at everything including the back-of-envelope, instructions, and guide sheets to make them the best they can be.”
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.