KANKAKEE — A company dedicated to bringing apparel manufacturing back to the U.S. is looking to possibly locate its headquarters and a manufacturing site in Kankakee.
Pleneri, an open digital platform company, has been developing for the past six years to become a complete operating manufacturer. Approximately 98 percent of apparel manufacturing is done overseas, and Pleneri wants to change that.
Pleneri has been in the discussion stages with the City of Kankakee, and three of its executives gave a presentation Thursday to the City Council’s Economic Development committee at the Donald. E. Green Public Safety Center.
“We want to build manufacturing, and we want to transform the industry so that we can bring apparel manufacturing back to the U.S.,” said Tom Ramunno, co-founder of Pleneri. “There are a myriad of reasons, and the opportunity is huge. The global apparel business is $7 trillion at retail, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.
“It’s bigger than oil and gas, bigger than automotive, it’s bigger than aerospace and defense.”
Other Pleneri officials at the meeting were Pat McKee, chief legal officer, and Emily Sifrit, chief creative officer. Sifrit, who lives in Manteno, has experience in the industry as an independent fashion designer and is now partnering with Pleneri.
“It was Emily and her colleagues that disrupted the market and became the force to be reckoned with out of a major couple trillion dollar U.S. market,” Ramunno said. “Emily’s segment represents over half that. That’s what our target is. It’s a trillion dollar universe that we’re focused on.”
Pleneri is still in the site selection phase of its manufacturing development, and it has looked at space in the Clock Tower Centre in downtown Kankakee.
McKee said the company is looking for up to 10,000 square feet of space for its back office operations that would house the CEO, senior-level personnel to designers, accountants and bookkeepers. It would be approximately 25 employees in the office.
In addition, one of Pleneri’s manufacturing facilities of roughly 35,000 square feet would be located in the area, employing approximately 150.
“So, ultimately, within a year, two years, we’re looking to expand to hopefully hundreds of jobs in the vicinity at least two facilities if not three and bringing those kinds of benefits to Kankakee,” McKee said. “It’s amazing in dealing with the folks in Kankakee that we have. This is really a vibrant community, moving in the direction of clean, lean manufacturing with an artistic bent.
“And we literally have talked to dozens if not hundreds of other municipalities, including up to the state level. All of which are eager listeners but don’t get it as well as the two folks that we’ve been dealing with from Kankakee. It’s been a pleasure to be here each and every time we’ve come.”
Sifrit has more than 20 years experience in fashion design and has her own company e.Kaye Collection. She is now partnering with Pleneri, after hearing it was looking at small scale manufacturing in the Chicago area.
“That’s how I started conversations with Tom, and everything just sort of came together,” she said. “At that point what I realized is where they were in their phases, and they were looking for somebody just like me so it worked out very well. What this offers me is the ability to the ability to have 100 pieces made very quickly [close to home]. ... There’s a handful of ways you really make it in this business, and this offers a lot more.”
Pleneri is also interested in working with Kankakee Community College to help train its workforce. Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of the Community Development Agency for the City of Kankakee, said Pleneri will be making a decision on its site selection in the next four weeks.
“This is where we want to be,” Ramunno said. “Seriously, you know the people that ‘get it.’ I mean that seriously. You have welcomed us with open arms. We’ve had nothing but transparent conversations.”