Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company History

509 W. Vickery Boulevard
Fort Worth, Texas 76104

Telephone: (817) 336-7201
Toll Free: 800-342-5437
Fax: (817) 877-5027

Private Company
Incorporated: 1922
Employees: 6,300
Sales: $820 million (2000 est.)
NAIC:315225 Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Work Clothing Manufacturing; 315224 Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Trouser, Slack, and Jean Manufacturing (pt)

Company Perspectives:

Since its beginnings in 1922, every piece of Dickies workwear has stood for the quality, toughness, and pride that embodies the spirit of the American workers.

Key Dates:

C.D. Williamson and E.E. Dickie purchase U.S. Overall, and rename it Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company.
Williamson-Dickie opens a manufacturing plant in Belize.

1970s:The company purchases General Diaper Corporation, and creates Dickie Industrial Services.

1980s:General Diaper Corporation changes its name to Blessings Corporation.

1990s:Dickies brand becomes popular as casual wear among younger consumers; the company opens its first outlet store and expands denim line and licensing program.
Williamson-Dickie sells Blessings Corporation.
The company acquires Workrite Uniform Co.

Company History:

Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company is well-known throughout the United States for its durable work clothes, but it also makes school uniforms and men's, women's, and children's casual clothes. Marketed under the brand name "Dickies," the company's clothes--jeans, pants, overalls, shirts, shorts, jackets, and coveralls--are sold internationally through retailers, business-to-business sales, print catalogs, and an online store. In addition, Williamson-Dickie licenses its brand to a range of other manufacturers, making it possible to find the Dickies label on hats, socks, sunglasses, watches, footwear, and various other items.

Williamson and Dickie: Retail Partners in the Early 20th Century

During the latter part of the 19th century, C. N. Williamson and his cousin E. E. Dickie founded the Mallory Hat distributorship. Partners for over 25 years, the two men distributed men's hats throughout the state of Texas. In 1920, while the partners were still distributing hats, C.D. Williamson, more often known as "Don," and brother to C.N. Williamson, began to work for a Fort Worth clothing manufacturer by the name of U.S. Overall Company. Coincidentally, C.N. Williamson and E.E. Dickie were primary stockholders in the company, and also sold the firm's merchandise on a part-time basis. When Dickie arranged a sale of items that the president of U.S. Overall did not feel the company could manufacture, the president agreed to sell his stock to C.N. Williamson and E.E. Dickie. Quite suddenly, a new company named Williamson-Dickie was established.

The two older partners asked Don Williamson to become the new company's general manager, chief operating officer, and chief executive officer. C.N. Williamson became president and offered help in the financial area, while Dickie became vice-president and offered to help with sales. Under Don's direction, the company soon outpaced the hat business, and the three men began to concentrate solely on developing the garment company.

Don Williamson's supervision of the company, and its early successes, were based on his idea that corporate management was a science. Most of the books written on managing a business during the 1920s and 1930s suggested that an ambitious entrepreneur work hard, devote long hours, and conduct his financial dealings within a morally sound framework. Don Williamson, however, thought that this approach was naive, so he developed his own management principles in a book entitled Executive Operations Technique. With help from Edwin Booz, the head of Booz, Allen, and Hamilton, a well-known consulting firm, Don Williamson was able to clearly identify a number of steps in running a successful business: Expose Conditions, Develop Ideas, Unify Views, Determine Plans, Produce Actions, and Review Results. According to Williamson, if a new employee studied these principles of management, he would be well on the way to understanding successful business practices. By the early 1940s, the company had implemented a regular series of seminars on executive management for all new middle- to high-level employees based on Williamson's principles.

Mid-Century: Durable Work Clothes

During World War II, the company procured numerous contracts with the U.S. government to manufacture clothes for various units of the military, and after the war Williamson-Dickie introduced a more extensive line of work clothes, including jeans, jackets, overalls, and shirts. The company's most successful product was the khaki pant. Otherwise known as the "chino," and first worn by Texas oilfield workers, the khaki pant became a standard during the 1950s. Soon students, professors, golfers, and others from every walk of life were wearing khaki pants.

As a result of Williamson-Dickie's popular work clothes, the company's revenues and profitability skyrocketed. Next the company entered the industrial laundry business, cleaning and pressing work clothes and renting matching shirts and pants worn as employee uniforms. The volume of Williamson-Dickie's laundry business increased so rapidly that its officers reasoned that significant costs could be cut if a permanent press process could be developed, which would allow them to clean work clothes without pressing them.

Executives at Williamson-Dickie contacted Harris Laboratories, located in Washington, D.C., to develop a permanent crease that could be processed into a cotton workpant. As the developer of Toni Home Permanents, a permanent wave for hair, Harris Laboratories was confident that they could develop a permanent crease for pants as well. After just one year of research, the company developed a permanent press that actually worked; unfortunately, the treatment that allowed cotton pants to form a permanent press so weakened the material that after one or two washings the garment practically disintegrated. Irate customers complained to Williamson-Dickie about shredding pants, while also complimenting the company on the beautiful crease on the front of the trousers. Undismayed by this temporary setback, Williamson-Dickie and Harris Laboratories worked together to blend polyester with cotton to give the fabric more strength. From that time forward, permanent press became the standard for workpants, and Williamson-Dickie issued an unconditional guarantee on the quality and durability of all the company's work clothes.

During the late 1950s, the company expanded its marketing efforts in Europe and the Middle East. American oilfield workers contracted for jobs in the Middle East introduced clothes manufactured by Williamson-Dickie that became popular throughout the entire region. In 1960, the company opened a manufacturing plant in Belize; one year later, however, Hurricane Hattie destroyed the entire operation. After the factory was rebuilt, jeans and work clothes from the Belize factory were exported to England, and later, as the plant grew and became more efficient, clothing items manufactured in Belize were sold in the United States.

1960s-80s: Lobbying for Changes, Exploring New Markets

At this time, one of Williamson-Dickie's competitors began importing into the United States a garment made in a Caribbean nation that severely undercut Williamson-Dickie's prices on one of its most popular items. Executives at Williamson-Dickie concluded that the competing company must be using the "American Goods Returned" section of the Tariff Act to reduce the import duty paid on the garment, allowing the competitor to sell the item at a lower cost than Williamson-Dickie's imports. Williamson-Dickie teamed up with three other American apparel manufacturers to lobby for a change in the Tariff Act regarding re-importing goods; their provision--in Sections 806.30 and 807--allowed American apparel companies to manufacture clothes in Mexico or the Caribbean with U.S. fabrics and fibers, and then return the garments for sale within the United States, paying duty only on the value of the foreign labor. This provision in the Tariff Act created a huge American apparel industry in Mexico and the Caribbean, which, due to low labor costs in these regions, was able to remain competitive in the face of low-priced imports from China, Taiwan, and Korea.

During the early 1970s, Williamson-Dickie purchased the General Diaper Corporation, one of the largest diaper manufacturers in the United States. General Diaper was in the process of switching over to the manufacture of disposable diapers; in addition, the company opened two industrial laundry facilities in New Orleans and Houston, acquired a plastics company that made film for the healthcare product market, and acquired a dental supply firm. This diversification provided Williamson-Dickie with additional revenues to help increase its share of the work clothes market.

During the mid- and late 1970s, Williamson-Dickie began to dominate the work clothes market. As the Williamson-Dickie brand continued to grow more and more popular with the general public, the company expanded its product line to include such garments as matching shirt and pant work clothes, jackets, coveralls, overalls, painter pants, jeans, thermal underwear, bandannas, sweatshirts, socks, caps, work boots, flannel shirts, work gloves, and belts. The company also opened a number of stores in the southern United States that sold uniforms and matching accessories, including postman and policeman uniforms, holsters, footwear, and special uniform underwear.

Leadership at Williamson-Dickie had completely changed by the 1970s, with the original founders having retired and non-family members hired to manage the operations of the company. Dickie Industrial Services was created during the 1970s to formalize the company's operation of industrial laundry services throughout the South, Southwest, and West Coast regions of the United States. With 14 facilities, Williamson-Dickie was the leader in renting and laundering uniforms for employees from every walk of life, including security guards, police officers, firefighters, fast-food restaurant workers, laboratory technicians, and many more.

During the 1980s, the General Diaper Company changed its name to the Blessings Corporation and focused its efforts on manufacturing plastic products for the healthcare and agricultural industries; developing its Publishing Division, which provided informational materials for new mothers; and growing its Geri-Care Division, which made healthcare products for the elderly. The company's industrial laundries operation and the apparel divisions were highly lucrative. By the end of the decade, Williamson-Dickie reported an annual growth rate of nearly 15 percent, and the company's manufacturing facilities, although concentrated in mostly southern states, were also thriving in California, New Jersey, and a number of Caribbean countries.

End of the Century: A Fashion Statement

The advent of the 1990s saw increased competition within the international apparel industry, with many American clothing manufacturers, including Williamson-Dickie, threatened by international imports. At the same time, these companies benefited from a new and unexpected demand for their products by young urban customers, who made work clothes a fashion trend. Increasing sales to this market segment allowed Williamson-Dickie to move beyond its traditional blue-collar customers. With the realization that the Dickies brand was successfully crossing over from the work crowd to the leisure crowd, the company made some adjustments in both its product line and its marketing strategies. It expanded its line of jeanswear, capturing a segment of the market that it had previously been losing to manufacturers such as Levi's, Wrangler, and Lee. It also launched a national ad campaign for its jeans in Parade and People magazine, and on country music radio stations.

The company opened its first factory store outlet, in Orlando, Florida, during the mid-1990s. The store featured the company's brand-name work clothes, along with other sportswear and accessories. Williamson-Dickie entered another new channel by placing its work clothes--including painter's pants, coveralls, and long-tail T-shirts--in home improvement warehouse chains, and also contracted with Itochu of Japan for the latter company to distribute work clothes to Japanese consumers.

By the late 1990s, Dickies' popularity as a fashion statement had increased to a surprising degree. The company's clothes were featured in slick fashion magazines, sold in expensive boutiques, and seen on rap and hip-hop artists, models, and movie stars. This sudden chic had a positive impact on the company's sales, boosting them by an average of 10 percent annually throughout the end of the decade. Even so, Williamson-Dickie remained relatively unmoved by all the fuss, maintaining a low-profile and a steadfast focus on producing much the same types of clothing it always had.

While it refrained from diversifying its manufacturing operations, the company did expand the range of Dickies-labeled products by stepping up its licensing program. Since the 1980s, Williamson-Dickie had been licensing its brand to a handful of manufacturers--makers of socks, belts, footwear, and certain types of clothing. But in 1996 and 1997, as the Dickies name gained new cachet, the company recognized the potential for marketing other Dickies-branded products. A series of deals followed: with watchmaker M.Z. Berger to produce watches; with outerwear maker Amerex to produce jackets; with Hampton Industries to produce sports shirts; and with Yak Pak to make backpacks.

In 1998, the company sold its majority share of Blessings Corporation, and the following year made an acquisition that better aligned with its core business: Workrite Uniform Co. Workrite, a California-based maker of flame-retardant work clothing, was the market leader in safety apparel for the oil, gas, and other hazardous industries. It was a particularly good fit for Williamson-Dickie because the companies' product lines complemented each other but did not overlap. After the acquisition, Workrite continued to operate as a separate entity.

2000 and Beyond

As the old century gave way to the new, Williamson-Dickie continued to focus on producing durable work-related clothing. The demand for such clothing remained strong--across various markets. As school uniforms became increasingly popular throughout the nation, the company boosted its already existing children's uniform line by teaming up with J.C. Penney. The partnership, formed in June 2000, provided for Dickies uniforms to be sold through the retailer's popular catalog and online store. In 2001, Williamson-Dickie made a similar arrangement with Wal-Mart, and began test marketing a Dickies school uniform line called "Head of the Class." If the uniforms tested well, it appeared likely that they would be rolled out to more Wal-Mart stores, and offered to other retailers as well.

Williamson-Dickie also continued to enhance its market presence and its revenues through licensing agreements. In 2000, the company added E.J. Footwear to its list of licensees, allowing the Tennessee-based company to produce and market a Dickies line of boots and shoes. In 2001, it awarded its largest licensing program ever, with apparel maker Dino di Milano. The Miami-based manufacturer planned to produce a line of knit and woven shirts featuring the Dickies logo.

Principal Subsidiaries: Workrite Uniform Co.

Principal Competitors: Carhartt, Inc.; Levi Strauss & Co.; VF Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • Barron, Kelly, "The Kids Are Crazy About Them," Forbes, June 15, 1998, p. 72.
  • Gellers, Stan, "Dickies Fashions the Work Ethic," Daily News Record, May 12, 2000, p. 3.
  • Hancox, Clara, "And Now--For the Last Time--What Will It Take to Survive into the Next Century?" Daily News Record, June 28, 1993, p. 23.
  • Jarnagin, DeAnna, "Home Improvement Hits Prime Time," Daily News Record, April 24, 1992, p. 3.
  • Parola, Robert, "Workwear Grows New Fashion Muscle," Daily News Record, May 19, 1993, p. 4.
  • Vargo, Julie, "New Dickies Outlet Plays to Worker and Hip-Hopper," Daily News Record, February 18, 1994, p. 4.
  • ------, "Work Clothes Bring Fashion to the Street," Daily News Record, November 18, 1994, p. 3.
  • Wadsworth, Kim, "Dickies: 75 Years of Hard-Working Fashion," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, September 1, 1997, p. E1.
  • Walsh, Peter, "Itochu of Japan," Daily News Record, December 8, 1993, p. 16.
  • Williamson, C. Dickie, Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company, New York: Newcomen Society, 1985.
  • "Williamson Dickie Introduces International Pro Rodeo Cowboy Jean," Daily News Record, April 19, 1995, p. 4.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 45. St. James Press, 2002.