On the final day of a week-long stay on the West Coast, Schwab visited St. John Knits' headquarters here to see firsthand how the $400 million company produces its basic yet classic knit suits that have become an integral part of her own wardrobe.
"It's U.S. made, it's quality, it's value for money," Schwab said, as she enumerated St. John's appeal to women like herself, as well as public officials ranging from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.) to Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, whom Schwab confided that she has given St. John accessories.
Schwab bought her first piece by St. John in 1989, when, as assistant secretary of commerce in president George H.W. Bush's administration, she logged many days on the road, as she still does.
For last week's trip to Los Angeles — her first since she was nominated to the cabinet-level post of U.S. Trade Representative in April 2006 — Schwab packed a St. John-exclusive wardrobe to visit Hollywood studios and meet with music industry executives, members of the Korean-American community and other business groups in Los Angeles and Irvine. She also traveled to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show.
St. John was the only apparel company Schwab visited. In addition to being one of her favorite labels, the 46-year-old company, which produces 90 percent of its garments domestically, represents an American firm that has survived drastic changes in the apparel and textiles industry, where jobs have increasingly migrated overseas during the past two decades.
Along with an hour-long tour of St. John's design and production studios with president and chief operating officer Bruce Fetter and a visit to a warehouse filled with clothes ready to be shipped to outlet stores, Schwab held private meetings with chief executive officer Glenn McMahon and co-founder Marie Gray, who unveiled the latest designs.
"It's always good to see thriving, successful U.S. entrepreneurs," Schwab said. "I like to support them."
Because Schwab also is a St. John customer, the tour was a particular treat for her. Following Fetter through rooms dedicated to knitting, embroidery, appliqués, digital printing and other jobs, Schwab punctuated her host's descriptions with spirited comments.