A total of 75 permanent employees of Russell Brands LLC were notified Friday that they would be laid off.
Alexander City Mayor Jim Nabors confirmed late Friday that company officials had notified the city of the move. The reduction in force is expected to drop the number of people employed at what is now primarily a distribution center down to around 250 people.
“It’s just sad for the employees and for Alexander City,” Nabors said. “We will reach out and do what we can to offer assistance. For those of us who were part of Russell for so long, it’s just another tough pill to swallow.”
Russell Brands, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, is a supplier and distributor of sports equipment and apparel under many brands, including Russell Athletic, Spalding, Huffy Sports, Bike Athletic and American Athletic Inc.
Attempts to reach company officials for comment were unsuccessful late Friday, but it is believed that one factor is the discontinuation of team athletic apparel. That entire operation was shut down at the end of 2017.
Just six years ago, Russell Brands still had 750 employees in Alexander City. Earlier this year when it was announced that the company would cease manufacturing of athletic team uniforms, company officials said it was unclear how the move would impact the estimated 500 Russell employees who were working in Alexander City at that time.
Russell got its start in 1902 in Alexander City and has operated continuously in Alexander City since that time.
While Russell has been a trusted name in apparel for more than a century, it was the team uniform line production that fueled a meteoric rise from the 1970s through the mid-1990s.
Most industry followers say Russell Athletic was at its peak in 1992 when it signed a five-year contract with Major League Baseball teams to be the exclusive provider of uniforms. In 1995, Russell rode those team ties to reach a record $1.25 billion in sales. The company had 18,000 employees worldwide at that time.
But five years later, the company began a tailspin. The company headquarters were moved to Atlanta in 1999 and about 6,000 jobs were eliminated by 2002 as many jobs were moved to Mexico and Honduras.
In 2006, Russell Corporation was purchased by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for $600 million and was made a division of Fruit of the Loom.
It wasn’t long before nearly all but about 1,000 Russell jobs in Alexander City were lost.
Since then the numbers of employees has steadily dwindled.