Business, casual and golf wear producer Hartmarx has posted almost doubled first-quarter earnings on a sales increase and better gross margin rate.

Net earnings rose to $4.2 million in the first quarter of 2005 compared to earnings of $2.2m in the same quarter in 2004.

Sales rose 5.3 per cent to $143.8m compared to $136.6m last year.

Homi Patel, chairman and chief executive officer of Hartmarx, said that strong sales throughout February had helped the better-than-expected sales and earnings increases.

Patel added that both the men's and women's retail divisions had seen better sales and that the company "remained comfortable" with its full-year predictions of a 30 per cent-40 per cent earnings growth and a low-to-mid single-digit sales increase.

Hartmarx produces and markets apparel under its own brands including Hart Schaffner Marx, Hickey-Freeman, Palm Beach, Coppley, Cambridge, Keithmoor, Society Brand, Racquet Club, Naturalife, Pusser's of the West Indies, Royal, Brannoch, Riserva, Sansabelt, Exclusively Misook, Barrie Pace and Aura.

In addition, the company has certain exclusive rights under licensing agreements to market selected products under a number of premier brands such as Austin Reed, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole, Burberry men's tailored clothing and Ted Baker.