We Can Do It!
Execs Reiterate How Doable, & Important, it Is to Source & Create in the U.S.
When production workers needed some positive reinforcement during WWII, Rosie the Riveter reminded employees to give it their all. In today’s volatile society, it feels like we can all use a similar morale boost.
Here we profile three long-standing domestic organizations that are rising above the fray, despite trials and tribulations they face, and reminding us that we can do the same.
Domestic Dedication Established in 1903
Stormy Kromer has a solid USA-manufacturing base, producing 90 percent of its products domestically, with the majority coming out of Ironwood, MI. Stormy Kromer designer Jamie LaBo sits across the street from a production facility. “It is incredibly helpful both in regards to the accessibility of the materials, as well as being able to discuss a pattern or garment directly with the pattern maker or engineer,” she said of the locale.
Due to a recent boost in demand, Stormy Kromer is on the hunt to expand production domestically, and is in the midst of development with facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin (there are also talks with New York and New Jersey facilities for preferred production capacities such as mitten production, bags and apparel). In addition, the firm is striving to develop more fabric supply with U.S. mills, like American Woolen and Draper Wool.
“The benefits of being so local are clarity of communication, timing and trust.” – Jamie LaBo, Designer, Stormy Kromer
“The benefits of being so local are clarity of communication, timing and trust,” said LaBo. Stormy Kromer continues to expand offerings in areas where they have had success — like specialty hats, where they have been able to do short runs with a few hundred pieces — while also adding year-round products like wraps, ball caps and hoodies.
Expanding reach is a challenge the brand faces when it comes to creating more products for women (it is traditionally a brand shopped more by men). “We are calculating how much opportunity we have,” stated the exec, adding, “we want to design and execute a large and extensive collection to fill her wardrobe, but we don’t want to overproduce when there are not as many sales. We are constantly walking a tightrope.”
Celebrating 90 Years of Craftsmanship
2022 marks 90 years of the Rocky brand delivering rugged footwear for military, workers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Rocky began when brothers F.M. and William Brooks moved their families to start a shoe factory in Nelsonville, OH during the Great Depression, using a rent-free building and borrowed equipment. Its footwear is still designed in Nelsonville today, with spring 2022 welted footwear styles IronClad and Elk Stalker also manufactured domestically. Features of many of the brand’s IronClad boot collection include slip and oil-resistant outsoles, waterproof construction and Rocky Air-Port comfort insoles; while Elk Stalker offers Goodyear welt construction, 3M Thinsulate insulation, a raised heel for stability and a tall boot shaft to keep debris out.
“In the past five years, a lot of consumers have made the switch to only purchase Made in USA footwear, and we are offering new styles every season across our categories to meet this demand,” noted Mike Roundhouse, brand general manager for Rocky Boots. With that, the firm looks to expand its USA collection further, specifically with a late fall launch called WorkSmart USA. Here the firm will utilize an outsole construction combining comfort and durability that is more efficient to mass produce. “It will be a tremendous benefit for Rocky, our retail partners, and the end consumer wearing Rocky boots,” explained the exec.
“In the past five years, a lot of consumers have made the switch to only purchase Made in USA footwear, and we are offering new styles every season across our categories to meet this demand.” – Mike Roundhouse, Brand General Manager, Rocky Boots
Rocky also offers American made boots that are Berry Compliant, meaning they use USA-made materials and components, for the public service sector and military.
DRAPER KNITTING COMPANY
Six Generations of Service
Draper Knitting is a family run organization based in Canton, MA, with a 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. Since 1856 it has offered fabrics and fibers to the likes of Tracksmith (their signature “grayboy” fabric) Globe firefighter boots, Sherwin Williams (paint rollers) and for 25 years, fabrics for the Patagonia Retro and Retro X programs.
“One of the hardest things to hear from brands is “we can’t make it in the USA,” noted Kristin Draper, president of Draper Knitting Company. “With comprehensive lists of services from FabricLink and Seams, rest assured, it can be made in the USA!”
After two years of very few trade shows, Draper witnessed brands eager to find fabrics made in the USA during SHOT Show 2022, where she exhibited. “Folks are tired of waiting for containers, very large minimums and longer lead times. The ability to pick up the phone and talk with us is a big advantage,” she said. \
“Folks are tired of waiting for containers, very large minimums and longer lead times. The ability to pick up the phone and talk with us is a big advantage.” – Kristin Draper, President, Draper Knitting Company
That’s not to say there are no challenges producing domestically; Number one is people. While raw materials shortages also sting, the firm benefits from long-standing relationships with suppliers. Repairs on machinery has been a thorn-in-the-side with a repair or motor normally obtainable in a week now taking 8-10 weeks.
Being both established, while still nimble, Draper Knitting has been able to survive and continue to make everything to order. Small designer YONY worked with the firm on their menswear collection which is a refined take on Americana, inspired by the 1950’s. Its Reversible Wool Jacket features fully traceable fiber from Shaniko Wool Company, an Oregon-based business that Draper Knitting worked with to knit the finished fabric.