Woolrich’s American Mill Closure Is a Failure of Made in USA Investment, Not Value

Cathalijne Adams

Cathalijne Adams Researcher/Writer, AAM

Since its founding in 1830, Woolrich mills have made iconic American textiles. Yet, the company has cast aside its Woolrich, Pa., mill and the generations of mill workers that have played an integral role in the brand’s success.

Frustratingly, America’s oldest continuously operating mill that processes raw wool and weaves it for finished textiles closed in December 2018 not due to waning interest in the Made in USA quality and heritage of the Woolrich brand, but because its owners failed to invest in its continued growth despite the company’s success.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, Woolrich increasingly let its heritage mill flounder as it turned to cheaper labor overseas.

Because of this failure to see the value of preserving the artisan traditions established by the mill since its founding in 1845, Woolrich mill workers, many of whose fathers and mothers invested decades of their lives in the mill and whose own lives have been spent working there, are now grappling with uncertain futures.

Despite collaborations with artists like Drake, Woolrich was doomed without the capital to replace its aging equipment, The Wall Street Journal reports.

As the descendants of Woolrich’s founder gradually sold their company stock and control of the business passed from one outside investor to another, hope that the new controlling owners of Woolrich would focus efforts on saving the company’s legacy mill died.

Nonetheless, attempts were made to rescue the mill from demise. John Walsh, a textile entrepreneur who had successfully defended his family’s historic textile mill in Great Britain from the threat of overseas manufacturing, offered to purchase Woolrich’s mill, but the company refused.

In November 2018 the mill’s true death knell rang with the company’s announcement of a planned closure by 2019.

As Woolrich redoubles its focus on overseas manufacturing, it fails to recognize that not only is the Made in USA label threaded with patriotism and community, but, from a purely financial perspective, it also represents a powerful marketing angle that was an integral part of Woolrich’s legacy.

As other heritage brands like Red Wing Shoes and Fox River continue to grow by celebrating their Made in America histories, we can only hope that others take note and do the same.  

For now, blankets made in Woolrich’s Pennsylvania mill are still available for purchase online, so snap them up before this part of American manufacturing history disappears.

If you’re looking for a new retailer for you Made in USA wool products, be sure to check out wool clothing company Duckworth, based in Bozeman, Mo. Learn more about how Duckworth’s commitment to keeping its products made in America from sheep to shelf here.

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Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

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