Apparel manufacturers are a scarce breed in today’s U.S. textile landscape. Low-cost imports and high labor costs forced much of the domestic apparel manufacturing sector offshore in recent decades.
But in certain product areas, this trend can be reversed, as Kentwool Inc. and American Woolen Company have found by using a vertically-integrated business model. By controlling the production process from yarn spinning to finished product, Kentwool and American Woolen are finding success with premium apparel brands focused on wool, a natural fiber known for its thermal comfort, breathability and ability to be worn across seasons.
Kentwool and American Woolen both have histories going back more than a century. While their products and end markets may be very different, the commitment to quality, craftsmanship and heritage are equally important to both forward-looking, modern manufacturers.
Kentwool is a family-owned and -operated company that more recently applied its expertise in wool yarn spinning to launch an apparel business known as Kentwool Performance Apparel. Established in 1843 in Pennsylvania by Thomas Kent and now headquartered in Greenville, S.C., Kentwool owns a 135,000-square-foot state-of-the-art wool-based yarn spinning facility in nearby Pickens, which houses approximately 20,000 spindles and produces yarn from 100-percent wool or wool/man-made blends. In addition to its generations-old, high-quality wool yarn operation, the company boasts a thriving consumer-facing, ultra-premium performance sock business.
American Woolen Company recently gained new life thanks to the dedication and vision of Jacob Harrison Long. Established in 1899, the company grew to become the world’s largest wool manufacturer in the early 20th century. But years after its heyday, the company had diminished and become primarily an importer and wholesaler of woolen blankets. Long purchased the brand in 2013, and later had the opportunity to invest in a manufacturing location in the form of historic Stafford Springs, Conn.-based Warren Mill – a cashmere and camel hair woolen fabrics plant with more than 150 years of history. Under the leadership of CEO Long and President and COO Jennifer Knight, American Woolen Company is reestablishing itself as a premiere, luxury brand name, and is finding success once again as a fine worsted and woolen textile manufacturer.
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