NYMD’s American Woolen Alliance

by William Buckley

It’s the final countdown. Exactly one week until New York Men’s Day and the start of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. As we try to get all our ducks lined up for the August print issue (it isn’t frantic in the office at all right now, promise), we’ll bring you daily information and interviews in anticipation of NYMD and the inaugural NYFWM.

Alongside headline sponsor Cadillac, NYMD has formed a partnership with American Woolen, who have the similar goal of supporting American menswear designers. The alliance will offer the emerging talent access to fabrics and manufacturing, educating them and supporting them in an ongoing collaborative partnership.

Last week, MR had the opportunity to accompany NYMD’s Erin Hawker and designers for Cadet, Boyswear, David Hart, Eponymovs by Hvrminn, and Kenneth Ning, as well as representatives from American Woolen’s sales agent, Creare, on a trip to the charming town of Stafford, CT, for a tour of American Woolen’s facilities led by CEO (and missing third Caten brother of what could have been Dcubed3) Jacob Long.

Long, who enjoyed a successful career in finance, spent 20 years working in Europe with a large portion spent in Milan where he developed extensive contacts in and a deep appreciation of the Italian textile industry.

“My involvement in the mill started through a convergence of events,” explains Long. “First, my work with a struggling German precision machining operation and an Italian bespoke cut and sew manufacturer brought me directly into contact with “craft manufacturing”. Rather than chasing efficiencies, these two businesses working in different end markets were both striving to be more effective and consumer responsive. For them, manufacturing is craft. About the same time, I met and chatted at length with an entrepreneur who had started a domestic casual apparel brand that stressed the Made in America credentials. The brand was tremendously successful due its credentials and style aesthetic. Consumers gravitated to the label due to its heritage status.  Similarly, the explosive growth of the American craft beer market taught me that American ingenuity combined with a clear understanding of market trends is a very potent mix. Finally, there is a clear trend in America toward men dressing better. After decades of decline, the tailored menswear market has awoken from its slumber and is growing rapidly. Connecting the dots made me realize that there was an emerging market niche in American tailored clothing that had tremendous potential. About the same time, someone had mentioned that Warren Mill of Stafford Springs, Connecticut, which was America’s last remaining worsted/woolen mill, was going to close its doors after 160 years. The mill was considered world class. I made some phone calls, spent time at the kitchen table and hammered out a business plan that became American Woolen Company.”

Warren Mill was founded in 1853, and has enjoyed a significant position in the American textile industry. In the late 1920’s, American Woolen controlled over 20% of US worsted and woolen production. Originally a producer of fine camel hair and cashmere textiles, Warren was purchased in 1988 by Italian fabric manufacturer Loro Piana SPA. Long acquired the assets of American Woolen Company and Warren Mills with the goal to replicate the European approach to textile manufacturing in the United States.

Looking for a way to support the newly young American menswear industry, he was introduced to Hawker by mutual friend and industry veteran Rich Honiball. “[Honiball] knew American Woolens was looking to partner with young, emerging talent to showcase wool in a new light,” explains Hawker. “Their interest in building the American, luxury apparel supply chain was very much in line with our efforts at Agentry PR and NYMD.”

With a common mission, an alliance between the two companies is exciting for the designers lucky enough to be involved, but also for the American apparel industry as a whole. Designers at NYMD will each have the opportunity to use American Woolen’s FW16 fabrics in their collections, which will showcase at NYMD next season.

“The Fall 2016 offering from American Woolen is by far the most exciting and comprehensive collection of fabrics made in the USA in decades,” enthuses Creare Group CEO/Founder Kevin Lynk. “It’s great to see such a talented array of designers collaborating with American Woolen on the NYMD presentation”