Faribault Woolen Mill

My first visit to Faribault Woolen Mill was a little over seven years ago. As part of an intro-to-production training, I ventured to the mill with around twenty of my peers, eagerly anticipating what the day-to-day in a factory would be like.

faribault-mill-woolRaw white and black wool is processed and spun to create grey yarn.

If I recall correctly, we, the business-analysts-in-training, outnumbered the team working at the mill that day and the mill was producing only a handful of different blankets. It felt slow, almost as if everything had stopped just for us, although I know now that that wasn’t the case. Nonetheless, we were given an entirely thorough tour – the team proudly explained how they turned raw wool into yarn and then wove said yarn into blankets, and thoughtfully answered our questions about production, lead times, and the like.

faribault-woolCombing the white & black wool.

I left thinking I knew how a factory worked. I also remember thinking that it was ironic that a company that we would never work with was taking the time to teach us – the people who would soon be importing products from everywhere in the world except from this mill in Minnesota- about production.

faribault-factoryThe mill is fully integrated, which means it can accomplish all production steps, from raw wool to finished goods. It is the only mill of it’s kind left in the United States… pretty incredible, right?

Since then, I’ve visited factories all over the world but the simple pride displayed during my first visit to Faribault has always stuck with me. I became accustomed to factory tours where the teams would boast about the state-of-the-art equipment or the multiple production shifts ensuring product flow was consistent, but I never again saw a factory where the team was solely focused on – and proud of – preserving their craft and working with what they had. I knew they existed, but I wasn’t lucky enough to work with them.

faribault-mill-machineryMost of the machines are from the 1940s-1960s and many are no longer produced, so the teams conduct proactive maintenance to ensure they remain viable. 

It felt like I’d come full circle when I visited Faribault again a few weeks back.  I first visited to learn about production, to utilize the knowledge I gained to import product. Now I was there as a friend, with a goal of sharing the experience with you and celebrating the brand that Faribault has become. I’m a factory nerd at heart – the daughter of an engineer and a scientist/maker, I love to see how things are made. But to say that my most recent visit to Faribault was powerful is not quite enough.

faribault-spun-yarnYarn!

Faribault is more than a mill; it is an incredible, proud community. That pride and sense of community is why I was given such an outstanding tour years ago, even though my work was indirectly responsible for the change in consumer behavior that had put the mill in danger of closing. And that proud community, combined with hard work, calculated risks, and a belief in heritage values and production, is why Faribault is what it is today.

faribault-yarn-spoolsYarn is spun onto spools for use on the looms. 

It wasn’t easy. The mill, which had been open since 1865, closed in the middle of the workday in 2009 – the middle of the day! Can you imagine?  The machines were tagged for sale to a company in Pakistan, and the building sat unused for two years, managed by a devoted caretaker who remains integral to Faribault operations today. In 2012, the mill was purchased by Chuck and Paul Mooty, local businessmen who believed in the brand and the value of made-in-America  products and who understood that the rising price of wool overseas could make domestic production advantageous again.

faribault-factory-millYarn storage in the mill. 

The mill had flooded while closed, and no one could be sure the machines were still operable, but the Mooty’s took on reparations, updating the building, servicing the machinery, and adding new machines to modernize the process as needed. But they did not do this alone – when the plan to reopen the mill was announced, the craftspeople began to return. After the mill shut down, some employees had taken early retirement and others began new careers – many ended their retirements in order to return to Faribault, and one woman who was a few degrees short of completing a nursing degree even chose to forego the degree in order to return to the mill! The mill had been, and continues to be, a multigenerational family operation, and the employees were committed to it’s revival. They returned to rebuild the mill and the brand and to establish processes to ensure Faribault would be successful going forward. 

faribault-typewriterThis early 20th century typewriter is used to transmit patterns to the looms.

And it has been. The timing was apt, of course, given the resurgence of the made-in-American movement and of conscious consumerism, but most importantly, the new team behind Faribault stayed true to their heritage and continued to put out incredible, classic products. Today, we see Faribault at Steven Alan, at West Elm, at all of our favorite boutiques and in GQ and Martha Stewart… which means that the once quiet mill now employs almost 100 people and runs production lines each day.

faribault-mill-loom-blankets

faribault-mill-design-boardSometimes, I wonder if this site is worth it. I worry that, at the end of the day, TAE is still just pushing latent consumerism and can do little to change consumer behavior. This trip to Faribault was so powerful and reaffirming because I remembered (again) that it’s not about buying stuff. It’s not about having all the things. It’s about community, and family, and heritage, and following through on your beliefs and values. It’s because the why and the how are just as important as the what.

Without the Mooty’s belief in Faribault, and without the craftspeople and brilliant strategists who returned to rebuild the business, and without the retailers who believed in the brand and the consumers who chose to buy this incredible product, we wouldn’t have a story. But because of all of these people, because of this community, we do. And that is what makes it worth it.

fairbault-design-board

The factory store
faribault-mill-flag

 Original photography for The American Edit by Ashley Sullivan. Follow Ashley on Instagram!

Thank you to Bruce Bildsten and Jana Woodside for sharing the Faribault Mill story and taking us on the tour. Follow Faribault:

Art

One of my favorite parts of studio & shop visits are the inspiration and gallery walls… I love a chance to see what inspires each creative and how they choose to display these inspirations. I dream of making a version of this wall, or the Clare V. NYC wall, in our house… but the plaster walls make that a little difficult!

Some pieces I’d love to add to my collection…

garance-dore-oliver-jeffers-artLine Drawings : Garance Dore | Oliver Jeffers

color-photography-printsColorful Photography : Grey Malin | Print Club Boston | Max Wanger

framed-artFramed Pieces :Rebecca Atwood | Best Made Co. | Siri Knutson – The Foundry Home Goods 

black-and-white-artBlack & White: Carly Martin | Social Proper | Note to Self 

Pierrepont Hicks & Northern Grade

Katherine McMillan is the co-founder (with her husband, Mac) of Pierrepont Hicks and NorthernGrade, the first US-made pop up market. She recently moved back to New York after a stint in Minnesota and has been an instrumental supporter of the American-made movement…

I discovered Pierrepont Hicks a few years ago and fell in love with the passion and meaning behind the brand – it was incredibly inspiring to see local entrepreneurs use their previous experience to build a thoughtful business and retail brand. Today, I’m still in awe of the business Katherine and Mac are building and am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the inspiration and motivation behind the brand… Thanks, Katherine, for taking the time to share your story!

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

The people in my Instagram feed inspire me. My sister Helen, my daughters. Freunde von FreundenAnd of course my city: New York.

WHAT MADE YOU START YOUR LINE?
for men: We loved the wool ties we saw in Scotland when we got married and I knew I wanted to make some with a twist. We started with a lot of two-tones with wool and silks.

for women: A creative urge while pregnant and some missing pieces out there in the market for women like me.

WHO DO YOU DESIGN FOR?

Men and women who have a classic sensibility but like to push the limits a bit.

WHAT IS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR LINE?

I design for women who are athletic, thoughtful shoppers, trendsetters, sophisticated and smart. My shoes we make with Rancourt most exemplify this. I love a chukka and Rancourt does the best one out there.

pierrepont-hicks-inspiration-boards

WHAT DRIVES YOU?

I think we all have a natural need for purpose each day. I don’t know I just wake up and get excited about projects we are working on. I love to get really creative and hang out at my factory designing ties… which is probably weird since I am a woman. I mean I got excited about decorating my Christmas tree in a level that may be considered slightly abnormal.

WHAT MAKES YOUR DAY?

When my daughters eat broccoli… or anything green and good for them. It’s a struggle. Okay on the work front I would say my day is made when we get a nice email from a customer about how happy they are with the product. And of course getting flowers is nice.

WHAT ARE YOUR STYLE ESSENTIALS?

A good conditioner. My favorite lip gloss. My Mason Pearson brush. A nice soft tee shirt. Jeans. Boots. And I am never without my wool overcoat these days… it’s chilly!

WHAT IS NEXT?

Northern Grade NYC with GQ. We have some incredible partnerships in the works to head abroad with this thing. I hope it pans out. I am concerned because with any small idea, when you get bigger and have bigger companies involved the word ‘sell-out’ starts getting thrown around. We are never selling out, but we are trying to grow this thing. This means working with bigger brands and sponsors, who are interested in the domestic manufacturing thing, and want to support it. We are not a co-op where we trade selvedge denim for sweaters. We are a business and the ultimate goal is to create a vehicle for USA-made goods to garner visibility on a massive level.

pierrepont-hicks-america

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

The best thing I have learned this year is to turn off my iPhone from 5pm – 8pm to really be with my kids for dinner, bath and bed time. I think in my late 20s I learned about attention to detail like nurturing relationships with work partners… and then in my 30s I am learning about strategy and long-term planning. I have learned who I want to work with and why… it’s mostly about working with partners who understand how to reciprocate and plan. I love a good communicator. In this day and age there is no excuse for not replying to an email… it’s just good manners.

WHERE DO YOU DESIGN?

In my head. No really I do. I do design at my factory at a huge table in the conference room when it’s go-time. And then other times when I am working at home I just spread out on my bed with old magazines and books. I have a lot of weird, obscure old magazines.

WHERE ARE YOU MOST INSPIRED?
In New York City. And honestly: on Pinterest.
mrs-p-hicks-chukka
WHERE DO YOU MAKE YOUR LINE?

We have factories in New York City, Washington State, Minnesota and Maine.

WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO SHOP?

Kaufmann Mercantile. Terrain Shop. Nonchalantmom. Steven Alan. Need Supply Co. Totokaelo.

WHERE DO YOU ESCAPE?

We go to the woods on Pennsylvania and up to New England a lot. My favorite beach is in North Carolina. I love the woods and the beach but in the winter it’s by a roaring fire in the country.

WHY DO YOU MAKE YOUR COLLECTION?
Because if I did not do something creative I would not be happy.

pierrepont-hicks-london

WHAT MAKES YOUR COLLECTION DIFFERENT?
I think we like to play with colors and themes. We put a lot of care into each item. We don’t roll out 20 ties a season without each style being a labor of love. I don’t really know how to answer that one but I know moving forward we are working on more subtle patterns and classic staples.

WHERE DO YOU MAKE YOUR COLLECTION?

We have factories in New York City, Washington State, Minnesota and Maine.

WHY DO YOU MANUFACTURE IN AMERICA?

In the hopes that we can add to our growing economy. For my kids’ future.

mrs-p-hicks-shoes

WHY IS AMERICAN-MADE IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Quality and convenience. Lots of quality products come from other countries too. It’s more about being a smart consumer.

DOES MANUFACTURING IN AMERICA BENEFIT YOUR BUSINESS?

Yes and no. There are a lot of people out there who complain about higher pricing for domestically-manufactured products. I guess they have to ask why they don’t want to pay for the person who made this item to make a good living?  I think it’s good to buy a few things that are well-made and have less stuff. Sure we could make a lot more money if we made stuff in China. It’s just tough for me to think about even considering at this point. I love the people who make our stuff.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER MAKERS?

Take a leap of faith. It’s what life is all about and even if something does not work out, you will have learned from it and that means you’re growing and changing. If we’re stagnant, we’re nothing. Your instincts are usually right.

Use the tools out there. Keeping up with the tech out there can really help. Lumiary is one I use a ton for sales analytics.

mrs-p-hicks-2013Photos courtesy of Katherine McMillan / 1, 4, 5, & 6 via Collin Hughes

Follow Pierrepont Hicks:

People that do things.

Me too, Amy, me too.

Some of the best things I read this week…

The standing invitation to lose faith in yourself

I didn’t realize it until I read it, but somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I’m spending all of my time focusing on the things I didn’t do well or don’t know how to do rather than focusing on the fact that I’m trying, and that I’m doing my best. And that I can always ask for help. I’ll be reading and re-reading this going forward…

Women vs. Women – A little thing called Self Respect

Kate Arends on friendship and support among women. Kate was one of the very first bloggers I met (rather awkwardly, in typical Rita form) and she is incredibly supportive. I’m proud to know her.

Ladies against Humanity

Surprisingly, my most proper friend introduced this game into our lives, and I have laughed so hard I cried many times while playing – often at the look on her face when reading a card. These female-oriented options are hysterical.

CFDA Reveals New Strategy

Thrilled to see New York Manufacturing become a strategic initiative for the CFDA! I personally think it should be American manufacturing, but I’ll take what I can get!

The Art of New Beginnings

Sometimes it feels incredibly, painstakingly difficult to start over. But this article (about Miley Cyrus, with references to Kim K., Victoria Beckham and Kate Upton) makes me realize it can be slightly formulaic – and that millions of people have done it, so I can too.

SMP LIVING – Behind the Blog with Reading My Tea Leaves

I loved this interview with Erin and this advice is particularly fantastic: Spend less time doubting yourself and more time proving to yourself how great you are.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!