Deciding to do something scary and out of the comfort zone creates an incredible impetus. If left unchecked that force can send you down an uncharted path where anything can happen.
We made the decision to step away from the comfort zone of our relatively successful small businesses a couple years ago, to pursue a more incredible dream for our lives. One where creative juices and adventure reigned supreme in what ever form we desired at the moment. It led us to starting West America, and on to this journey from Whistler B.C. to Patagonia. The incredible amount of awesome that has come our way and that we have been able to make happen has all spawned from a scary decision to throw that security to the wind and see what happens.
While we were out in Portland having this existential reawakening Nick Brayton and Josh Rich were doing some pot stirring of their own on the other side of the country. In march of 2012 they became the leaders of Woolrich, their family business, and were setting out to redirect a very large ship towards some lofty goals. Ones that included a commitment to manufacturing and sourcing in the USA, as well as making this heritage brand relevant to a younger audience. Nick, the president of Woolrich, and Josh the V.P. are 7th and 8th generation Woolrich blood, and know a thing or two about this historic company's legacy. They are extremely motivated to continue in a way that would do it proud. The Woolrich they took over was one that still owned and operated the countries oldest continually running woolen mill and and still produced amazing woolen fabric day in, day out. However, like the majority of the garment industry, Woolrich had out sourced most of it's garment production to Asia, while also suffering from a disconnect with the younger audience. Nick and Josh had a vision for Woolrich that would require some big moves, moves that are well outside of the comfort zone of the garment manufacturing industry now a days. A vision we were about to become much more acquainted with…
This past January, Gehron Burkholder who is Woolrich's west coast marketing representative and a key person in this reinvigorated Woolrich, reached out to us. He was stoked on what we were doing and wanted to meet up and tell us a little about what was going on with them. We hit it off right away, and it was obvious that this was a good dude. While we were getting acquainted, Gehron was telling us about all the changes and motivations going on over at Woolrich and we were telling Gehron about our up coming trip to South America. There was a growing mutual stoke happening and we felt like something rad could happen here. Then right at the same time, Nick Brayton dropped an open letter out into the world from Woolrich outlining the direction they were taking and their commitment to American manufacturing. Once we read that letter we were fully hooked. It was really exciting to be hearing all this from a company the size of Woolrich. These folks were shaking it up!
Soon after, we began talking about really trying to do something together. It made so much sense. One of our biggest passions that we constantly advocate for is american manufacturing, and here is a company with the motivation and the resources to really make a difference there and create jobs. We thought it would be really cool to start out with something simple and direct, and began talking about doing a Woolrich/West America Camp Blanket. We wanted to put something out sooner than later and it seemed like a blanket was the obvious course with a hope of doing some actual garments in the future. It was awesome how the excitement radiated through everyone involved and the ideas around the project were snowballing quickly. It was obvious that the new heads at Woolrich had big plans and where willing to invest the time and finances to create something relevant and special.
Before we knew it, we were all talking very seriously about producing a cobranded capsule line of American made goods inspired by our trip to Patagonia. So rad and exciting!
As the talks and excitement built, we all felt that it was time for us to have a visit to Woolrich.
In March, we boarded a plane and set off for New York City, the new home of Woolrich's design offices. Upon arrival we were greated by Karuna Scheinfeld, Woolrich's V.P. of design and Donna Fitch, Woolrich's merchandiser and the four of us immediately jumped in a car and drove out to Woolrich Pennsylvania three and a half hours away. The drive through the rural Pennsylvania farm land allowed us to get to know each other and talk about our ideas in person. Right from the beginning there was an instant bond with Karuna and you could tell she understood us and what we were thinking with the collection. She created a comfort that would define the collaboration from that point on.
We pulled into Woolrich late in the night and met up with Gehron at the Woolrich lodge. He had come out for our visit also, and we all had a nice little catch up before crashing out.
The next day was amazing. We woke early to the sun glistening over the Appalachian foot hills and made our way to the mill. There, we met all the awesome people that we had been talking to over emails and phone calls, and got to put faces to all of the excitement. It was an incredibly reassuring experience. The same good vibes and enthusiasm that we found with Gehron seemed to carry through everyone at Woolrich. Then we got to take a tour of the mill.
Walking through the mill is an incomparable experience, the place is surreal and massive. Watching the wool start at one end of the plant and slowly makes its way into a finished product on the other end is fascinating. Each step involves skilled hands able to adjust and modify the process as they go, to read the wool and make the necessary changes. There are no computers replacing the human mind. Oil cans are next to each machine and you can feel the sense of pride the people working here have in knowing their machine in and out. In the center of the mill there is a fully equipped machine shop with shelves of gears and bushings waiting to replace worn components. It takes a skilled team to keep everything running smooth, and many of the individuals working in the mill are second and third generation Woolrich employees.
Our tour ended in the archives where we found rolls upon rolls of deadstock wool that we got to sort through and select from for our collection. A pretty incredible sight. We dug through the rolls with Karuna and Gehron, looking for the right weights, and weaves. There were so many incredible fabrics sitting up there but the find of the day was definitely the 18 yards of Woolcam that Woolrich last produced in 1991. We had exchanged many emails with Gehron about how rad the printed wool camo that they used to do was and we were all really hoping to find some there. It was sitting far back in a corner, and had us hollering with excitement upon it's discovery. Not enough to produce any runs of garments we ended up making 122 hats out of it, and they are awesome!
Over the next couple days in Woolrich we toured the beautiful country side and gave Karuna all our ideas about the pieces. In stride, she gave her years of expertise and some redirection. We all understood that we wanted to make pieces that functioned on the bikes and looked great off the bikes. Simple and robust clothing for everyday use. We don't have much cargo space on the bikes so it all needed to be multi functional and work together. Plus, we really want to avoid looking like storm troopers when we roll into a new town! It was awesome how she could take these ideas from a couple guys who have no real clue about clothing design and turn them into well thought out garments.
A couple months after our visit out to Woolrich we met up with Karuna in Portland Oregon for what we thought would be the first in a series of fittings and adjustments. What we ended up trying on was perfect! A testament to the skills of Karuna and her team, the prototypes needed nothing changed other than superficial details. It was amazing, we went from an idea to spot on samples in two months and now shipping the actual production at the beginning of December this year. That process normally takes a good 18 months and because of the motivation and talent at Woolrich it happened in 9 months. Pretty amazing and a constant honor to work with them.
Over the next year we are going to put this line through the grinder as we live off our motorcycles and in our tents traveling to Patagonia and back. Designed to take that serious beating and be life long possessions, I can't wait to look at it once all that life has happened in it.