If you have a suit that was made in America, chances are that it was not entirely made in America, since the fabric was most likely produced somewhere else, like Italy. Last week, I attended a launch party celebrating a company that hopes to change that.
Founded in 1899, American Woolen Company was once the leading producer of worsted and woolen suiting fabrics in this country. With 58 textile mills in New England that employed over 40,000 people, American Woolen Company was known for its fine quality and its innovative methods.
In 2014, the company re-launched under new ownership and leadership, acquiring Warren Mills in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. The mill itself was founded in 1853 and garnered a reputation for making fine camel hair and cashmere fabrics. When the renowned Italian woolmaker Loro Piana purchased the mill in 1988, they introduced worsted wool production. Today, Warren Mills serves as the headquarters of American Woolen Company and remains the only domestic mill that makes superlative quality worsted and woolen fabrics.
As of this writing, one of the only ways to get one’s hands on a suit made with the fine wool from American Woolen Company is from J.Crew’s partnership with legendary tailor Martin Greenfield, available exclusively at J.Crew’s Ludlow Shop in TriBeCa or their Men’s Shop on Madison Avenue in NYC. They go for around $1600-$1700, which is pretty steep for most men I know (though one must consider that these exquisitely crafted suits are made by hand in Brooklyn).
Only decades ago, over ninety-five percent of what Americans wore was made in America. Now the opposite is true, thanks to the cut-costs-at-all-costs ethos of corporations that took production (and jobs) out of the country. An American-made garment is a rarity in the bloated closets of fast-fashion shoppers ravenous for cheaper and more.
In the years I’ve been hammering out this blog with an eye on good value for men on a budget, I’ve learned that cheaper certainly gets you more, but it doesn’t necessarily get you better. I’ve recently written about shoes in this respect, noting that my Aldens, which are made in Massachusetts, were certainly more expensive than something from Aldo or Cole Haan, but they were made with the best materials and with a level of craftsmanship that yielded a superlative boot, making them a far better value in the long run. The same would be true of a hand-crafted suit made with exquisite wool. And when it’s made in the U.S.A., even better.
There is an undeniable pride in the “Made in the USA” story. Look at the success of Shinola in Detroit. Not necessarily cheap by H&M, Topman or Timex standards, but certainly well made. And who doesn’t love a comeback kid like Detroit?
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if other American suit makers like Hart Schaffer Marx, Hickey Freeman and custom tailors worked with American Woolen Company, producing American-made suits with American-made wools? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it grew beyond an exclusive luxury niche market and became more accessible to discerning, quality-conscious men on a tighter budget? It would be good for everybody. One can dream.
It was very nice to meet American Woolen Company. I look forward to seeing more of them – and hopefully wearing them – in what appears to be a very bright future.