Business to Business
December 15, 2015

Blanketed in tradition, pointed to the future

Woolrich, an iconic American outdoor clothing and accessories company, is growing through branded retail stores and a thriving online business.

Woolrich® Inc. oozes history and tradition as few companies do. The iconic outdoor clothing and accessories manufacturer is run by relatives of John Rich, who founded the company 185 years ago. The family lineage now stretches across eight generations.

The company is based in Woolrich, Pennsylvania, where employees in a 200-year-old woolen mill make blankets and fabric for clothing. It’s the oldest operating textile factory in the U.S.

But Woolrich isn’t entrenched in the past. With financing help from Wells Fargo, it has expanded beyond sales to retailers (and a thriving e-commerce business) with its first two Woolrich-branded stores in the U.S. — in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo district and in Boston. In addition, the company’s headquarters in the picturesque Pennsylvania countryside features a 20,000-foot retail shop.

“The support from Wells Fargo and our relationship through the retail development strategy has been amazing,” says Josh Rich, Woolrich’s executive vice president. “They’ve not only supported the direction, but have provided us inputs, support, and advice on different areas where we’re opening.”

Woolrich already has branded stores in Europe and Canada, and it plans to open one or two stores per year in the U.S. in the next five years.

Wool fiber is sheared from animals to be twisted into yarn for weaving.
The wool is dyed to the correct color at the raw wool stage or at the yarn stage.
The wool is passed through a card machine using rolls of fine wire that straighten and interblend the fibers.
The carding process yields single strands of straightened fibers called rovings, which are then ready for spinning.
During the spinning process the rovings receive a certain number of twists per inch to give the yarn its strength so it is ready for the weaving process.
During the warping process, the yarns are arranged in parallel order on a beam in preparation for weaving.
Depending on the type of patterns and fabric, the colored yarn is set up on the weaving machines.
After weaving and prior to finishing, any lumps, or burls; defects; or loose threads are removed by hand.
Made from the wool woven at the plant, blankets are finished in the same facility.
Raw wool: Fiber is sheared from animals to be twisted into yarn for weaving.
Dye House: Prior to weaving, the wool is dyed to the correct color either at the raw wool stage, shown here, or at the yarn stage. Fabric also can be dyed after it is woven.
Carding: The wool is passed through a card machine using rolls of fine wire that straighten and interblend the fibers.
Carding: The carding process yields single strands of straightened fibers called rovings, which are then ready for spinning.
Spinning: During the spinning process the rovings receive a certain number of twists per inch to give the yarn its strength so it is ready for the weaving process.
Warping: The warp consists of all the yarn that runs lengthwise in a woven fabric. During this process, the yarns are arranged in parallel order on a beam in preparation for weaving.
Weaving: Depending on the type of patterns and fabric, the colored yarn is set up on the weaving machines. The yarns are woven together and the finished cloth is washed.
Burling/mending: After weaving and prior to finishing, any lumps (burls), defects, or loose threads are removed by hand. The goal is to repair any defects insuring a first quality fabric.
Blankets: Made from the wool woven at the plant, blankets are finished in the same facility.

A brand with staying power

Among Woolrich’s enduring products are blankets (used by Civil War soldiers), the Railroad Vest introduced when railroads were being built in Pennsylvania during the 19th century, and the Buffalo Check shirt (think black and red plaid).

Company leaders say Woolrich has endured and adapted to nearly two centuries of American history. Today it combines traditional fabrics like wool and cotton with man-made fibers to create clothing that customers can feel equally comfortable in while backpacking or taking a leisurely stroll.

Dan McGonagle of Wells Fargo Capital Finance says Woolrich’s history “resonated with us at Wells Fargo, because brands are very important to us as well. The thing that really strikes us is that the family is still active and involved and dedicated to this business. And the folks you see in the plant working are multi-generational as well, which is great.”

Josh concludes, “Like Wells Fargo, we have a small-town value with a big-city ambition. I think our relationship is a natural fit.”

Spooled yarn reveals the range of Woolrich colors.
Gears from the machinery, some of which is around 100 years old.
Scott Carson from the Yarn Manufacturing department helps maintain the mill’s equipment.
Everyday tools used to work with the spun yarns.
A variety of keys spanning decades of use.
The spools on which the yarn is spun.
Labeled yarns in the company archives.
Spooled yarn reveals the range of Woolrich colors.
Gears from the machinery, some of which is around 100 years old.
Scott Carson from the Yarn Manufacturing department helps maintain the mill’s equipment.
Everyday tools used to work with the spun yarns.
A variety of keys spanning decades of use.
The spools on which the yarn is spun.
Labeled yarns in the company archives.
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