Here's the backstory on why we are sold out of almost everything, and why -- until recently -- we had not made any new Fabric for over three years. And now we are again in a holding pattern.
Our big problem -- what has been slowing us down the most -- is turning the wool we buy from our Ranchers into our Fabric. There have been some serious, time-consuming issues, and it amazes me that I'm now re-writing this page to list the roadblocks in reverse order, working backwards from the present!
LABOR SHORTAGES IN THE CAROLINAS
Our warp yarn (the yarn that runs lengthwise through a bolt of fabric) is spun in the Carolinas, where staffing difficulties are causing severe shortages. And the Carolina labor situation really exemplifies the situation in American garment and textile industries in general. American labor is very expensive (very, very VERY expensive) compared to many other countries where similar work can be done.
From about April 2021 until September 2021, things were looking good. But then Hurricane Ida struck, and destroyed Littlewood, the dye house that had been coloring our fiber. Littlewood has decided the damage to their facilities is beyond repair, and they have closed their 150+ year-old business. This will slow us up for a bit, but we already have solid plans to continue. And the fiber for our Batch 6 MidWeight Fabrics (Drab and Lynx Pattern) was dyed before Ida, so work on those Fabrics was not affected. But beyond Batch 6, we will need to do a little improvising, although we already have begun to execute other options. There are other ways to dye our wool. And potential to work with other dye houses.
Everyone knows about the virus, and from about April of 2020 until April of 2021, orders of the governors of some States, particularly Connecticut, shut us down.
NO MORE WOOLRICH
From July of 2018 until about February of 2020, we were delayed because Woolrich USA shut down all operations.
We had been working with the ancient and famous Woolrich since 2009, developing our Fabric over a period of three years. Woolrich acted as our main contractor ... they couldn't make our Fabric completely by themselves, but they had the connections and the expertise to eventually put a team together. As Advisor Rob Stuart, Woolrich's now-retired Senior Fabric Engineer, explained it to me, WeatherWool was treated like a separate mill within the main Woolrich mill. We owe a lot to Woolrich and Rob and his colleagues ... another big business that spent an awful lot of time and effort working with our little company, which at that point was nothing more than an idea.
[Funny story regarding the "mill within the mill" ... Advisor JR Morrissey did a lot of consulting work with the garment designers from Woolrich. On a visit to JR's studio, the designers admired some WeatherWool Fabric, wishing they had wool like that to work with. They asked JR who made the fabric, and they were very surprised when he said "You did!". But the fact is, Woolrich did not have all the equipment needed to make our Fabric, and nor did Woolrich invest in the type of fiber that we use.]
In 2018, I expected Woolrich to be getting to work on Batch 5, but instead, Rob Stuart phoned me with some unhappy news. Woolrich had been sold to a European investment company that immediately ordered a shutdown of all US operations. Woolrich has since gone pretty far from what older (ahem!) Americans may remember of the company. A quick visit to Woolrich.com will show what I mean.
We spent the next year trying to find people that could do the things Woolrich had done for us. We began fairly quickly to work toward a transition to American Woolen Company. But although AWC had the experience and equipment to do much of what we needed, AWC's equipment was not sized to be compatible with the looms of Material Technology and Logistics of Pennsylvania ... and MTL's specialized looms are absolutely key to our Fabric production.
MTL and AWC worked for several months to modify their equipment so they could partner on our Fabric. And in November of 2019, they produced a few bolts of Fabric that we were very happy with. But before we could really get rolling again, a few other things came up ... and then the virus struck and everyone knows that story.
As a result of all this, we had been unable to produce much new Fabric for well over three years.
In early 2021, we started getting some Fabric completed again, and made quite a few Anoraks and All-Around Jackets. And this brings us back to the top of the page, with the Hurricane knocking our dye house offline for an undetermined amount of time.
If we had been happy with any of the commercially available fabrics, we probably would not have started WeatherWool in the first place. Our company is all about making our own WeatherWool Merino Jacquard Fabric, and then making garments from that Fabric.
America's textile manufacturing capacity has been drastically reduced over the last 20-40 years ... there are very, very few companies left in the USA that can do what is necessary to make our Fabric. And when it comes to turning that Fabric into garments, the choices can also be very few.
The wool we need is very specialized, and there isn't much of it. And it can be purchased only once a year, in April. But there is enough of the fiber we need for us to grow significantly.
Our components -- Buttons, Thread, Zippers, Fasteners, Cords, Ribbon and more must all be made in the USA, and in some cases there is only a single manufacturer still operating in the USA. These components can potentially also slow us down, but we normally order extra-large quantities well in advance.
We will overcome, as quickly as possible, all obstacles we encounter, but we are keenly aware of the passage of time.
Thanks for your understanding and patience!!
7 January 2022 --- Ralph