Woolrich Woolen Mills has been supplying our distinctive plaid wool for over 30 years. Nestled in the small town of Woolrich, PA, Woolrich is the longest continuously running textile mill in the U.S.A. We are proud supporters of the American mill and we are thrilled to have a chance to share a little bit about their history and process.
Tell us about the mill’s origin.
The Woolrich name has been synonymous with quality outdoor clothing since 1830. The company got its start, when John Rich, an immigrant from England, built his first woolen mill in Plum Run, Pennsylvania. Rich would visit lumber camps that dotted the area and sell his woolen fabric, socks, coverlets, and yarn from a mule cart.
By 1845, he built a new mill a couple of miles up the road next to Chatham Run, which provided a steadier source of water. That building exists today as part of the group of buildings, homes, and community establishments that have become Woolrich, Pennsylvania.
Rich could certainly not have imagined that his little woolen mill (created not long after the Revolutionary War) would go on to experience the Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars, and the end of the Cold War. It would witness the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America, the amazing growth of American cities, and the telecommunications revolution.
Eventually, the introduction of new high-tech materials allowed Woolrich to enhance the performance of its outdoor apparel, meeting the needs of a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts. Traditional fabrics like wool and cotton teamed up with man-made fibers to create clothing that customers could rely on for everything from a backpacking trip to a leisurely stroll.
Starting with John Rich in 1830, eight generations have maintained the mill in Woolrich, PA. What family members are currently involved in the mill and how has this historic involvement shaped Woolrich?
There are many family members working across lots of divisions of the company today, from sales to product development to distribution to board of directors. In recent years family has returned to the helm of the company with 7th generation, Nick Brayton as President and 8th generation Josh Rich as Executive Vice President working shoulder to shoulder to run the business day to day.
Share with us a little about the history of your legendary Buffalo Check. When was the design developed and what was the inspiration?
Among the earliest finished products at Woolrich was the Buffalo Check Wool Shirt. First produced in 1850, just 20 years after the company was founded, it became the must have for those braving the harsh Pennsylvania winters. While the pattern was an old tartan plaid, the name buffalo plaid came from the designer at the time… it was as simple as he owned a herd of buffalo and thought it seemed like a great name for this rugged pattern, simple! Today we still make that rugged wool version of the Buffalo shirt but we also use it in flannels, blankets, cottons and well just about anything you can think of. WE LOVE the buffalo check, especially in the original red and black version!
Textile manufacturing is a dying breed in the United States. How have you seen the industry shift throughout the decades and how has Woolrich remained so steady?
We are lucky that wool is one amazing textile that hasn’t changed all that much. It is still on of the original performance fabrics – it’s a natural insulator, it keeps you warm even when wet, it’s breathable and has anti-odor properties…. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way people think of wool and the way manufacturers use wool. We now see it in everything from great bags by our partners at TOPO Design, in purses by Coach, in shoes by Timberland and Converse and so much more.
Woolrich has worked to stay relevant, finding ways to make wool softer, blending it with other fibers like nylon or cotton… finding ways to finish it differently with washing techniques and brushing techniques. All of these things help us find ways to use it differently or make it more saleable to the end consumer. Yet we still have a large following of customers who want the ORIGINAL – the wool is used by Civil War re-enactors and crafters as well as those in the home industry.
Christopher Payne released a beautiful photo essay on American textile mills earlier this year. We were very pleased to see Woolrich was among the mills featured. Tell us a little more about the project and your involvement.
That’s an easy one.. Chris approached us about his desire to visit the original woolen mill and of course we were more than honored to open our doors to give Chris all access to our mill. We hope to be hosting Chris again soon to give him more opportunity to capture his beautiful imagery that tells our story in an inspiring way.
A million thank yous to Woolrich and their team in Pennsylvania. Continue reading below to learn how wool is made. For more information, please visit their webpage.