Made in the USA: The Journey of an American Sewing Manufacturer

By Bob Jacquart, CEO

In 1974, when I started working for my dad in his canvas repair shop with one other employee, I never once thought that “made in America” would ever mean something significant to me – and to our country.

As our small sewing business evolved – around the time I was 30 – I learned that I could employ more people by taking on higher volume production work. The thought of being a fair and just employer in my small town was just too irresistible for importing to ever cross my mind.  At that time, Jacquart Fabric Products (JFP) started making gun cases, polar fleece hats and pet beds.

Employees hold an American Flag sewn at JFP

Manufacturing pet beds soon became the largest part of our company.  Around the early 90s, China started making headway into this industry with some of our commercial customers.  At this time I started to become aware of the very serious threats that China (and other countries) might pose to us – especially as regards to labor costs.

As more and more US cut and sew operations began to close their doors, we tried to keep focus on viable models for US production.  We realized that one advantage we had over overseas production was our ability to produce shorter, more customized and individualized products.

Around 2000, even this advantage began to go away.  At that time, pet products became commodity items:  you could buy a pet bed at every big box store for $10-$20.  These are retail prices you cannot compete with when you are paying honest wages and benefits for employees supporting families.

We finally realized that importing would have to become a part of our pet bed business.  We now do a combination of importing raw goods and components and complete the final assembly here.  We are still employing US workers in the pet bed business, but just in a different way.

In 2001, JFP was  blessed – yes, blessed – by having the opportunity to buy Stormy Kromer.  This was finally another viable American-made model:  a brand with an authentic history and heritage that as we found out from our customers, had to be made in the USA.

The challenge remains that US manufacturing is hard.  And expensive.  Every new product we work on involves pretty intense debates about the cost of adding extra features versus what the consumer is willing to pay for.  And while we try to source raw goods domestically, it can sometimes be nearly impossible.

But despite all that, here we are…and growing.

Do you think we will survive?  I think that’s a no-brainer.  With amazing fans and customers like you, who value quality in their apparel and outerwear – and with two wonderful daughters in this third-generation sewing business, we plan to take Stormy Kromer and his legend to places we all never dreamed of!

Stormy Kromer featured in Country Living Magazine!

Over a year ago, we received a call from Country Living Magazine.  We had several discussions with them about the history of our brand and where we are today.  We had hoped they would publish an article last year, and we were pleasantly surprised when they contacted us again this summer.  After a series of phone calls and emails discussing interesting dates in the history of our iconic brand, we were so excited to see this article in the November issue of the magazine, which is on newsstands now.  With the Original Cap in Green/Black Plaid, we are proud to be their latest Made in America feature.

Thanks Country Living!

Seeking all Living Legends

Maybe it was the uncle who came back from the war, cleared his land and built a home out of timbers he split by hand. Or the little old neighbor-lady who killed a bear with a stick to protect a group of schoolchildren. Or maybe it’s just someone you know who has gone out of the way—way out of the way—to build a legendary life for themselves and those around them.

Either way, that’s who Stormy Kromer is seeking for its 2012 Living Legends Contest. Enter your grandma, your neighbor—heck, even your dog—and tell us why they’re a living legend by November 11, 2011.

As we previously shared, we will choose 10 finalists, then let you vote for the grand prize winner. The winner will receive:

a $500 Stormy Kromer gift certificate,

a feature in our 2012 catalog,

and a gift to the charity of their choice*.

Yes, we agree that this is a great prize.

So nominate the Living Legend in your life.  We want to honor those folks who, like Mr. Kromer, have done extraordinary things and are living a legendary life.   There are a lot legendary people out there and we want to hear about them and see how their stories might inspire others. We also think we can do a little good in their honor by donating a portion of our sales to their favorite charity.

Who are the Living Legends that you know? Please share in the comments below (after submitting the official nomination form of course!).

(Having trouble filling out the form?  Be sure to save it to your computer first, then fill it out and save it.)

* Stormy Kromer will donate 3% of online sales from 1/9/12 through 1/31/12 to the charity of the winning legend’s choice.

Designing the Airman’s Jacket

We’ve launched a number of new designs for this fall – including a number of new apparel and outerwear items.  One of these designs is our new Airman’s Jacket – Stormy Kromer’s take on the traditional bomber jacket.

With all the interest nowadays about design – take the success of Bravo’s Project Runway for instance – we thought it might be fun to share with you a little of the design process and the evolution of a garment from sketch to production.

We start by brainstorming with our design team and in this instance, we knew we needed to add a short, or “bomber” type jacket to our line.  Tamara (who you met in this previous blog post) went back to the drawing board and came back with a number of sketches.  Here is a sampling:

In order to narrow down the sketches into a first prototype, we actually held a focus groups with factory employees.  We asked them what features they like in jackets they own currently, which design elements appealed most to them, what they would and wouldn’t wear and why.  This group of guys – who ranged in age from 35-65 – gave us some fantastic feedback, and we ended up with this final sketch:

Even this sketch doesn’t quite represent the finished product.  After patterns are made and prototypes are sewn, you finally see that some of what you envision on paper just doesn’t translate to needle and thread.  In addition to being sure that the look and fit of the garment is just right, our Engineering Department also has to work with the design, to make sure that we can manufacture here in America at a price that will work in the marketplace.  (Stay tuned for a blog post soon about the joys and challenges of U.S. manufacturing…)

At the end of all that hard work, we finally have a product that our team looks at and says, “Yes!”  We hope that you do too..

Now it’s your turn: what products should our design team tackle next?

 

 

 

Stormy Kromer Living Legend 2012

Nominee’s Name: Paul “Bunyan” Bjornson

Nominee’s Residence: Sugar Camp, WI

Nominee’s Email: iheartlogging@mail.ox

Please tell us in 750 words or less, why your nominee is a Stormy Kromer Living Legend:  Paul was born and raised in Mercer, WI and spent his childhood fishing for walleye on many of the local lakes and flowages.  He attended country school near Mercer, and after graduating, took a job as a woodshop instructor in Minocqua, a position he held for nearly 41 years.

Paul is a bighearted man, and although he is only 5’1″, his laughter and personality fill any room he is in.  He was loved by all his woodworking students, who always looked up to him, at least when they were sitting.

Paul loves long walks in the woods with his dog, “Ox,” a blue healer he has had for many years.  He is also a world-class whittler.  He volunteers frequently and is a long-time donor at the Oneida County Forest Services Center.  He attends The Church of the Good Sheppard in Sugar Camp, where he sings in the choir with a beautiful tenor voice.  He loves flamenco dancing, reruns and cattle-herding.

Okay, okay, you’re right, there is no such person as Paul “Bunyan” Bjornson.  Or maybe there is, but any resemblance of the above to a real person is completely coincidental.  This nomination is, well, hogwash.

However, we know that there are many, many folks out there who are just as legendary as say, George and Ida Kromer.  And we want to hear about them.  And honor them.  That’s why we’re launching Stormy Kromer Living Legend 2012 .

Read the details and official rules, then nominate anyone you know who is a living legend.  Someone with a story that would make even Stormy himself crack a smile, or shed a tear.  (And by golly, that didn’t happen often.)

Nominations are open through November 11, at which point Stormy Kromer employees will select 10 finalists.  You will vote for the Grand Prize Winner.  In addition to having the honor of being put in the same league of legendary-ness as George, the winner will get some other cool stuff, including a $500 Kromer gift certificate and a donation to the charity of their choice.

So feel free to share your thoughts below about being legendary, but be sure to fill out the official nomination form and submit it by November 11.  We can’t wait to read your stories!