Ohio Knitting Mills

1927. Werner Heisenberg unveils his uncertainty principle. The Jazz Singer becomes an instant hit, putting the inaugural nail in the coffin of silent films. And Charles Lindbergh pilots the Spirit of St. Louis in the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic.

That same year, in the then bustling metropolis of Cleveland, Ohio, the Stone-Rand family establishes Ohio Knitting Mills. Over time, the enterprise becomes one of North America’s largest knitting concerns, producing private label knitwear for a bevy of department stores. At its peak, the factory, which takes up nearly an entire city block, provides livelihoods for more than 1,000 workers.

Their growing company weathers the Great Depression. It endures the turbulent years of the Second World War. But, by the early 21st century, it falls victim to the accelerating pace of overseas production.

By that point, domestic knitting had largely been eviscerated, and Ohio Knitting Mills was unable to endure in the face of the brutal new realities that were afflicting the U.S. garment industry.

In 2005, the family sold the company–including its remaining equipment, its extensive library of samples and its patterns–to designer Steven Tatar. Steven’s vision was one of rebirth. He saw, in building on the company’s tradition of local manufacturing, an opportunity to make the Ohio Knitting Mills name live anew.

After some months of dithering over whether to purchase one of the company’s sweaters–here in Southeast Texas, a sweater is not nearly the universally needed garment it is in more northerly latitudes–I recently acquired one. It’s a forest green shawl collar sweater in Shetland wool. Neither too slouchy nor too slim, it’s the perfect autumnal companion, a truly exemplary piece of knitwear.

Its look is timeless. I could easily see someone 80 years ago wearing a sweater exactly like this. But it’s equally at home in a modern wardrobe.

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Leather Man Ltd. Redux

A number of posts back, we extolled the virtues of Leather Man’s motif belts. Made in Essex, Conn., they’re almost infinitely customizable, with a panoply of options for motifs, canvas webbing and leather tabs.

However, a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia (at the tail end of an eight-day Appalachian Trail hike), brought me face-to-face with one of the company’s ready made belts.

Killing time before the inevitable cab ride to the airport, I stepped into The Young Men’s Shop, a wonderful gentleman’s store stocked full of American made products (ties from Robert Talbott, R. Hanauer and High Cotton; shoes from Allen Edmonds; shirts from Gitman Bros. and the aforementioned Leather Man belts).

The belt that caught my eye was a tan canvas with a forest green duck motif ribbon. It’s the perfect belt for fall, an ideal complement corduroy, cavalry twill and tweed. Frankly I’m surprised I’ve managed to go as long as I gave without adding the duck motif to my fall wardrobe, so firmly ensconced among the classics that it is.

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Lady Freeman Rain Jacket

The good people of Seattle know a thing or two about rain. In a city that sees an average of 140 days each year of measurable precipitation, a good ran jacket is a must.

It comes as little surprise, then, that Seattle would be home to one of the very few American makers of waterproof/breathable rain jackets.

Freeman got its start, as co-founder Scott Freeman puts it, “very much by accident.”

We don’t come from a background in sewing, but more a background in being stubborn when we get an idea in our heads. In 2010, the idea happened to be making a rain jacket for myself. I had an old USA made North Face jacket from the late 80’s that I really loved, so much so that I quite literally wore it to death. I figured replacing it with something similar in both function and style would be pretty straightforward… After about a month of searching I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t anyone making the jacket I wanted, so we said to ourselves, “What if we made a jacket?”

Scott’s wife Brittany, no novice when it came to sewing, started mocking up some jackets, working by trial and error. Once Scott and Brittany were satisfied with design, style and fit,  they cut the final jacket from a length of waterproof fabric. “I cant say it was a totally smooth process,” said Scott, “but the resulting jacket (which I still have) was everything we set out to create.”

At this point, Scott and Brittany figured their foray into jacket making was complete. But then something unexpected happened: Scott’s brother asked them to replicate the jacket. Over the next few months, more customers (friends, friends of friends, and even a few complete strangers) insinuated themselves into Scott and Brittany’s orbit. Word of mouth took over.

Soon, Scott and Brittany were juggling a growing part-time enterprise with full-time jobs. “We found ourselves in a place where there just weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done,” Scott recalled. “Our plan was to enlist some help sewing.”

They eventually recruited the services of a local pattern maker who extolled the virtues of expanding production to build inventory. By 2011, Freeman had its first production of 100 jackets. All were made in Seattle–as they continue to be to this day. “For us,” Scott said, “it seemed the only way to do this. I mean, we’re Seattlites making rain jackets, why wouldn’t these jackets be made in Seattle? ”

Frannie recently needed a rain jacket. So we gave Freeman a try. And we’re certainly glad that we did.

With an aesthetic that calls to mind the heyday of the Ivy look, Freeman’s rain jacket is both practical and stylish–the perfect marriage of form and function. Its shell has both the water resistance and breathability that is the hallmark of today’s technical fabrics. And a plaid flannel lining affords a modicum of warmth.

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No, it’s not the kind of jacket you’ll thru hike the Appalachian Trail in. It’s something a bit more refined–casual but jaunty, a perfect jacket both for a rainy day in the city and for casual country pursuits.

What the Freemans have set out to create is the polar opposite of fast fashion, crafting jackets rooted in classic design with  rock solid construction. “We went in to this knowing we were going to be asking customers to pay more for these items,” Scott says, “and to expect to get a lot more in return.  We thought that was a pretty sound equation.”

Hamilton Shirts Blue OCBD

How, you may wonder, have I managed to get through my adult life thus far without so much as a single blue oxford cloth button down shirt?

The answer is simple. I’m a sucker for all manner of checks and stripes. While I recognize the value of a plain shirt, my predilections skew toward the more boldly patterned.

Over the past year, I’ve broadened my collection of button down shirts. And so it was only natural that I finally add a blue button down to my wardrobe.

So to Hamilton Shirts I once again turned.

Because Hamilton already has my measurements on file, a trip into Houston wasn’t necessary. I simply picked up the phone, inquired about the fabric and discussed the details I wanted. Two weeks later, the shirt was on my doorstep.

Hamilton is, as we’ve mentioned before, Houston’s oldest continuously operating commercial enterprise. In business since 1883, when Houston’s population was but a small fraction of what it is today, Hamilton has endured not by watering down the brand but instead by embracing an unwavering commitment to excellence and local production.

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