Better than ever: Way back when is in again

Those who would write the obituary for “Made in the USA” are premature, period.

By Billy Neville

One need only look across the broad expanse of America’s heartland to see that we are not only competing but actually winning! Strong evidence piles up daily; American made is reassuming its rightful place as the leader in so many vital segments of our economy, particularly apparel and textiles. Studies show that shoppers these days are checking to see where the products they’re purchasing are made.

Reasons for this resurgence range from emotional to economic. Emotional, because there is in many of us a very real sense of American pride. Economic, because our factories and wages are once again “in line” especially once transportation costs are factored into the equation. Add to this fast delivery, top quality and a committed work force, and the American-made advantage is increasingly apparent.

A few success stories: New England Shirt Company in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Hardwick Clothes in Cleveland, Tennessee; dozens of denim makers on the West Coast. Those more under the radar include Phar-Shar in Leitchfield, Kentucky (making top quality outerwear and bags for so very many brands); Char-Dan in Thomson, Georgia (where hundreds of workers have never ceased producing top-quality trousers); Brigade in tiny Tylertown, Mississippi (once home to Haspel, now making quality denim); Brooklyn Denim in Brooklyn, New York; and Raleigh Denim in Raleigh, North Carolina. You want more? How about The Pointer Brand in Bristol, Tennessee (they’ve been at it since 1933); The Red Heel Sock Company in Osage, Iowa (home of the iconic Sock Monkey); Faribault Woolen Mills in Faribault, Minnesota (producing incredible blankets for the military); and Stormy Kromer in Ironwood, Michigan (a headwear company that’s recently expanded into a full lifestyle brand).

Stormy Kromer is a great case study in how to market heritage. George “Stormy” Kromer was a real guy: a semi-pro baseball player and railroad engineer. Born in 1876 in Kaukuna, Wisconsin, he grew up with baseball and would eventually play on nearly 30 semi-pro teams throughout the Midwest. He might have continued in baseball but he met Ida, and before Ida’s father would allow her hand in marriage, our ballplayer needed to find “real work”, which meant the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and long, cold trips across the plains.

Stormy was an engineer and to see where he was headed he had to stick his head out the window…into the wind. In 1903, he asked Ida (now his wife and an excellent seamstress) to modify an old baseball cap to help keep it on in windy weather. The all-cloth cap with the soft, canvas visor was a departure from the traditional fedora of the day. It was more comfortable, and because of its six-panel fit and unique modification, it stayed put. Soon other railroad workers wanted one and when Ida could no longer keep up with demand, they hired a few employees and the business was born. To this day, these hats are hand-stitched right in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, still made to fit perfectly.

Surely most of the American-based companies mentioned above, and dozens more, have equally fascinating histories. Perhaps it’s time to get the word out!

Billy Neville is an industry consultant and branding expert. He can be reached at 601-278-5155 or

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