Been Through The Mill

Took a little trip through time last week to the Faribault Woolen Mill in the bustling little burgh of Faribault, Minnesota.

As you can see, they’ve been around for quite a while.  As a matter of fact, they were the oldest manufacturing entity in the state.  At one time, half of the woolen blankets sold in the United States came from here.  But in 2009 the old mill was closed down, like so many other businesses, a victim of modernity.

It sat idle for awhile, the employees laid off with few options in a small Minnesota town.  A potential buyer in Pakistan was going to buy the machinery, and things were getting packed up.

But a former CEO of Dairy Queen and his cousin decided to buy the place and keep it going.  And now it has reopened, rehired many of those former workers, and continues to churn out blankets, throws, and accessories.  It is the only “integrated” woolen mill in the United States, which is just a fancy way of saying the raw wool comes in one end of the plant fresh off the sheep and your blanket exits the other end.

It’s the kind of story we’d like to see more of.  You probably never heard of this place, but if you take a look at the picture below you or someone in your family probably has spent a night or more under a Faribault wool blanket.

I’ve certainly slept the sleep of the just under the grey wool blankets with “U.S” stamped on them in various barracks and Navy ships.  My father probably did in WWII.  And I’m guessing that if you or a family member served in the U.S. armed forces at any time from WWI on these will look pretty familiar to you.

Seeing this old woolen mill come back from the brink renews my faith that not all businessmen are greedy, people do care about what they make, and every so often there is a happy ending.  I’m sure there were higher returns available to the current owners of Faribault Mills on Wall Street or some sexier business, but who does that keep warm?  What purpose does a hedge fund serve?

These blankets aren’t cheap, but you’re only going to need one for your lifetime, so I guess they are kind of a bargain.  And in keeping with the modern “green” movement wool is renewable (the sheep grows a new fleece every year) and biodegradeable.

Not many people know wool is the only material that will keep you warm even when it is wet.  Not even your space-age fabrics made of petrochemicals can do that.

Their motto of “Loomed in The Land of Lakes” puts a picturesque spin on the company that allows me to picture it in my mind.

Made in Guangdong or Anhui Province just doesn’t have the same ring.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Been Through The Mill

  1. Such a great story of renewal Harry. We have sold out pretty much all of our industries here. Where once we manufactured everything… we now manufacture nothing… and consequently stand beholden to countries to our north for basics. They say we’re uncompetitive. And I guess in a country with high taxes and a high cost of living… we are.

    So great to see Fairbault Mill stand tall again. Imagine if everyone across the States purchased just one?

    • With all the economic bad news, it IS nice to see somebody make a comeback. Sometimes I wonder if some of these industries are “uncompetitive”, as you say, or if unimaginative is more the case. I’d like to think everything doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom as current business thinking tells us.

    • Yep, Chris, they do have both an on-site store at the mill, as well as an online presence. They have also set up shop in the huge Mall of America here for Christmas. The stuff isn’t cheap, but with a little care it’ll keep your grandkids warm

  2. Finally, a bit of good news. Thank you for that. I have a habit of looking for the stamp or label or tag on every single item I purchase to see where it’s made. It’s been many years since I’ve seen “Made in the USA.” Just imagine if this caught on—we’d be stepping back in time 50 years to a better place!

    • We certainly don’t see “Made in the USA” very often in the world of textiles, that’s for sure. There’s a home improvement/hardware store up here called Menard’s that frequently holds “Made in The USA” sales on their stuff, in which they feature products and where in the U.S. they are made. Unfortunately since the housing crash nobody is spending much money on their homes, so I wonder how some of those factories making siding, gutters, etc. are faring.

      • I am SO hurt, Fool. Why does it hurt me so much, even when I am not an American. My eyes are filled with tears — is it because the America I loved (and still love so so much) is bleeding, and some of that blood has been spilled on my hands?

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