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New England Textile History

February 21, 2015

New England Textile History

You might be wondering why we’re so proud to manufacture our shirts here in New England. The answer is simple: we want to keep up the tradition of textile manufacturing that has been a part of American culture from the very beginning. By beginning, we actually mean just that: not long after the Revolutionary war, a young Brit by the name of Samuel Slater (whom President Andrew Jackson would later call the father of the Industrial Revolution in America) imported textile-manufacturing secrets from England and set up the first yarn spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Though Slater’s early efforts may have been modest, by the 19th century the region had developed into one of the most successful textile manufacturing centers in the country, with factories dotting many of its prominent river valleys. Fall River, where we’re producing our initial run of shirts, was no exception.

Sitting on the banks of of the Quequechan River, the city was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the water needed to power such mills. The first Fall River factory was founded in 1811, followed by hundreds more. By 1875, Fall River was the leading textile center in the US. The population boomed in the wake of this newfound prosperity.

If hydropower was largely responsible for creating the industry, however, the power of steam was its undoing. Freed by this technological leap, many mills shifted their operations to the south so that they might be closer to cotton, coal, and milder weather.

In an effort to combat losing business, mill towns like Fall River moved in the direction of higher quality and finer yarns. While the First World War did help keep New England mills afloat for a time, their southern counterparts continued to increase their competitive position by adopting newer technologies and capitalizing on superior access to raw materials. The 1920s through to the 1940s were a dark time for the New England textile industry: prices for print cloth plummeted, employment dropped, and eventually mills began to close. Not surprisingly, this trend was further compounded once companies began aggressively outsourcing textile manufacturing overseas.

So where do things stand today? Currently, only about 10 factories remain active in the Fall River area – no more than a shadow of the booming industry that the city once represented. But if you are willing to look for it you can often find remnants of its storied past, in spacious old brick factory buildings and in the hands of workers, many of whose experience goes back generations. Not only do we feel incredibly lucky to have this experience living right here in our backyard, but we’re also incredibly proud to be working with some of the world’s best craftspeople.


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