Category Archives: Made in the USA

Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers

Not long ago I spotted the half slip pictured above in my not-so-secret shopping place.  My first thought was that it was an Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers so I started looking for the evidence:  the initials EPFR printed within the print.  I was just about to give up and call it a good copy when I spotted them.

In 1959 Pucci decided that he wanted to expand into lingerie.  Rather than do the production in-house, he was advised to look for an established lingerie company that would handle production.  Pucci came to the United States, and signed a deal with Formfit Rogers, a Chicago company.  Pucci provided the designs which were printed onto nylon tricot.   Much of the production took place in a factory in Tennessee.

I’ve seen the uncut fabric.  They printed it in big squares, about 72 inches, with an overall print surrounded by a small , about three inches, border.  The pieces were cut, using the border at the hem.  Sometime the border was cut and sewn, for a detail like a V-neckline.

We tend to think of designer “collaborations” as being a new scheme, but this is a good example of how even in the 1960s designers were finding ways to get their designs into the hands of people who could not afford their regular designs.  In 1969, a Pucci for Formfit half slip was priced at $9, or about $55 today.  Years ago I bought a bra and matching slip from a woman in Asheville.  She told me that she was living in New York City in 1969, working at her first job.  When she got that first paycheck she wanted to go out and splurge, and she ended up buying the Pucci set.

The line was quite successful, and lasted into the 1970s.  Still, the pieces are relatively hard to find, probably because people recognize them for what they are and snap them up.

In the early days of ebay, these Pucci Formfit pieces were very inexpensive.  I once bought a lot of six pieces for around $30.  Then the fabrics in modern ready-to-wear got thinner and thinner, and people started buying the lingerie to wear as outerwear.  They are no longer a bargain.

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Filed under Designers, Made in the USA, Southern Textiles

Wellco Shoes, Boots and Slippers

Photo copyright and courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

I’ve known about Wellco for a long time.  The factory used to be located just up the road a bit in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I guess I’d never considered doing a post about the company because in my mind they are makers of combat boots for the US military.  But there is a very interesting story behind Wellco, and some very pretty slippers.

The story revolves around Heinz Rollman who was a third generation shoemaker in Cologne, Germany.  In the 1930s he and his brother Ernst and two cousins,  Walter and Curt Kaufman, were working on ways to mold and attach rubber soles to leather uppers.   Because they were Jewish, in 1935 the family shoe factory was confiscated by the Nazi regime and was “aryanized.”  They then left the increasingly hostile atmosphere in Germany and settled in Brussels, Belgium where they formed a corporation to protect their patents and try and grow their business.

But by 1939, Germany was at war, and Belgium was being threatened.  The partners chose Heinz to go to the US to see if it was reasonable for them to relocate there.

In the US Heinz Rollman got in touch with rubber manufacturers, and found an ally in A.F. Friedlander, the owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber.   Together they scouted out for a location for a new rubber processing factory, and found the idea spot in Western North Carolina.  Friedlander built a factory, which became Dayco, and Rollman’s shoe operation was located in a wing of the factory.  Ernst Rollman was able to get to the US in 1943, and after the war they were joined by the Kaufmans who spent much of the war in Switzerland.

Over the years the company was involved not only in making shoes and slippers, but also in research.  They held many patents on the vulcanization of rubber and  its application in shoe manufacturing.  In the 1960s they developed a combat boot for the US military that was suitable for the wet conditions of Vietnam, and ironically, many years later they developed a boot for the desert conditions of Iraq.

The most interesting part of this story is the man, Heinz Rollman.  He was known for his generosity and helpfulness, and many credit him with the original idea for the Peace Corps.  He wrote two books, My Plan for World Construction in 1952, and The Observer Corps, a Practical Basis for Peaceful Coexistence in 1957 that outlined how people from various countries interacting and helping one another might be beneficial for world peace.

I was pretty amazed at all the information there is on the internet concerning Heinz Rollman.  I found stories about his generosity on various local chat boards.  One told how he would visit a local store and spend $5000 a time on gifts for employees.   When the factory burned in the 1960s, Rollman paid the workers for the days they missed, and very quickly found a new building and machinery to get people back to work.  When people today lament the loss of American jobs, they are remembering businesses like Wellco and men like Heinz Rollman.

Wellco passed out of family hands several years ago, and the community was upset when the new owners abruptly moved the operation to Tennessee.  The slipper division was sold in the 1980s, but Wellco continues to make boots in Tennessee and elsewhere.

I want to thank Jan Schochet for alerting me to the Wellco story.  Jan co-wrote The Family Store, a book based on her research of Jewish businesses in Asheville.  Her family owned a store called The Bootery.  They sold Wellco shoes, mainly because Jan’s father was so impressed and moved by Heinz Rollman who personally traveled around the area with his suitcase of samples.

Correction:  I have corrected the name of Jan Schochet’s family store where Wellco shoes were sold.  It was the Bootery.  They also owned A Dancer’s Place.

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Filed under Made in the USA, North Carolina, Shoes

Olympic Uniforms, 2014

Photo copyright Ralph Lauren Media LLC

You’ve got to hand it to him.  Ralph Lauren did exactly as he promised and followed through with his pledge to have the Team USA ceremonial Olympic uniforms made entirely in the USA.  Not only were they made here, but all the materials were sourced domestically as well.  It was not an easy task, but earlier this week the results were unveiled.

The media focus seems to be entirely on one piece – the schoolteacher Christmas sweater gone wild as seen above.  I mean really, was Lauren just trying to get even with all the complainers of 2012?  “They want Made in the USA?  I’ll give them Made in the USA they’ll never forget!”  could possibly have been his thought process.

Photo copyright Ralph Lauren Media LLC

But once he got that out of his system, the design team came up with some really great looking sportswear.  I think the pea coat is really sharp.  Yes, it does have the Polo Logo prominently displayed, but even that is toned down from the past few Olympics.  Could it be that Ralph Lauren actually listens to his critics?

Photo copyright Ralph Lauren Media LLC

As bad as the cardigan is, this sweater is really great.  It says all it needs to say:  winter sports, Olympics, Team USA.  And there is a similar one with reindeer on the front, and this design on the back.

You can see (and buy) most of the collection at RalphLauren.com.  The stuff is not cheap.  The pea coat is $795.  Unfortunately, you can’t buy the tacky patchwork sweater as it is sold out.  Things are selling quickly, so act fast!

Polo does not make the active apparel for competition.  Each sports contracts with a manufacturer to develop and make their clothing.

Photo copyright Burton Snowboards

This, believe it or not, is the gear for the USA snowboarding team.  It was made by snowboarding company Burton.  The backstory of the parka design is interesting, and is worth reading.  It is based on an actual antique patchwork quilt, reinterpreted in high-tech performance fabrics.   It seems a bit understated for snowboarders, but I do think it is a great adaptation of an antique textile design.

Fashion Magazine did a feature on their favorite Olympic uniforms from around the world.  There is a slideshow, so click through to see if you agree with their favorites.  Personally, I love the Polish team’s look.  Really.

I also liked Canada’s uniforms, which were made by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  The red duffle coat is nice and is for sale on their website.  Unlike Polo, they outsourced their uniforms, and consequently they are half the price of the Polo ones.  They do, to my eye, look cheaper.

Photo copyright Sports Illustrated

And speaking of duffles, here is a Sports Illustrated cover from 1956, showing figure skaters Hayes Jenkins and Tenley Albright in their official USA Olympic coats.   An old episode of Pawn Stars was on yesterday in which a woman took into the pawn shop an identical coat.  It had an official Olympic Committee label inside, and the patch.  They paid her $850 for it.  (She found it in a thrift store for $15.)

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Filed under Made in the USA, Sportswear, Viewpoint

What I Didn’t Buy – Woolrich Tweed Knickers

One old American label that I’ve neglected is Woolrich.  It was founded in 1830 by immigrant John Rich, who built a mill in Pennsylvania and proceeded to make woolen products for outdoors workers.  Over the years they became leaders in the buffalo check business, selling to hunters and other outdoorsmen.   They also made blankets and motoring robes.

At some point in their long history they began making men’s shirts out of the wool that was woven in the Woolrich mill.    This was more of a casual wear shirt rather than something a man might wear in the field.  They also began making casual wool jackets for women.

Later, probably in the 1970s, the company began to diversity its products.  Instead of making all the Woolrich clothing from Woolrich fabric, they, like many other American companies, began to add imported goods to their product line.  In 1980 they started a woman’s label, “Woolrich Woman.”

I can’t say when exactly Woolrich changed from a strictly sportswear company to more of a fashion company.  And I use the word “fashion” quite loosely.   It’s more like conservative clothing for people who like the woods, though I’ve seen that the company has recently upped its game.

As for the knickers that I did not buy, there are several reasons they stayed in the big blue bin and did not make the leap into my shopping cart.

The first problem was the condition.  You can see a hole near the knee in the top photo, and there were several other holes, some repaired.

I thought it was interesting that the legs closed with velcro instead of buttons.  Look right above the velcro and you can see where the velcro has caught the fabric.

Velcro was invented in the late 1940s, but it was not really used until the 1960s.  Even then it was not a common closure.

This is the label, which was first used in 1965.  As far as I can tell, it was used into the 1990s.  I’m basing this on listings on Etsy and Ebay, but the clothing is hard to accurately date due to the unchanging, conservative nature of it.  Due to what I’ve observed, my best guess is that the label changed to a similar, but dark blue label in the early 1990s.

A really nice feature of these knickers is that they have a double seat.  Also, the pockets are functional.

But I didn’t buy them because of the condition, and also because it was my gut feeling that these were from the 1980s.  My interest pretty much stops with the mid 1970s.

However, I did find and buy another pair of vintage Woolrich pants.  There were men’s trousers, made from a very heavy wool herringbone.  A former owner had cut them off quite short and did not hem them.  Thank goodness I am also quite short, and after a good hem the length will be just right for me.

They are a little too big in the waist, but being men’s pants they are easy to alter. The waistband is faced, and the center back seam is easy to stitch to a smaller size.  I’ll probably remove the suspender buttons.

These have the same label as the knickers, and they are so classic that I’d have a hard time accurately dating the,  I’m guessing early 1970s due to the flat front and the width of the legs.

For comparison, this is the label that was used in the 1950s and up to 1965.  Note the R (registered) symbol.  This trademark was registered in 1949.  This label is from a pair of very heavy wool hunting pants.  They are my snow pants.

Woolrich is still is business today, but most of the things with their label are imported.  They are still making wool fabric in the mill, and I wish they would follow Pendleton’s example and offer more products made from their wool.  They do have a hipster label, Woolrich Woolen Mills, where many of the products are made from their cloth in the USA, but they are not promoted as being so on the website sales pages.  Not only that, there are three different websites, two of which do not tell if the items are imported or domestic.  But I’ll forgive then, just because of these:  Cute Woolrich Wool Ballerina flats.

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Filed under I Didn't Buy..., Made in the USA

Russell Moccasins, and Thoughts about the Past and Present

I recently found this catalog from the W.C. Russell Moccasin Company of Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was pleasantly surprised to open it and find that Russell Moccasins were not just for men.

Click to enlarge

The first pages show both men and women out in the wild, enjoying their Russell boots.  By the looks of the clothing and hair styles, my guess is that most of these were taken in the 1920s and early 1930s.   There is no date to be found in the catalog, but the front cover illustration looks to be more like a late 1930s or even a 1940s style.  Another hint is that the catalog reads that the company has been in business for over a quarter of a century.  Since it was founded in 1898, I know that is later than 1924.

The last clue is the style of the shoes.  These look to be late 1930s, or 1940s.  The trouble with sports clothing and shoes is that while fashion is considered, the styles are a bit more constant than a fashion garment or shoe.  But still, I’m leaning toward late 1930s for a date on the catalog.

This boot was a favorite for hiking and camping.  I’ve seen ads for very similar ones as early as 1922.  I have a pair in my collection from Abercrombie & Fitch, the famous outfitters for adventurers.

Click to better see the moviegram

I thought this “moviegram” showing moccasin construction was very interesting.  And just because I love them so much, here are better views of some of the women campers.

I look at a lot of old images, read a lot of vintage magazines and watch classic movies.  To my modern sensibilities, sometimes the things I encounter are disquieting.  The way people thought about race relations, animal rights, and the status of women can be vastly different from the way I look at these issues.

Right now I’m slowily reading my way through every issue of Life magazine, thanks to Google Books.  To be honest, I’ve been shocked at the language used when referring to people of different races.  Words that today we think are used only by ignorant racists were used freely in a national magazine.  Especially in advertising, women are portrayed as being glorified house maids, being concerned with trivial domestic problems while the man of the house works to support her.  There are photos of hunters surrounded by dead animals, in which sport hunting is glorified.

When I encounter such a disturbing image or passage, my mind has to remind my sensibilities that this was almost 80 years ago, and today at least people are aware of these issues and are working toward solving the injustices of life.  I don’t have to like what I’m seeing, but I have learned to put it in the past where it belongs.   Sometimes I think history lovers tend to over-glorify the past.  I love the images of the women I’ve posted here, and frankly have thought about what a great time it must have been.  I’m glad that the photos do not contain images of dead animals, which they very well could have seeing that they are, after all, in the woods and probably hunting.

Which brings me to the present.  I was really surprised to learn that the W.R. Russell Company is still in business, still producing boots in Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was all ready to link to their site when I encountered a page where customers are pictured wearing their boots, surrounded by their prey.  It was like it was 1933 and these guys were big game hunters in darkest Africa.

I live in an area of the country where hunting is still accepted.   Cars sport bumper stickers like “Hunt with your kid, not hunt for him.”  I realize that some people do still hunt for their food, and I know that hunting does help control animal over-population.  However, I cannot understand why any website that is trying to sell shoes in the 21st century would feature photos of great-white-hunter wannabes.    I respect the heritage of hunting.  It is how our ancestors survived.  But I do not understand gratuitous killing just to make the killer look manly.

My point here is not to bash hunters. My grandfather was a “fox hunter.”  I put that in quotes because in his case being a hunter meant that he and his buddies liked to dress in red buffalo check jackets, go camping, and let their hounds run loose.   My point is that we need to remember the past and to honor it.  But there are some things about the past that need to stay there.

UPDATE:  I have discovered that this catalog dates from 1940.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Made in the USA, Shoes, Viewpoint

Designer Pamela Levenson of Popina Swimwear

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about my latest Made in the USA find, Popina.  The designer and co-owner of Popina is Pamela Levenson.  She recently answered a few questions for me about her design career and the influence of the past on what she creates.

1.  Were you interested in fashion as a child?  Did it ever enter your mind that you would grow up to design swimsuits?

I have always loved fashion and dreamed my whole life of having my own line and boutique.  I never really dreamed that my outlet would be swimwear, but a lot of weird coincidences kept pushing me to spandex.  For example, I worked at a swimwear boutique that cut and sewed swimwear to order in college (never dreaming of doing it on my own) – but drawing on that background proved to be helpful!  I also randomly worked at a company that sold swimwear fabric when I first moved to Portland and bought an industrial serger from a customer.  When I could not find a suit I loved in Portland in the wintertime, I had the materials, the machine and the basic know how and that was my start.

2.  Do you sew? 

I do sew, I originally did all of the Popina production myself and I still sew up all of the prototypes.

If so, when and how did you first learn the skill? 

I first learned to sew in high school and in fashion school it was required to sew.  To learn pattern making, I took a pattern making class and refined my skills as I went.

3.  What is your fashion background and experience?

I graduated from Brooks College in Los Angeles and most notably worked for Guess as well as a handful of smaller manufacturers.

4.  How was the idea for Popina formed?

Basically I could not find a swimsuit I loved in October in Portland, Oregon so I stayed up all night before a trip to Mexico the next day.  From there I got compliments, made some for friends, then sold consignment and finally took the leap to get a 250 sq ft brick and mortar store.  I now have two boutiques; one that is 1,800 sq ft and one that is 3,000 – making us the largest women’s boutique on the west coast – I never dreamed that would happen in my wildest dreams.

5.  So many of your swimsuits are vintage-inspired.  What are the direct influences of the suits you create? 

I really look to styles of the past and look to update them with help of modern construction and materials.  I love looking at old vintage photos and current styles to make the classic styles fresh.

6.  I’m really attracted to the fact that the swimsuits are made in in the USA.  What are the benefits of manufacturing your product locally?  

The principal advantage is that I can drive 15 minutes and talk directly to my production people.  That greatly improves communication it also allows us to do smaller production runs.  We have not looked very hard at doing production out of state or overseas for that matter, we hope we never have to.  Our life is complicated enough as is, it is really nice to have a straightforward production process.

My thanks to Pamela for taking the time from her very busy schedule in order to let us have a glimpse into her world of design.

Photo copyright Popina.  Do not copy, pin or tumble!

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Made in the USA – Popina

I’m always interested in finding clothing that is manufactured in the US, and I’ve gotten pretty good at finding US made items in many categories.  So I was surprised that I’d not somehow run across Popina in my search for US made garments.  Okay, the truth is that I’ve not shopped for a swimsuit in 15 years, and the thought of it was too hard to even consider.

But when I got an email from the people at Popina, asking if I’d like to try a suit in the privacy of my own home, I took a look at their site, and then said yes.  The line is very much inspired by  vintage swimwear with the one-piece suits being reminiscent of the swimwear of the 1950s.  They also have a selection of tankini suits and two-piece suits.

The Popina line is designed and made in Portland, Oregon.  As a nod to their city, they also carry Jantzen swimwear.  Jantzen was one of the great Portland companies that, unfortunately, is no longer made in the city.  They are, however, still in the swimwear business, with quite a few styles that are based on their designs of the past.

I chose the suit shown above, which Popina calls The Grace, from their retro swimwear collection.  When it arrived, I tried it on, and surprise of surprises, really liked the way it looked.  The fabric is nice and substantial, for a lack of better words.  At any rate, it is not thin and flimsy like so many of the swimsuits I’ve looked at in stores in recent years.  And the front and side seaming seemed to give a bit of a corset effect without feeling constraining.

The interior of the suit features a shelf bra. The front of the suit is fully lined, but the back is not.  I felt like the bra gave plenty of support, and added to the flattering line.  I really can’t say enough nice things about this suit.  It’s pretty, flattering, and well made in the USA.

If you live in the Portland area, there are two retail locations, and a new one will be opening next week.  Details are on their facebook page, along with a link to the newsletter (where you will find a 20% off coupon code good until March 13).

Soon, I’ll be featuring an interview with Popina designer and co-owner, Pamela Levenson.

Photos 1 and 4 are copyright Popina Swimwear.  Suit for review provided courtesy of Popina Swimwear.

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