Woolrich – History, Philosophy, Iconic Products
Woolrich is one of the classic American woolen company. Nestled in rural Pennsylvania, the Woolrich woolen mills have been pumping out quality woolen goods since the early nineteenth century, making the brand the oldest continous manufacturer of outdoor clothing in the United States.
After almost two hundred years in the business, Woolrich has woven itself into American history, known for their high-quality woolen goods which pass the test of time with flying colors – both physically and aesthetically.
Woolrich History and Philosophy
In the early 1800s, John Rich – the son of a wool weaver – migrated to America from Liverpool, England. After initially settling in Philadelphia, Rich moved to the more rural, central sector of Pennsylvania, using his knowledge of the wool industry to rent and operate a small woolen mill in Mill Hall, PA.
After saving adequate funds, Rich relocated again, this time to the nearby rural micro-community of Plum Run, where he joined his business partner Daniel McCormick to build his first woolen mill and founded the Woolrich brand in 1830.
With Plum Run and the surrounding mountainous areas full of lumberjacks, trappers and huntsmen, Rich would load up a mule cart with his woolen fabrics, socks, and yarns, and travel to local lumber camps, selling his goods to the local outdoorsmen and their families. With logging and timber the main source of income in these rural regions, Woolrich brand goods were perfect for keeping workers warm in the harsh Pennsylvania winters.
In need of a sufficient water supply for their successful mill, Rich and McCormick decided to move their operations to Chatham’s Run in Pine Creek Township in 1834. The pair bought 300 acres of land in the new location, building a sawmill that would provide enough timber for a new woolen factory and log houses for its workers.
Rich bought McCormick’s stake in Woolrich in 1843, and went on to build a new mill in 1845. This new mill required a large number of employees, so Rich built houses around it, creating a whole new township which would later become officially known as Woolrich, Pennsylvania.
Woolrich gained more and more prestige as the years went on, not only within the lumber industry, but with the military as they supplied the wool blankets essential to the survival of many Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Woolrich went on to produce workwear for the railroad workers of the early twentieth century, and American troops in the two world wars. By this point, Woolrich had woven itself into the tapestry of American history, with their iconic black-and-red plaid synonymous with an ever-changing America.
Woolrich is still headquartered in Woolrich, PA, to this day. Although a dip in business during the seventies and eighties saw Woolrich cut American jobs and outsource most of their production abroad, the brand still holds its heritage in that it still produces blankets and stock fabrics. Seventh and eighth generation members of the Rich family are still involved in the brands’ management, and progress is being made to shift more of their workforce back to the United States where Woolrich made its name.
Now a global name, Woolrich is a structure of three brands: Woolrich, Woolrich Woolen Mills, and Woolrich John Rich & Bros. Woolrich acts as the main U.S.A. brand, while Woolrich John Rich & Bros and Woolrich Woolen Mills are sub-brands highly influenced and distributed by Italian distributors, WP, who work with many other heritage brands including Barbour, Baracuta, and Velva Sheen. All of the brands now produce a diverse range of products, many with contemporary designs and fabrics – like Gore-Tex lined parkas and rain jackets – as well as a plethrora of woolen goods.
Woolrich fabrics can still be bought by the by the yard, including the iconic buffalo check – a type of plaid pioneered by Woolrich. Rumor has it that a Woolrich’s designer coined the term ‘Buffalo plaid’ for this classic Scottish pattern, in honor of his small herd of the animal. Woolrich also supplies curated fabrics for period-accurate reenactments in theatre and film.
With their rich American heritage held in high regard in the fashion industry, Woolrich has collaborated with other brands on a plethora of products, including a collection with Clarks in 2013, and recent projects with New Balance, Danner, and Supreme.
Iconic Woolrich Products
Constructed from heavyweight wool with high levels of insulation and water resistance, the Woolrich Mackinaw Jacket is usually made up in bright buffalo plaid – typically in red and black – and features four roomy patch pockets and a robust button closure. The Mackinaw jacket has roots that stretch to before Woolrich began, however, their version was designed for lumberjacks and adopted by outdoorsmen as a sportswear piece in the 1930’s, and is often dubbed ‘hunting jacket’.
Buffalo Check Shirt
An Americana classic, Woolrich are also known for their Buffalo Check Shirts. Made of mid-weight wool, with silky fabric lining the neck and cuffs for extra comfort whilst working – the Buffalo Check Shirt is a utilitarian piece -often dubbed the ‘lumberjack shirt’. It features classic two-pocket construction, with a curved hem allowing for easier tucking, and adjustable cuffs for easier sleeve rolling.
If you visit any good vintage store with a good Americana collection, chances are you’ll see some Pendleton and Woolrich blankets. Woolrich blankets have been made in a plethora of patterns, iconically buffalo plaid, shadow plaid, and archetypal striped blanket pattern – think lined denim jackets by Levi’s or the Lee Storm Rider. Super warm and cozy, these blankets will only get softer over time with the right care and use.