If you enjoy alliteration as much as looking at photos taken at cool Japanese trade fairs then you my friend are in for one hell of a Tokyo togs based treat. When Jungmaven‘s Rob Jungmann isn’t busy creating new and exciting hikerdelic brands, espousing the wonders of hemp tee shirts or writing guides to Costa Rican surf paradises in cool periodicals called Proper, he’s travelling round the world checking cool shit out. This week he’s been at Jumble in Japan to see what our cool pacific cousins will be wearing in AW13. Not only has he snapped loads of ace product shots from the likes of Sime, Fundamental Agreement (how much do they sound like a funk band?), Oak Company, Salience, Randolph Engineering, Amanjakania, Tieasy, Hickorees and Johnnybird but he’s also done us a little Q&A with Ohio Knitting Mills. Expect to see most of these labels hitting the UK shops some time around 2023 (joke) and don’t forget where you heard about them first (deadly serious). Big thanks to Rob from the Proper crew for the most excellent reportage..
How old is Ohio Knitting Mills? Are you part of the family that founded it?
OKM was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1927 by Harry Stone, along with a partner, Walker Woodworth. In the 1930-40’s, the mill employed up to 1,000 workers during peek season, and sold its menswear to department stores large and small throughout the USA. Harry retired in 1947, and his son-in-law, Leonard Rand took over running the Mill. Leonard’s son, Gary Rand joined the business in 1969, after graduating from the Philadelphia College of Textiles and a few years of working in the New York’s garment center. Upon Leonard’s death in 2001, Gary took full control of the business. Steven Tatar met Gary in 2004. At that time, Ohio Knitting Mills was being shrunk down as a full-time knitwear manufacturer; the factory building had been sold, and most of their 265 machines were being sold off as well. Gary and Steven were distantly related through marriage, and shared personal histories of both being the 3rd generation of Cleveland-based family businesses that had design souls (Steven’s grandfather had founded American Greetings Corp.) Gary asked Steven if he would get involved in imagining a new century for Ohio Knitting Mills, and after some planning and consideration, Steven took over the Ohio Knitting Mills name and control of its extensive archive of knitwear made by the mill between 1946-79.
Does the OKM still make its clothing in Cleveland? Where does it make its garments?
Though our factory on E61st closed down in 2005, we remained a business as we shrank our production, separating the knitting production from the design and sewing functions. When the old factory shut down, several of our remaining knitting machines were moved to another knitting mill in New Jersey to be operated by Fleck Knitwear Co, a small family operation that had been working with OKM since the 70’s. Peter Fleck, the son of that mill’s founder, works closely with OKM to produce our textile designs under our direction. The current Ohio Knitting Mills factory is in a 120 year old industrial building in Cleveland, 6 blocks away from the previous location, where Steven and his team design their knit textiles, apparel, and patterning, and do all of OKM’s fabric washing, cut & sew assembly, and finishing. In addition to producing our knits at Fleck, we also work with two other small knitting factories: one in NYC and a similarly sized one in the far north of Minnesota- both are family businesses with histories as long as OKM. After knitting, these fabrics are sent back to the OKM factory in Cleveland to be sewn. The yarns we use are spun in the USA and in France. There are substantial and exceptional assets and treasures from Ohio Knitting Mills that are at the heart of the emerging brand. Most significant is our extensive archive of OKM-produced knitwear, which includes over 2,000 sweaters, shirts, dresses, vests, capes, skirts, and even pants made by OKM between 1946-79. We also have a library of over 4,000 swatch card samples of almost every knit fabric made by the mill since 1936; taken together, this collection represents an extremely rich resource of sportswear and textile inspirations reflecting over half a century of popular culture fashion for the masses. Numerous other pieces of ephemera, such as photographs, hand tools, and clothing labels from over 100 OKM customers from the 1940-60’’s, are also preserved. Examples of these wonders, along with the story of Ohio Knitting Mills and the emergent American middle-class culture it grew up with, are told in our book The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book, published in 2010 by Artisan Books. Prior to 2005, none of the products made at OKM had an Ohio Knitting Mills label- they were strictly a contract knitter, and everything they made was labeled with the customer’s name. Steven put his focus on developing a new apparel brand called Ohio Knitting Mills, which has the remarkable OKM archive as its design language and the legacy of heartland manufacturing craftsmanship it emerged from as the brand’s voice.
What does Ohio Knitting Mills make today? Only menswear?
As during our first 85 years, we are forward-looking and interested in creating apparel that is fresh and relevant today while also recognizing and embracing the sensibilities of our roots. We make exceptional quality sportswear in America of the finest materials that are very wearable and lean towards the playful colors and patterns of our historic collections. While our full collection for fw13 is a men’s line, we also create capsule collections of womenswear, and look ahead to eventually reintroducing a children’s line, as well as exploring homeware products derived from our over +70 year library of textile patterns from OKM.
Does Ohio Knitting Mills do private label?
We no longer provide contract knit production to other labels as we have for our first 8 decades. We do however get involved in collaborations with select labels as co-branded projects. Though we receive numerous requests to work with other labels, we only agree to these partnerships when the other label is one that is highly regarded, has an audience that aligns well with the OKM audience, is a label with established accounts and a track-record of business success, and an aesthetic and brand point-of-view that is compatible with the ethos of Ohio Knitting Mills. When we take on these collaborations, the Ohio Knitting Mills label is always visible in some way alongside the partner’s name.
Are your clothes all wool? Or are they made of acrylic?
We knit with a variety of yarn compositions. Numerous considerations go into our yarn specifications, including the season of the garment, weight and gauge of the yarn and type of knitting machine we will produce it on, the performance of the finished item, and the pricing of the garment. We can specify a wide range of yarns: wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, acrylic, alpaca, mohair, and blends to suit a variety of seasons, uses and price-ranges.