Posts Tagged ‘Heritage’

Thank you to all the Cleveland workers who came before us!









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When Ohio Knitting Mills started out in the late 1920’s, the mill made menswear exclusively. Wool sweaters originally, and soon after that, summer weight knit tops for the warmer seasons: what today we would simply call tees and polo shirts. Back then-the 1930’s- a colorful, stylish knit top for a gent was somewhat the provenance of the ‘sporting class’, and associated with the leisure lifestyles of the elite and wealthy, and their high-end recreational sports; hence the term ‘polo shirts’. This sportswear style was also referred to as ‘tennis’ or ‘golf’ shirts.

The Duke of Windsor, c. 1938. His lavish and elegant, as well as scandalous, lifestyle was a source of endless fascination and envy for the middle class on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to his celebrity, he was often thought of as prototypical of royal life, and the pinnacle of sophisticated style

After World War II, the middle class in America expanded rapidly, and this upwardly mobile population sought apparel that signaled their new affluence and admittance into the leisure class- albeit for part of a weekend. Sportswear modeled on the attire of the Royals and their realm were widely adopted, and Ohio Knitting Mills gladly met this demand.

Knit sportswear was now a common item for a broad cross-section of American men. Sometimes referred to as “poorboy shirts”, the patterns and colors were almost endless. Frequently worn with high-waisted pants, generally tucked in, the poorboy was short in the torso with a banded waist. As a salute to this rapidly waning summer, here’s some of our favorites, along with a few tennis shirts from the OKM archives; all are circa 1946-52.

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We’re fond of telling anyone who will listen about the roots of Ohio Knitting Mills- and so we hope a few people in the world know that we were founded in Cleveland, Ohio in the year 1927 by Harry Stone and his business partner, Walker R. Woodworth.

Harry Stone, c. 1932. Yes, this is a knit portrait.

Over the next some months we’ll share in this blog more of the authentic and colorful history of our amazing company- the people, the times, the products, and the legacy that came to be “America’s knitting mill”. These are stories of more than just a factory and a business: OKM was one of the most technically sophisticated textile design houses in the world, and was an important contributor to the emergence and mainstreaming of that most American of fashion genres: sportswear. So, let’s get into our way-back machine, shall we…..

Harry and Walker started their knitwear careers working for Rich-Sampliner Knitting Mill; Walker was the production manager, and Harry was in the field as one of the salesmen.

A sales brochure from Rich-Sampliner Knit Goods, c. early 1920's

These two enterprising gents struck out on their own in 1926 when the Rich Co. fell on hard times. They pooled all their resources, which basically was Harry’s automobile, and Walker’s $500, and they started their own knitting mill, which was originally called the Stone Knitting Mill. They set up their operation in a vast industrial complex, the National Screw and Tack Building, located in Cleveland’s cacophonous industrial east side.

The vast National Screw Builoding housed many industrial businesses in the 1920's; including Stone Knitting Mill.

Walker was the inside man, running the nuts and bolts of the operation, and Harry was the outside man, traveling throughout the Midwest and East coast meeting with customers and selling their lines. They specialized in menswear- both worsted wool sweaters for fall/winter, as well as cotton short sleeve shirts. The young business thrived, and by the early 1930’s, in spite of the economic hardships of the Great Depression, the Mill was employing close to 1,000 workers.

For much of the 20th Century, Cleveland had a thriving garment industry; estimated to be second only to New York at various times. The city was home to over 25 knitting mills, as well as large factories producing coats, dresses, suits, hosiery, millinery, etc, as well as much of the support industries that made garment production possible- yarn spinning, dye-houses, cut & sew shops, notions, finishers, and machine manufacturers (White Sewing Machines was a Cleveland-based company back then).

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Oh! City of Lights, City of Ambition and Striving, City of Guys in Flannel, Workboots, and……MidCentury Modern Knitwear! Ohio Knitting Mills had a terrific visit with old friends and new in NYC this past week while showing our amazing Virgin Vintage knitwear at the Pop Up Flea in Nolita. We were joined by other roots brands like Tellason, Billykirk, Gitman Bros, Shott NYC, Alexander Olchs, and Rogues Gallery.

We were also joined by some labels I can only call the ‘grown-ups’, like JCrew and Jack Spade – is it possible these big corp labels were slumming with us bootstrappers to get some rub-off cred?! No matter, because all are very welcome and all the vendors showed up large, looked fine, brought handsome goods and the vibe was just about the love.  Great appreciation and respect to Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean and Randy Goldberg of Urban Daddy for putting the event together, and to Whitney Shanks of Openhouse Gallery for making us welcome and comfortable.

As always, New York was bracing, surprising, sassy and sartorial- and it felt like coming home to be back in the ‘burg. And many, many great folks (and I do mean many!) came out to see us.  Nice sweaters, folks!

Such a dapper gent !

We’re working on some plans to bring OKM back to the City on a more regular basis. Meanwhile, stay in touch and shop us on our website.

Cue the Miles Davis….

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