Woolrich Inc. undergoing change

Restructure continues, but new investment planned




LOCK HAVEN – Amid continued restructuring of its business, Woolrich Inc. President Nicholas Brayton said residents and consumers can expect the company to invest in the Woolrich mill.

“There is no argument around the fact that we want to invest in the mill, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he told a crowd at Thursday’s Kiwanis Club of Lock Haven meeting.

In a very transparent talk, Brayton revealed that the global market has been tough and that the company is going through heavy restructuring in order to stay afloat.

EXPRESS FILE PHOTOS The Woolrich Inc. woolen mill, above, across from the company’s U.S. headquarters in the village of Woolrich in Clinton County, is to undergo upgrades over time to include improvements to the structure and new equipment, the company CEO said. Below is the company’s flagship outlet store, also in the village of Woolrich.

In the last several decades, the privately owned Woolrich Inc. has seen huge changes to its U.S. operations.

Founded in 1830 by John Rich and Daniel McCormick, Woolrich is the oldest outdoor apparel manufacturer in the United States.

The company was very successful through the 1970s, but suffered in the 1980s due to competition as outerwear companies moved their manufacturing to lower cost overseas plants.

In 1990, Woolrich laid off half of its 2,600 employees and then closed six plants over the next five years due to dropping sales.

Over the years, the company’s workforce has seen decline.

EXPRESS FILE PHOTOS The Woolrich Inc. flagship outlet store, also in the village of Woolrich.

There have been recent layoffs, he acknowledged.

In 2007, Brayton’s father, CEO Roswell Brayton, Jr., a sixth generation member of the founding Rich family, died unexpectedly, leaving Nick to take over as CEO in 2012.

Then, in 2016, the privately owned American company merged with Italian company WP Lavori in Corso, which controls Woolrich Europe, to form Woolrich International.

Lavori was Woolrich’s licensee of its trademark in Europe in Asia.

The merger included all of the entity’s industrial assets, the rights associated with the brand and the entire distribution network.

Lavori was a partner of Woolrich since 1984, and initially was involved in distribution.

“Sadly … Woolrich, we tried to be everything for everybody” over too long of a period, Brayton said Thursday.

“There’s a lot more competition today than ever … the landscape has changed when it comes to brands.”

Woolrich, branded as “The Original Outdoor Clothing Company,” is now headquartered in London , with WP Lavori in Corso having a majority stake in the company and Rich family shareholders having a minority position.

Company labels are Woolrich Outdoor, distributed in North America, and Woolrich John Rich & Bros., a high-end outerwear line distributed worldwide.

The Woolrich collections are distributed in many countries through a network of multiple stores worldwide.

But Brayton said the company is molding itself to fit the new market.

“We really had to figure out a way forward,” he said, to do what was best for the shareholders.

According to Brayton, the merger with WP Lavori in Corso made sense financially.

“We’re still in the throes of restructuring the business here,” he said.

With the European market, Woolrich International has more of a focus on outerwear than traditional “ready to wear” outdoor clothing the company was known for.

Brayton said the company has “a big opportunity” to appeal to European markets and is already doing quite well in Europe and Asia.

As for the Woolrich mill in the iconic village of Woolrich in eastern Clinton County — a mill that has been in operation since 1830 but was rebuilt after a 1904 fire — Brayton said it is in need new investment.

The machinery and technology in the mill has aged significantly.

“A lot of looms don’t have the efficiencies new looms have,” he said.

He said he and the other shareholders intend to improve the mill’s machinery, the building, the conditioning of the weave room and the boiler.

With those renovations, he said, the company can offer better products.

“Hopefully down the road, we can add a second shift (at the mill),” he said, which could add new jobs.

Currently, the mill operates from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week, but the company could add a 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift to increase operations.

Of course, Brayton said, “that’s all driven by customer demand” from the European, Asian and U.S. markets.

Some of Woolrich’s North American stores are located in Boston, New York, Woodbury Commons and Toronto.

The company also sells its products in different locations around North America, ranging from department stores to boutiques and outdoor specialty stores.

“We basically service a wide range of different types of clients,” said Brayton.

Woolrich employs about 50 people at its mill and 160 people overall in its Central Pennsylvania operations.

That includes the Jersey Shore distribution center, the mill, corporate and customer service departments.

Its public relations and marketing departments mostly operate out of the New York office.

“Both Woolrich International and Woolrich U.S. are 100 percent aligned about the importance of the mill and continuing it and building better products,” Brayton said.

“We don’t want to dismantle any operations here (in Pennsylvania),” he asserted.