Woolrich: Part of the fabric of U.S. history
(CBS News) Wool is the raw material for a storied American firm. Seth Doane now with a "Sunday Morning" Success Story:
An old mill in central Pennsylvania is churning-out wool, just as it has for the better part of the last two centuries.
When the Woolrich Company opened its doors in 1830, Andrew Jackson was president; slavery divided the country; and the Oregon Trail was the main route west.
"Basically, the history of our country is the history of this company," said designer Karuna Scheinfeld. "When the mill was created, there were only 24 states, so the mill saw the growth of our nation and the move westward."
She opened the Woolrich vaults to give Seth Doane a peek. "Every time I come here, I find something new," she said.
Scheinfeld hunts for modern inspiration through clothing of the past - whether an iconic railroad vest used by conductors, or hooded parkas for explorers. One piece said "worn by the Byrd Antarctic Expeditions, 1939, ' 40, '41."
Some items have roots that date way back to Civil War, such as blankets given out to soldiers. "Their core form of survival came in the heat that these blankets gave to them," she said.
A bright red fabric running through the mill is destined for today's troops, becoming the insignia on the Marine Corps' dress uniform.
Sandy Watkins is proud of her 43 years at Woolrich. During that time she has endured layoffs, and seen some jobs shipped overseas.
The company that once employed more than 2,600 now employs fewer than 500 today.
"I'm just glad I'm still here," Watkins laughed. "Thank the Lord - I'll be here for a long time yet."
Watkins' life is interwoven with Woolrich's, which once even owned her home.
During the Great Depression, when work dried up, the company turned its wool-workers into wood-workers, keeping them busy building homes . . . a company town taking care of its own.
Cousins Nick Brayton and Josh Rich plan to carry-on family tradition, running this empire of wool.
"It's taking that heritage and finding new ways to bring it forward," Rich told Doane.
Looking backwards to move fashion forward is paying off for Woolrich. Karuna Scheinfeld says one of the hottest items today is an update of an arctic parka, created in 1972 for workers on the Alaskan pipeline. They're now selling for $695
Of course, not all of the one-time top sellers have endured . . .
Scheinfeld showed Doane an item called a "Pennsylvania tuxedo": "Because not only do you wear it hunting, but you wear it to Sunday church."
Maybe leaving SOME of history on the shelf is a good thing.
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