Maine Public Broadcasting - Maine’s textile industry had its heyday a century ago, but one company in Portland sees a bright future in textile manufacturing and is producing garments stitched from 100 percent American-made materials. As they did a 100 years ago, immigrants are the workforce that’s helping to fuel this new textile industry into the future.
Fleece jackets are so
ubiquitous these days, you’d think it would be easy to find the
materials needed to make them. But not if you are committed to using
only materials that are made here in the U.S.
“It took us six
months to find pocket fabric made in the U.S. for jackets and vests,”
says Ben Waxman, co-founder of American Roots, which specializes in
company apparel — fleece jackets, vests and pullovers that can be
customized with a business’s logo.
In fact, it took a good year
of sleuthing to find all American-made material, he says. Those pockets
are made in Colorado, most of the fleece is made in Massachusetts, the
zippers are manufactured in California and the labels are made right
here in Lewiston.
They’re all stitched together at American
Roots’ bright, daylight-filled warehouse just a few blocks from downtown
Portland. Eight sewing machines hum along to the sounds of Bruce
Once the search for U.S.-made products was complete,
American Roots co-founder Whitney Reynolds says she had to embark on
another difficult search.
“We needed to find a workforce, and we found it really wasn’t out there, so we needed to train them,” she says.
Roots partnered with Portland Adult Education, Goodwill and Coastal
Enterprises to offer a 7-week training program. Reynolds says 30 people
responded to the ad.
“Out of that 30 that we vetted, two of them
were native Mainers, and I was shocked to see that,” she says. “Two of
those people‚ and then one didn’t show up for interview. So clearly the
majority was new Americans.”
Before starting American Roots,
Waxman spent more than a decade working for the national AFL-CIO. In
that time, he met workers who had felt firsthand the effects of the
decline in domestic manufacturing, and he dreamed of starting a business
that produced something 100 percent U.S.-made.