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 Springsteen.
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.
American 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.