Oi Polloi

Woolrich : End of a Chapter

Published: Tue Mar 01 2011

If you’re as blog obsessed as we are you’ll now be sick of hearing how this season is the last one Daiki Suzuki is designing for Woolrich Woolen Mills. But there’s a reason why people are mentioning it so frequently and that is – to put it bluntly – because Daiki is the Man.


Having made his mark with the twin peaks of Woolen Mills by Woolrich and Engineered Garments he now stands head and shoulders above the competition, in our humble opinion. He is the man of the moment, no doubt about it.


To mark the end of his association with Woolen Mills by Woolrich, we thought it’d be a timely moment to fill you in on the history before Daiki got his talented mitts on their Woolen Mills range.


Established over 180 years ago, Woolrich can rightly lay claim to being the original outdoor clothing company.


Seen by many as the standard bearers for the American outdoor clothing, Woolrich was actually started by an Englishman, John Rich who was born on this side of the pond in 1786, so to the uber-patriots amongst you, Woolrich is (sort of) English. John Rich drew on his background to secure a job as a wool carder in Germantown, Pensylvania, as a 25 year old. No we don’t know what a wool carder does (or did) either but whatever it was, it stood him in good stead for the future.  His ambitions stretched further than just being a simple worker, and having saved up enough money he created his own factory in 1830. The mill ran alongside a small brook called Plum Run. Initially Rich himself would travel from logging camp to logging camp, selling fabric which the loggers wives would then fashion into various garments to keep their partners warm in the harsh winter.

It’s fair to say it went pretty well, and as the infrastructure and population of the area grew, so did the demand for hard wearing woolen garments. Rich continued to produce both finished and unfinished wool garments but the remote location of the mill meant as demand and production grew, the workforce also needed to. What followed was the establishing of a community around the Woolrich Mill.  In 1868 the first church was built to serve the burgeoning community. As the community grew, so did the town and the children’s day celebration in 1886 was attended by over 800 people. The whole thing has echoes of a similar tale taking place back here in the UK, in Somerset to be precise, as Cyrus and James Clark established their shoemaking community. 

By the time Woolrich reached it’s centennial anniversary in 1930 an entire community had been built around what was originally a small woolen mill. A baseball park, swimming pool, schoolhouse and various other community buildings were erected as America woke up to outdoor pursuits and adventure, partly fuelled by the growth in popularity of automobiles. The Woolrich community itself became briefly known as the automobile capital of the world. In 1923, the 71 families in Woolrich had 76 cars between them, unheard of elsewhere and probably a sign of the prosperity in the area, all of which was linked back to the mill which John Rich set up in 1830.


Following that initial century for amazing growth, Woolrich went from strength to strength.

Fast-forward to 1999, and a Japanese-born but USA-dwelling designer called Daiki Suzuki set up a brand called Engineered Garments. Through this he was able to revisit a personal passion, the fabrics of Woolrich. Having been an early fan of theirs in the 1970’s he approached them to supply fabrics for his Engineered Garments brand.

Eventually, Woolrich asked him to head up their new Woolen Mills project, beginning in 2006. Using the extensive back catalogue of Woolrich clothing as an inspiration, Daiki has somehow created a procession of new garments, tastefully influenced by the past but equally, dead contemporary.

Engineered Garments and Woolen Mills arrived at Oi Polloi HQ this week to the usual fanfare and fawning. It’s fitting that someone who designed a cape for Autumn/Winter is now cemented in our consciousness as a sartorial superhero.

To see what miracles he’s pulled off for Spring/Summer, you’d better brace yourself and click through.