CMMP: Where did you get your start, have you always worked in the textile industry?
JL: After university, I worked as an investment banker in London and Paris for various banking groups. I left investment banking after 15 years and moved to Italy to work on a few consumer good’s start-ups. In those years, I had first hand exposure to the Italian textile industry. In 2013, I was contacted by an Italian bank that was representing Loro Piana in their attempt to locate a buyer for their Stafford Springs, Connecticut based Warren Woolen Mill complex. Loro Piana had owned and operated the complex for 25 years and wanted to close and/or sell it. After a few glasses of wine and some due diligence work, I decided to tour the mill complex. Loro Piana closed the mill complex in December 2013, and I submitted a bid in March 2014. We purchased the mill complex in June of 2014. Shortly after, my wife and I packed up the family and moved to America. Although it has been the toughest 7 years of my life, I very much enjoy the challenge of reviving the domestic wool textile industry. Perhaps being an outsider has helped me to better frame the opportunity.
CMMP: How important is bringing this kind of manufacturing of fabrics back to the USA? It seems you are one of the last woolen mills still left in the US.
JL: It is critical that America rebuild its textile and apparel manufacturing industry. From 200+ operating wool mills that dotted the Northeast at the beginning of the 20th century, today, America counts on four operating wool mills. Meanwhile, both Asia and Europe have flourishing wool textile industries providing an engaging work experience and supporting local communities. In my observation, a new approach is required to revive the domestic textile manufacturing industry. Similar to the successful approach deployed in the domestic food & beverage industry, we need to focus on the local elements of the product. It is hard to argue that America needs more product. Rather, America needs better stories, and American Woolen’s worsted and woolen textiles tell a damn good story.
CMMP: Where do you see American Woolen going in the future? Reviving more mills around the US or focusing on the Connecticut mill?
JL: American Woolen will focus on its Stafford Springs heritage and build up from there. Rather than reviving more mills, we are working to create a textile/apparel ecosystem within Stafford Springs that can serve as a model for how America can revive its textile/apparel industries. Similar to the European approach, we need to create local industrial/economic clusters within textiles and apparel that can share resources and foster innovations. America’s industrial might was built on dedication to craft and teamwork, and it is no different today.