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Continued: Faribault Woolen Mill plans for swift growth

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 24, 2014 - 9:23 PM

At one time Faribault products were sold in department and specialty stores nationwide. At its peak, the company produced half the woolen blankets made in the United States.

But like many U.S. textile manufacturers, the business had a tough time competing against low-cost foreign textile mills. An ill-advised investment in a South Carolina textile mill by a previous owner proved to be a major cash drain, forcing the shutdown in 2009.

The new owners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying four automated looms and two computerized machines that shrink 16-foot blankets into thick snuggly sheets half that size. The investments quickened production.

Now Faribault can add products such as baby blankets and patterned throw pillows. While diversifying, “We deliberately are not making clothing right now,” Bildsten said. But that’s not stopping others.

Last year, the hip New York-based Engineered Garments special-ordered one of Faribault’s archival Native American designs — Salmon People. It used the artful red and black wool fabric to make peacoats that sold for $850 in the U.S. and Japan. It also made Salmon People vests and a $400 “over” shirt from Faribault’s West Point military blanket line. The products sold so well “that we came back and asked them to make their Fair Isle Nordic [design] for us for fall/winter 2014,” said Engineered Garments manager Angelo Urrutia. “We really love what they do.”

Building momentum

Other partners include Duluth-based Duluth Pack, which has turned Faribault’s blankets into backpacks, duffel bags and tote bags. Oak Street Boots in Chicago used the blankets to make boots. Faribault even turned its scraps into iPod covers and cup cozies for Caribou Coffee. “We are doing dozens and dozens of these joint ventures ... so it’s been an impressive year of growth,” Bildsten said.

He hopes the momentum will continue.

“We feel a deep connection to this community and mill and want to add more people. We want to make this place continue to hum.”

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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