Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Company makes heirloom quilts, baby gear and more, all Made in America.

What sets the United States apart from the rest of the world is its innovation.

The innovative story of Ted and Candice Hoffman is no different than the millions of adventurous experiments that put America on the map as the “land of opportunity.”

Nearly 12 years ago, the couple purchased a fabric manufacturer called Clothworks. The Seattle-based company sold fabric primarily in Japan, Korea and Indonesia. It is indeed a global marketplace out there in textile land.

Clothworks began in 1954 as the Fabric Sales Company. “Those were the days when our moms still shopped for fabric to make clothes, curtains and those kind of things,” said Ted Hoffman.

The Fabric Sales Company business remained profitable for many years, but by the time the 1970s and 1980s rolled around, the big fashion fabrics companies were going out of business.

“Walmart and those kind of stores came along, and you could buy clothes for even cheaper than you could make them,” Hoffman said. “And besides, they were no longer teaching those kinds of sewing skills anymore.”

After selling rolls of fabric for about seven years, you could say that Hoffman began to get “ants in his pants.” As the American fabric industry began to wane, a new demand for fabric began to emerge — quilting.

“As the lack of fabric purchases increased, quilting, crafting and home sewing caught the public’s eye as a hobby for people to make quilts and gifts for people they love,” Hoffman said. “We continue to sell all over the world, but people are participating in this age-old tradition to use their hands.

“In having some conversations with some folks about four years ago, my big question to them is: ‘why aren’t we doing any of this in the U.S.?’ To make a long-story short, most of it just went away,” he added. “Most of it went to Asia and the rest of it just disappeared because it was cost prohibitive, out of date, OSHA rules and other restrictions were killing the domestic quilting industry.”

There are still some products in the quilting supply chain that exist because they found a niche that allows them to financially survive. America is the largest exporter of cotton, per industry trade group Cotton Incorporated. From the day the cotton is picked, 75 percent of the cotton is exported overseas.

In early 2015, Ted began brainstorming new business ideas. Bedding made from his fabric was one idea he came up with, but how would he go about getting it made?  

Enter Seattle native Bekki Kimbrough.

Kimbrough had spent 20 years living in San Francisco, where she worked in the textile industry. But she knew it was time to go home to Seattle after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015. Kimbrough called Ted Hoffman to see if there were any opportunities at Clothworks.

With Kimbrough’s manufacturing experience and Ted’s desire to get into the ready-made bedding business, it was a match made in heaven.

“I was researching who could make quilts and other baby bedding products in the U.S.,” Kimbrough said. “it took me literally more than 1 ½ years to find a factory who could sew to the level we needed. People are making simple, one fabric product here in the U.S., but I have not seen the piecing like we have. It’s mostly done in India and China at this point, but it’s not done in the U.S. There is nobody making quilts like these in the U.S.”

Clothworks came to partner with a non-profit sewing factory who employees people with disabilities. Disabled Americans use their unique skills to make baby bedding providing steady employment resulting in a quality way of life. But sewing actual products together is a much-needed skill which is far superior to an unreliable robotic process.

“It’s been a very long process because we need to find the machinery and teach the workers the proper process,” said Kimbrough.

 “Well we have a website now which launched just about two months ago. It gives information about Made in America and we also tell stories about who the people are and how they are vital in in the workforce.”

American Made Brand’s 100 percent cotton fabric is grown in the U.S., processed here, spun here and dyed here. The fill and the quilts are 100 percent cotton. Virtually every piece of product is 100 percent U.S. grown and made. The company says that hundreds of jobs are supported in the process.

That’s how we can bring jobs back to America. A 63-year-old fabric company transformed into an American Made Brand, a maker of heirloom quality quilts and bedding.