By  on February 23, 2005

Like its Pennsylvania tuxedo — a black-and-red plaid hunting jacket that deer hunters wore with coordinating britches — Woolrich always has aimed to be purposeful in its 175-year history.

At first glance, the ensemble looks outdoorsy enough, but a closer look reveals an overextended collar that covers the neck, throat and mouth for added warmth and protection. The point being that everything the company designs is meant to have a functional end use. Practicality is nothing new for Woolrich.

In 1830, John Rich, the company’s founder, trekked to logging camps selling fabric, socks, coverlets and yarn from a mule cart, and 15 years later opened a mill in what is now Woolrich, Pa. From producing blankets for Army troops during the Civil War to suiting up Admiral Byrd for three Antarctic expeditions, Woolrich has long been enterprising in its pursuits. In 1975, the company unveiled its Arctic Parka for workers on the Alaskan pipeline.

Roswell Brayton Jr., the sixth-generation of the Rich family to head up Woolrich, said the brand’s direction remains committed to John Rich’s founding philosophy.

“The company was and still is conservative. Then and now, we have always concentrated on functional product, and we are very employee-oriented,” Brayton said. “The company has always thought in terms of long-term growth with security for our employees. Sustaining growth on a long-term basis has always been more important to us than fast-turn growth.”

Some might argue that the brand’s basic styles and silhouettes don’t lend themselves to trend-chasing. But Brayton insists the company has been on the move to position itself as a lifestyle marketing brand instead of a manufacturer. How that translates to outsiders can be seen in Woolrich’s:

  • Expansion in Western Europe and other parts overseas.
  • New children’s apparel.
  • New bottled-water business.
  • Building its outerwear sales.
  • Playing up the brand’s marketing as an outdoor lifestyle brand.
With aging Baby Boomers leading the charge into the great outdoors and often taking their families with them, brands such as L.L. Bean, REI and Eddie Bauer are trying to keep them covered with a sundry of apparel, accessories and gear. While Brayton steps back from saying the company was smart enough to plan for the outdoor boom, he does allow: “The fact is, we have made clothing for the outdoors for 70 years. All of a sudden, we see that continuing. We’re doing tremendous business in Italy, Germany and Japan.”

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