Handmade by Him: Jim Berton, the man behind the pictures.

Up next in our series of employee features is Jim Berton – our resident photography/graphics/technology expert who loves learning new skills and putting them to use at Stormy Kromer.

SK: What do you do at Stormy Kromer?
JB: I wear a lot of hats. Really.

SK: Nice pun.
JB: Thank you. Truly, I learned to do what needs to be done. They needed a product photographer, so I’m the product photographer. I also digitize the embroidery for the logos on the custom hats and other products. I went to school for digitizing, so I’m trained in that, and I’ve got a pretty good background in graphics. I guess I’d say my day is split between embroidery, graphics and photography.

SK: How did you get the job?
JB: I was a plant manager for Modern Case Company in Bessemer, making cases for musical instruments. We had one of the first computerized cutting machines in the area, and when Bob (Jacquart, owner of Stormy Kromer) toured the plant to check out that machine, that’s when we met. When he bought his new cutting machine, he hired me to run it. He hired my wife, too.

SK: Your wife works here?
JB: She does, and we started on the same day. May 5th, eleven years ago.

SK: What have you learned in all that time?
JB: I learn something every day. I have to, or I can’t go to bed at night. Really, I’ll stay up until I learn something new. And I never tell anyone I don’t know how to do something—if they give me one day, I’ll know how to do it tomorrow.

SK: What do you think of the new lines of apparel?
JB: Things here just keep getting better and better and better. And the new gear is just a knockout. I shoot the pictures, and I say to myself, “Man, is this really made here?” I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.

SK: So you like it?
JB: We went from the “old man hat” to the “everyman hat,” and the things we’ve done since Gina (Thorsen, VP of Marketing & Sales) started, well, the sky’s the limit. As a matter of fact, my wife and I always planned to move back to Ohio someday, but because of the positive direction this company is going in, we’re going to stay up here ‘til we die.

SK: How many pieces of Kromer gear do you own?
JB: None, sorry. I’m the weird guy who wears shorts 12 months a year—even when snowblowing—so this warm clothing is just too much for me. I buy it all the time for family and friends, though.

SK: What does “Made in America” mean to you?
JB: It says it all. When I see people working here and putting out a product they’re proud to make, it just says it all.

SK: Anything else you want to say to Kromer fans?
JB: There are only two kinds of people in the world: The ones who get to work here and the ones who wished they work here!

Handmade by Him: Dan Pavlovich, dreaming of plaid.

Up next in our series of employee features is Dan Pavlovich – a longtime employee who grew up with Bob Jacquart, and now plays a key role in product design and development.

Stormy Kromer Design
SK: What do you do at Stormy Kromer?
DP:
Wow, what haven’t I done? I started at the front desk with Bob’s mom (Bob Jacquart, the head honcho here at Kromer). I’d sit there with a sewing machine and a telephone—greeting customers, laying out patterns, sewing and answering calls. I graduated to R&D, so now I work with the prototypes and new designs.

SK: So what sorts of things have you designed?
DP:
Oh, I’ve worked on a little bit of everything, but I did the tote bag, messenger bag, overnight bags and developed the plaids for the shirts.

SK: You came up with plaid? How do you come up with plaid?
DP:
I’ll just say you need a critical and artistic eye.

SK: How long have you worked for Bob?
DP:
I’ve been here since the old store on McLeod Avenue, which started out as Bob’s grandfather’s grocery store. It’s been 25 years for me, but I’ve known Bob since I was little. He lived one backyard away.

SK: Is that how you got the job?
DP:
Well, I went to college and got into costume design, then got out of it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive on that. Bob knew I could sew, though, so he hired me.

SK: Does costume design influence what you do today?
DP:
All the skills I have I learned in the theater in college. Sewing, colors, design—all of it. I did it all by hand and still do. I think that’s the best way to design—you really get a feel for what you’re making.

SK: How does it feel to know you’re helping stitch together a legend?
DP:
I really enjoy that. Everybody here has a hand in it, and no one has an ego. I’m very proud that we’re making people happy.

SK: What’s the best day you’ve had on the job?
DP:
Every day is my best day! (laughs) There’s truth in that, though. I really enjoy coming here. I won’t say that I don’t like leaving at the end of the day, but I love my job.

SK: What does “Made in America” mean to you?
DP:
It means we’re bucking the trend of making a fast buck.

SK: Anything else you’d like to tell Stormy Kromer fans?
DP:
Keep shopping! And just wait until you see the great gear that’s coming out next!

Handmade by Her: Melissa Allen, making a Kromer a Kromer.

Up next in our series of employee features, meet Melissa Allen!

Stormy Kromer Sewer
SK: What’s your role at Stormy Kromer?
MA: I put the earband on the cap. It’s a big job, and I love it.

SK: What are you most proud of in your work?
MA: My favorite thing is to see people wearing our caps. That puts a smile on my face, and I think: I sewed that!

SK: So, do you have a sewing machine at home?
MA:
No, but my first job out of high school was in a sewing factory. I’ve been doing this awhile.

SK: What kind of person works at Stormy Kromer?
MA:
You’ve got to be an honest, hard-working, happy person to be here. If you don’t like your job, why do it? You’ve got to be happy with it, and I expect that all of us are.

SK: When we say “True. Since 1903.” what do you think that means?
MA:
To me, it means good clothes and outdoor gear that will last a lifetime. And it just keeps getting better and better as time goes on.

SK: What’s your favorite piece of Stormy Kromer clothing?
MA:
It’s the Original wool cap. I buy those for everyone—even one for my grandbaby who’s not here yet!—but I haven’t gotten around to picking one up for myself.

Sewing an earband
SK: What keeps you at Stormy Kromer?
MA: I like it here. I like what I’m doing. Believe it or not, I like to get up and come to work every day—I walk in with a smile on my face.

SK: What’s your best day so far?
MA: Oh, my first day. I’d been trying to get a job here for a year, and I was just so excited to start.

SK: What does “Made in America” mean to you?
MA:
When I look inside the cap and see the flag and “Made in the USA” label, I know people are getting good quality and that they’ll be proud to wear it. What we make will last their whole lives.

SK: Any other advice for the people who’ll read this?
MA: You’re gonna love Kromer gear. Go get some!

American Made Gift Ideas from Stormy Kromer Employees

Recently we asked our employees for ideas of their favorite American made products (other than Stormy Kromer, that is!).  With their input, we’ve put together a little gift guide for you to inspire your holiday shopping this season.

Sock Monkey Kit
We’ll start with some fellow Midwestern companies.  Fox River Socks, located in Osage, IA, offers a full range of warm, comfortable, functional and fun socks for all your outdoor activities.  They’ve been manufacturing these fine foot covers in the Midwest since 1900.  In addition, they are the manufacturer of the Original Rockford Red Heel Monkey Sock.  They even offer a sock monkey kit!  At just $28, the kit includes everything you need to make one sock monkey.  A great project for crafters and their family!

 

 

Duluth Pack
Over in Duluth, MN, Duluth Pack has been making rugged and functional outdoor packs since 1882.  Like Stormy Kromer caps, these packs are built to last and guaranteed for life.  While you can’t go wrong with an Original Duluth Pack, we also love that they have added a modern twist to their traditional packs, like this Scout Pack complete with laptop sleeve.

 

 

 

Burt's Bees Essentials Set
Did you know Burt’s Bees products are made in the USA?  KJ, one of our Division Managers suggested them, and on their website it states: Over 95% of our products are made right in our own manufacturing plant in Durham, NC. The rest are made by other respectable American manufacturers.  They offer a wide variety of gift sets for men, women and babies too, all at a wide range of price points.

 

Weber Q 100 Grill
What better endorsement could you ask for than this?  “I have one of these, and it’s awesome,” says Jeremy from our IT department.  The Weber Q 100 portable grill packs 8,500 BTUs in a compact grill that is perfect for your next tailgate or picnic.  And of course, it’s made in the USA.

 

Classic Chapstick
And last but not least, “America’s Favorite Lip Balm”, Chapstick, is also made in the USA.  Available virtually everywhere, it makes a great last-minute stocking stuffer.  We’ve got a few employees who swear by it up here in the cold and dry Upper Peninsula winters.

 

 

 

 

So – what would YOU add to our American made gift guide?

 

As Seen in Esquire: American Made

For anyone who may have missed it, Stormy Kromer was included in Esquire Magazine’s list of “Great American Things” in their December 2012 issue.  Number 17 on the list was the Stormy Kromer Night-Timer.

The full list of “Great American Things” can be seen at the Made Collection’s website – where you can also shop!  Please consider supporting American manufacturers this holiday season, and the Made/Esquire Shop is a great place to do so!

What are you buying American this holiday season?

Handmade by Her: Patti Budgick, an outerwear legend.

Stormy Kromer Patti Budgick
SK: What do you do at Stormy Kromer?
PB:
I’m the work-lead for the outerwear line. That means I do a little of everything when it comes to our vests, the Town Coat, the Mackinaw Coat and the Airman’s Jacket. I make sure the orders get done in order; I make sure the shelves are stocked; and I sew right alongside my girls.

SK: That’s all?
PB:
Almost. I’m a supervisor, so there’s management duties, too. I help employees with personal stuff, if they need it. We’re pretty close around here.

SK: So what’s Bob (Jacquart, owner) like as a person?
PB: He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a good background. He’s a nice guy, easy to talk to. Bob’s got a good company to work for—they put employees first. And taking care of your kids is very important to him, so if your kid’s sick or something, he’s very supportive.

SK: What’s the best day you’ve ever had on the job?
PB:
I’ve been here so long, I don’t know if I can remember it! Seriously, it’s just great to work here.

SK: How long?
PB: Twelve years with Bob at Jacquart Fabric Products and two years now at Stormy Kromer.

SK: What do you do when you’re not making great outdoor gear?
PB:
Well, my husband is an avid fisherman, and I’m not. So I sit in the boat with my historical romance novels.

SK: What’s your single favorite Kromer item?
PB:
Petal Pusher, hands down. My husband, Rick, wears the original and always has. But they put that flower on there, and it’s adorable!

SK: We talk about being “True. Since 1903.” What does that mean to you?
PB:
We’re true to the American way of doing things. True to the legend and what we believe a legend should be. True to the craft and to old-fashioned standards. We’re authentic in everything we do.

SK: Anything else you want to tell Stormy Kromer fans?
PB:
We’re a happy little family here, and we all work together to make sure Stormy Kromer gear is an exceptional value. We take an extreme amount of pride in our work.

Inspected by Her: Eagle-Eye Jackson, also known as Lynn.

Lynn Jackson Stormy Kromer
SK: What do you do at Stormy Kromer?
LJ:
I’m one of three inspectors, and I make sure every cap that goes out is perfect. All the threads have to be cut off, the earband has to be straight, the monogramming needs to be good, no skipped stitches. Everything. On every cap.

SK: So how many caps is that for you?
LJ:
Well, in five years as an inspector (she’s been with the company for seven), that makes over half a million caps. Wow. I guess that’s why they call me “Eagle-Eye.”

SK: What’s the best day you’ve ever had on the job?
LJ:
We hit 612 caps in one day and every single one was perfect—not even a string to snip off.

SK: What’s the strangest day?
LJ: When nothing goes right. But, you know, that doesn’t happen too often around here.

Inspecting Stormy Kromer Caps
SK: How does it feel to know you’re stitching together a legend?
LJ:
I feel like a movie star. I love it. I’ve already got my picture in the newspaper—me inspecting a cap. Got it up in my living room. I’m proud. I’m the one who gets to inspect and help make that cap. It says we’re doing a good job, you know?

SK: Absolutely. It says a lot about your standards.
LJ:
Yes. It’s gotta be 100%. There can’t be anything wrong with any of the gear that goes out our doors. So I look at it like I’m buying it. You don’t want a thread hanging off that you pull and it unravels. That’s not Stormy Kromer. No, it’s gotta be perfect.

SK: What does “made in America” mean to you?
LJ:
We’re the only sewing company around anymore. We love our jobs. We’re proud of this. And here, you get something sewn to perfection.

SK: Anything you else you want to tell Stormy Kromer fans?
LJ:
When you buy a cap, you know that Eagle-Eye has looked at it!

Handmade by Her: Barb Wilman, Stormy Kromer Seamstress

This fall, we’d like to help you get to know the fine men and women at Stormy Kromer a little better through a series of employee interviews.  We’ll start by meeting longtime employee Barb Wilman.

Barb Wilman, Stormy Kromer Seamstress
SK: What do you do at Stormy Kromer?
BW:
Just about anything they ask. I’ve spent the last 4-5 years sewing the caps—putting in the inside labels and the piece that attaches the earband. I’ve done every job on that line.

SK: So how long have you been at SK?
BW:
I’ve worked for Bob (Jacquart, of Jacquart Fabric Products and Stormy Kromer) for over 20 years now. I enjoy it here. It’s really like my family.

SK: It actually is your family, isn’t it?
BW: Yes, extended family. My husband, Jim, has worked here 15 years.

SK: How would you describe the company to an outsider?
BW:
Oh, my gosh. I get teary-eyed because Bob has taken such good care of me. And if you give the man an honest day’s work, he’ll pay you an honest wage.

SK: What part of all this are you most proud of?
BW: It might sound kind of odd, but seven years ago, my son started work on the BNSF railroad.  Now he’s an engineer, just like Mr. Kromer himself. I’m so proud of that.

SK: What’s the toughest part of the job?
BW:
Getting up in the morning.

SK: Is there anything else you’d rather be doing, other than sleeping in?
BW:
Nope. And that’s ironic because my mother used to sew my clothes, and she’d say to me “Whoever thought you’d sew for a living.” Well, apparently I really enjoy this.

SK: What’s your favorite Kromer cap color?
BW:
People sure seem to love the partridge plaid, but I think I’ll stick with my pink one.

SK: Why does “Made in America” matter to you?
BW:
Businesses send so many jobs overseas, it’s like we’re not taking care of our own in this country. People say there aren’t jobs here, well, we’re proving them wrong.

SK: Anything else you want to tell Kromer fans?
BW:
Come on up to the U.P.—to God’s country—and take a tour. We’d be more than happy to show you how we make your Kromers.

Featured Retailer: Mast General Store

Stop by and see what hasn’t changed in the last 129 years.

There’s an 80-year-old man in the village of Valle Crucis, North Carolina, who can’t remember a day he didn’t head down to Mast General Store for lunch—a plug of baloney and a cold glass of Yoo-Hoo.

He’s not alone. Most folks in this tiny, Blue-Ridge-Mountain town (and thousands more from the surrounding region) depend on the Mast Store for virtually everything a person needs for life. Shoes, socks, shirts and outdoor gear—plus things like jams, jellies, hand-made furniture and the sort of service you’d expect at the turn of the century.

Just not the last turn of the century.

Mast General Store opened in 1883 to take care of the friends and neighbors who farmed the surrounding lands. And even though generations of those farmers have turned into generations of city-dwellers, they continue to seek the authenticity the Store was founded on.

“We still ask our patrons what they need us to stock, and that’s what we put on our shelves,” said Sheri Moretz, Community Relations Manager for all nine Mast Stores. “It works like retail is supposed to: recognizing and caring about customers, welcoming them with conversation, keeping them as friends.”

Walk in the store and see it for yourself. The first thing you’ll notice is people playing checkers at the potbellied stove with bottle caps off a few old-fashioned Coca-Colas. The next thing you’ll notice is the Post Office, where Valle Crucis still gets its mail. After that, grab yourself a cup of coffee—it’s a nickel, and that’s on the honor system—then mosey up and down the aisles. (Literally up and down, too, because the floor isn’t so level after all these years.)

You can also take a seat on the liar’s bench out front, which is where many good tales are told.

“We love stories here at Mast Store,” added Moretz before diving into one about the time the Charles Kuralt came in for a visit. “He wrote an article about us and said ‘Where should I send you to know the Soul of the South? I think I’ll send you to Mast General Store.’ That was the 1980s, and people are still seeking that same experience.”

It’s these types of genuine, down-to-earth anecdotes that led the buyers at Mast Store to put Kromers on the shelves.

“Stormy Kromer’s got a great story,” said Moretz. “It’s authentic, and it shows we share the same values. This is a made-in-the-USA product that fits a modern need in a traditional manner. That’s what we are, too.”

Stop by, see for yourself, and spin a few stories of your own, at MastGeneralStore.com.

Mr. Grossman, You are the Caretaker of a Legend.

All employees here at Stormy Kromer receive this nifty plaque when they are hired, reminding them of the rich Kromer history they are keeping alive.

We all have fun displaying them on our desks, sewing machines and other work stations.  It gives everyone a little extra sense of pride.

So we got to thinking, who else deserves this honor?

Last month, at a long overdue dinner meeting in Milwaukee, Bob Jacquart, our CEO, presented Dick Grossman with a special Caretaker of a Legend plaque.

If you need a quick refresher, Mr. Grossman was the second owner of the Kromer Cap Company, having purchased it from Stormy himself in the mid-60′s.  In 2001, after one meeting and a handshake, Bob and Dick had an agreement which moved the Kromer Blizzard Cap to its current home in Ironwood, MI.  Dick continued running the Kromer Cap Company for a few more years in Milwaukee, manufacturing the company’s cotton caps used by welders, railroad workers, and other tradespeople.

At 79, Dick is now retired from the hat business.  He’s as high-energy as ever, and is downright giddy about the success of Stormy Kromer over the past 10 years.  He’s pretty sure that Stormy would be proud of us too.

Presenting this small token of appreciation to him seemed the least that we could do.  Without him, who knows what would have been the fate of the now iconic cap?  He believed in the product, in making things in the USA, and in good old-fashioned quality.  He kept things going until the next Caretaker was ready to take over.

And for that Dick, we tip our caps to you.