The Mohnton Knitting Mills was founded by Aaron Hornberger in 1906. Hornberger’s father, Cyrus, laid the foundation for the company when he built a water wheel near what is now the Main Street location in 1873.
Over its 111 years, Mohnton Knitting Mills produced various items such as hats, T-shirts, designer clothes lines and thermal underwear, according to Aaron Hornberger’s great-grandson Gary Pleam, who took over as company president in 1994 and who presided over the sale of the company recently.
Stitch Fix’s growth
In just six short years, Stitch Fix made a thunderous impact in the $353 billion U.S. apparel, footwear and accessory market.
It reported revenues of $342.8 million, $730.3 million and $977.1 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Its list of active clients grew from 867,000 in August 2015, to 2.2 million currently.
Its founder, a Harvard MBA named Katrina Lake, was No. 23 on this year’s Fortune 40 Under 40, a ranking of the most influential young people in business.
Ironically, Stitch Fix made its fortune not by making clothes for everyone, but by selling clothes tailored specifically to each of its more than 2 million customers.
Online shopping ransacked the retail industry, but, according to Lake, depersonalized the clothes buying experience.
Stitch Fix, through integration of data science and human judgement, is attempting to bridge that gap. It employs 75 data analysts and 3,400 employee stylists.
Customers disclose some 85 preferences, ranging from basic considerations about style, color and fit, to personal preferences such as what parts of their body they want to either flaunt or hide, or how frequently they dress for special occasions. The data and preferences are processed through algorithms, and further mulled over by data analysts and stylists. What emerges are recommendations for fashion combinations that each individual customer is most likely to purchase.
Drawing from more than 700 established and emerging brands, merchandise is selected and sent to the client who then either makes a purchase or returns the items.
A company spokeswoman would not comment directly on the purchase of the Mohnton Knitting Mills.
A recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Stitch Fix explained that the newly-purchased mills would be used to “experiment with making very small quantities of apparel to test with our clients.”
It stated further that the company has “no plans to manufacture apparel in any meaningful quantities.”
However, online job ads for Stitch Fix sung a slightly different tune.
“We are looking for bright, kind and goal-oriented industrial knitters to help us grow our first Manufacturing facility,” read a Stitch Fix ad.
“Fabric made in the Shillington location will be completed by our cutting and sewing team in Mohnton, creating a finished garment made in the USA.
“This is an exciting opportunity which enables Stitch Fix to make our own clothing in close proximity to our largest warehouse in order to get it into the hands of our clients faster,” the ad stated.
At its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mohnton Knitting Mills employed about 75, including five people who ran the knitting machines. The remainder of employees sewed garments, or worked as support staff, Pleam said.
Global competition spurred primarily by the North American Free Trade Agreement took its toll on the industry, Pleam said.
The underwear went overseas.
“Once the dam is broken, everybody’s got to bail,” Pleam said, explaining that manufacturers followed cheap, overseas labor.
In 2011 Mohnton Knitting Mills got a shot in the arm when it began making items for the trendy Edith A. Miller fashion line, as well as its own Robert Miller line of clothing.
Internet sales, a growing thrift shop trend, and a recession in Japan, the company’s biggest customer, made life at the mills a tough road to sew.
“That hurt our little mom and pop shops that were buying our things,” Pleam said.
The company had about 15 employees, including just one knitter, when it was sold to Stitch Fix, Pleam said.
The time is right for a change, Pleam said.
“I’m excited. I’m relieved. I’m nostalgic,” Pleam said. “And overall it’s a good thing.”
Article originally found here