Wilson & Willy's Founder Relaunches MN Heritage Brand Northwestern Knitting Company

After helping his father, Chuck, revive heritage brand Faribault Woolen Mill, John Mooty was inspired to research old Minneapolis clothing labels and stumbled across the Northwestern Knitting Company. Founded in 1888 by George D. Munsing, its factory (in what is now International Market Square) became the world’s largest manufacturer of underwear before closing in 1981. In between, the company was renamed Munsingwear and introduced the world’s first knit golf shirt and its iconic penguin logo.

Mooty—who happened to be living at the International Market Square when he got the idea to bring back the Northwestern Knitting Company name—was intrigued not only by the brand’s history but for its innovative method of knitting, which involved combining wool fibers with silk or cotton to form a fabric that was as warm as it was comfortable.

He worked with a North Caorlina manufacturer to develop a similar fabric for the new line he calls Merino Dual Cloth, which he reimagined as a unisex line of athleisure basics. The reborn Northwestern Knitting Company’s initial run of styles includes a heavy t-shirt, a long-sleeve crewneck, a hooded pullover, and a jogger-style trouser. I spoke to Mooty about the inspiration behind the brand and the process of developing the relaunched product line.

Northwestern Knitting Company t-shirt, Courtesy Northwest Knitting Company

How did you get the idea to revive Northwestern Knitting Company?

“It’s been in my head for a long time. I actually lived in the building (International Market Square) for a period of time. I was thinking about what I was going to do next, and my dad was over and we were researching old labels out of Minneapolis when we stumbled across the Northwestern Knitting Company. There was a whole history behind it and its fabric. That initial conversation also rolled into what’s now Wilson & Willy’s.”

How did your experience helping to relaunch the Faribault Woolen Mill brand inspire your relaunch of NWKC?

“It was a huge influence with both Wilson & Willy’s and Northwestern Knitting Company—understanding the history and the story that goes into how these things are created, from the people who are making them to the materials that are used. I’m trying to look at all of those things as different components as to why something exists and try to find appreciation for those things across a huge variety of categories. For NWKC, the story wouldn’t have been there if there wasn’t this fabric component. Not only that, but it’s a fabric that we’re the only ones to use. It comes down to the combination of the historical significance with this updated proprietary fabric. It’s an interesting combination and story to tell.”

What was the process of redeveloping the NWKC method of knitting?

“Through my relationships built with the Faribault Mill, I met Dick Goodstein, a consultant within the textile industry, and he was the one who introduced me to the fabric. He mentioned there was a similar method of knitting that Coville, a leading textile manufacturer in North Carolina, was working on. They were already trying to figure out how to take it to market and who could put it to use, so the timing worked out perfectly for NWKC. The fabric is knit exclusively for NWKC byCoville in North Carolina, and everything is cut-and-sewn at a factory in the Garment District of New York before coming back to Minneapolis for finishing. Our trademark badge is knit in a century-old operation in St. Paul called Minnesota Knitting Mills.”

How do you see the NWKC label evolving over time?

“This launch serves as an introduction to the brand, and it’s a limited initial run. I’m not sure what’s next—up until now, the focus has just been on getting this initial product line launched. But we did build the brand in a way that makes sense but leaves room for how the label will mold as time goes on.”

The Northwestern Knitting Company collection ranges from $95 to $150 and is available exclusively at Mooty’s North Loop store Wilson & Willy’s (which Mooty also founded) and online at nwkc.us beginning today, November 15.

More images of the collection from the brand’s lookbook:

all images Courtesy Northwestern Knitting Company