Today’s NWKC (Northwestern Knitting Co.) is the staple for people who love wardrobe staples. The brand and its proprietary cotton and wool blend both date back to the 1880s, but John Mooty (Wilson & Willy’s, Faribault Woolen Mill Co.) launched its current minimalist and utilitarian era in 2016. A pullover, long-sleeve crewneck, and jogger-style pants made up part of its first collection, and NWKC has since added Henley shirts, polos, zip-ups, and more, all in timeless shades like navy, black, bone, or charcoal.
This month, Mooty unveiled a kids’ line as part of NWKC’s online shop’s small-batch “experiments.” “I decided to keep the risk low but sort of keep the artistic and the experimental piece of the project that I really love,” he says. Kids’ crewneck, pullovers, and trousers are available for pre-order now and limited to just 10 pieces per colorway. (Like all other NWKC items, these are available exclusively through the NWKC website.)
The kids’ line features the same materials (including merino from German-based Suedwolle) and construction methods as the adult line, which is a double-edged sword. Mooty is nothing if not practical about launching what could be perceived as a luxury kids’ line. Even if, as the NWKC site says, he charges half the markup that most retailers have, not everyone will want to buy their kid a $60 crewneck. The clothes are constructed to hold up against the most adventurous playtimes, but that doesn’t stop the kid from growing. Mooty hopes that the forever quality associated with NWKC will give kids an appreciation for heirloom-worthy clothes.
“My thought was it may not be like something that a kid is going to wear for a long period of time, but…it would be something worthy of giving your little brother, your little cousin,” Mooty says. (He also says some of his son’s favorite clothes are hand-me-downs from Mooty’s youngest cousin.) “Selfishly, I just wanted to make some samples for my son, who’s four. I went in with the mindset, ‘I’m going to make this stuff for my son and see if he likes it and it’s constructed well.’ It feels like the right thing to do, to try it out. If it doesn’t work, I got to make something for him.”
Mooty wasn’t familiar with the manufacturing industry when NWKC became his one-man show, but he knew a quality heritage brand carried weight. At the start of it all, he had just finished almost four years at Faribault Woolen Mill Co., where he revitalized the brand as its marketing and creative director. Two years prior, he had opened Wilson & Willy’s, a Minnesota makers’ store in North Loop that closed its doors in March 2019. Since then, NWKC has been Mooty’s sole project. Even before COVID-19 hit, Mooty says he was trying to figure out the brand’s next phase. The experiment lines will continue through 2020, but after that, he’s still trying to divine the best way forward.
For now, you can pre-order the kids’ line (and Mooty’s other lines) through the NWKC site. All come from the same family-owned New York factory that he has been using since the start, and although it’s not a kids’ clothing factory by any means, the owner has been more than open to Mooty’s latest experiment. “We cut the samples, and he [the owner] was like, ‘Hey, do you mind if I have my daughter try these?” Mooty says. “He was excited about making something for his daughter, and that’s a really special thing. The project may not sell, but even the fact that who’s producing it wants to use it within their own family—I thought that was a cool part of the process.”