Investor Revives Closed Warren of Stafford Textile Mill

Warren of Stafford, a textile mill that ended 160 years of production in December, plans to restart its looms within 10 days.

Thursday, American Woolen Co. announced it would buy the mill complex from Loro Piana, an Italian luxury cashmere and wool apparel company, which had owned it for 26 years. The company made fine worsted wool for men's suits and cashmere and camel hair for coats, and for most of the time Loro Piana operated in Stafford, 200 to 250 people worked there.

By the end, there were about 85 workers.

Friday, the state Department of Economic Development announced that it had given American Woolen $100,000, and loaned it $300,000 at a subsidized rate, to help pay for the purchase of the mill. The announcement said the new owner projected there would be 38 jobs at the mill two years after it opens.

It was the last textile mill in the state making fabric for the fashion industry, though there are a few that make technical, coated fabrics.

Jacob Long, the new owner, has never worked in the textile industry. His background was in investment banking, and, for the past six years, in distressed investing, in which finance firms buy failing companies in hopes of turning them around.

It was there that he saw Italian textile operations up close. "The deeper I got, the more interested I became," he said.

Long, 44, who was living overseas, moved his family back to the United States in October, to Miami, where American Woolen Co. had operated since 1966, making blankets for the military and the airline industry, and importing blankets for consumer markets. He bought the American Woolen trademark in 2013.

Long started talking to Loro Piana in October, after he saw news of the mill's closing.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Loro Piana was cautious at first about Long's interest in buying the textile mill.

"They were not going to sell it willy-nilly and raise people's hopes and have it go nowhere," Courtney said. Courtney said he met Long a few months ago, and said he has strong financial resources and is extremely impressive.

"He understands this business very well," Courtney said. "He is not doing this for sentimental reasons. He views this as a real economic opportunity.

"After talking to him," Courtney said, "I was convinced he was onto something here, that there is a market for quality and loyalty by consumers that will make the made-in-Stafford-Springs brand viable. It is not for the faint of heart. I wouldn't have predicted it, that's for sure. I just think for that community, and for the people who worked there, this is just a great turn of events."

Long said he expects to hire back about 20 weavers at first. He's already brought on the three managers who ran the mill under Loro Piana.

"We'll be very cautious," Long said, but hopes to nurture the business until it's back where it was a decade ago.

He said he plans to move to Connecticut.

"What really drew us to Warren were the people," he said. "The workers were happy, and took pride in what they did."

Long said he has talked to apparel manufacturers who had bought from Loro Piana, and they would say they knew the mill's low error rate and production quality. He said they know it's "on par with the best mills in Europe."

Dianne Bilyak, a Stafford Springs resident, hosted a tribute to Warren Mill's 161 years in April, and about 150 people attended. She said she's excited for the former workers, but that's not the only reason she's pleased at the mill's rebirth. "Stafford had this industrial history and it's just nice to know it's not completely dead," Bilyak said.

First Selectman Richard Shuck said Warren had been the town's second-biggest taxpayer, contributing about $160,000 a year in property taxes.