Building upon what makes the classics great. It’s a simple concept.
But old school, simple style with a modern fit is the trademark of California-based clothing company Buck Mason.
So when Buck Mason founder Erik Allen Ford learned that the then 116-year-old Mohnton Knitting Mills would be closing its doors, he jumped at the chance to build out his company using a site with a rich history of textile manufacturing.
Ford and co-founder Sasha Koehn had plans to build a cut-and-sew factory in Dallas, Texas, but the two buildings at 22 Main St., Mohnton and 120 N. Sterley St., Shillington already offered everything they were looking for.
“Here was a beautiful, vertically integrated factory with incredible craftsmanship,” Ford said. “And the sewing professionals who are there in Mohnton are just tremendous. Most of them have over a decade of experience, and that’s really difficult to find.”
Mohnton Knitting Mills
The factory was founded as the Mohnton Knitting Mills by Aaron Hornberger in 1906. However, 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.
During its years in operation, Mohnton Knitting Mills produced hats, T-shirts, designer clothes lines and thermal underwear.
In 2017, the company was sold to Stitch Fix, a multinational online apparel retailer and personal styling service.
Stich Fix shuttered the facilities in December, after reporting a net loss of $207.1 million in revenue throughout fiscal year 2022. As a result, 56 employees were laid off.
Some of them returned to work when Buck Mason reopened the buildings in January.
“We brought as many people back as we could, and now we’re slowly bringing back more,” Ford said. “We’ve got about 15 teammates now, and our goal is to get up to 30 or 40 by mid-next year.”
The newly branded Buck Mason Knitting Mills are now producing two of the company’s signature products: T-shirts made with 100% Slub and Pima cotton.
“The Slub tees have a light texture and loose-knit, lived-in feel, while the Pima tees are constructed from premium long-staple Supima cotton for a soft, smooth hand,” a press release from Buck Mason says.
The T-shirts are made with cotton sourced from farms in California, Texas, and Georgia, according to the company.
Currently, the facility produces 10,000 shirts per month, Koehn said, but the company aims to double that number by next year.
To that end, Koehn and Ford noted that the facilities are looking to hire workers with sewing experience.
The buildings themselves remain largely unchanged, according to Koehn.
“We’ve kept all the existing architecture. There have been some small improvements to some of the machinery,” Koehn said.
Ford said the machines found within the mills combine modern technology and older knitting techniques to create a distinct product.
He said the facility uses a decades-old knitting machine that produces fabric with a unique old-school quality.
“(The knitting machine) creates a really authentic fabric … that could only be produced on something from another era,” Ford said. “The fabric looks inconsistent in a way that’s consistent. You kind of see that with denim, but we haven’t seen it so much with knitwear … it kind of looks like your favorite vintage T-shirt.”
The Knitting Mills also use tech like a state-of-the-art laser cutter to eliminate the need for manual cutting.
“You’re using these old school methods, but then you bring it over to the laser cutter and you’re generating efficiency,” Ford said.
Buck Mason has grown dramatically from its roots — Ford and Koehn founded the company in 2013, operating out of a small garage in Venice, Calif.
“Our first run of fabrics, we did 100 white (T-shirts) and 100 blacks each,” Ford said. “Sasha built the website; I designed all the clothing. We kind of did everything ourselves.”
The company pulled in $500,000 of revenue in its first year, following an initial investment of $10,000, according to Inc. magazine.
“We’re the majority owners. We’ve raised a little bit of capital over the years, but we try to keep it prudent,” Ford said.
In 2015, the company appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, where Koehn and Ford refused an offer of $200,000 for 25% equity.
Buck Mason has since been featured in “best clothing brands” lists by the likes of Men’s Health and the Wall Street Journal and was Tom Brady’s t-shirt of choice during a 2016 photoshoot for GQ magazine’s Man of the Year feature.
Ford said the company considers itself “anti-fashion.”
“We’re not really excited by trends. We try to make real clothes: just simple.” Ford said. “We love style and we’re really interested in style, but there is sort of that anti-fashion element … everyone on our team, we’re all the same type of weird. We just like high-quality, good stuff.”