Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald
Kitsbow CEO David Billstrom describes Western North Carolina as a “Goldilocks” location for manufacturers of outdoor gear. It’s a claim he can testify to, as he moved his cycling apparel company from California to the seemingly unassuming location of Old Fort last year.
Old Fort was chosen after an exhaustive, year-long evaluation of manufacturing locations and, according to Billstrom, his is one of the first new manufacturers in Old Fort in some time. Here the company’s 25-plus employees—many of them, naturally, bike enthusiasts—have easy access to single-track MTB (mountain bike), gravel and road routes right outside their door—something that was hard to find in California. Add to that the region’s desirable towns like Asheville and the network of skilled production workers from Old Fort to Hickory Billstrom can draw on, and the metaphor begins to ring true. Being at the foot of the mountains is indeed the “Goldilocks” location—not too far, not too close, but just right.
Billstrom notes that although Kitsbow’s products, which balance both technical performance and top-notch tailoring, are a departure for the region’s craftsmen, they have adapted seamlessly. “I should explain that we are making apparel one garment at a time, sometimes called the Toyota Way applied to clothing,” he explains. “Our production workers are in teams, and they support each other and make complete and perfect garments, one at a time. This is pretty different from traditional textile and furniture production in WNC, so they’ve had to stretch and try a different approach—and they’re doing a great job.”
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