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STORMY KROMER CAPS

How It's Done: Stormy Kromer Wool Caps

3/20/24

More than 120 years after Ida Kromer fashioned an ear band on a baseball cap for her railroad-worker husband, the Stormy Kromer hat is still made almost exclusively by hand. Bob Jacquart acquired rights to the iconic brand in 2001, and his daughter Gina Thorsen moved back to Ironwood, Michigan, in 2009 to help run the business. Stormy Kromer hats pop up in TV shows and on the heads of celebrities, and they evoke pride and passion among the everyday folks who have used them to warm their heads for decades. Bob and Gina tell the story of their brand, their relationship and their process here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Bob: I'm a manufacturer. My love is making things. I love being over in the plant watching things being made and sewn. And Gina has this vision of marketing and branding and social presence. We make the perfect combination right now.

Gina: I was born and raised here in Ironwood. I was one of those successful students who thought a small town and the Upper Peninsula were just not big enough for me and my ambitions, so I went away for a long time. One of those trips when we were back visiting, we got more in depth in the business, hearing more about it. My husband and I had started to feel a little bit restless in the South, and we were on the airplane back home. We looked at each other almost at the same time and said, "Maybe we need to move back."

Bob: One of the important parts about this brand was that we lived in the center of where this brand has lived for 120 years now. 

Making the Original Stormy Kromer

Bob: This hat is exactly the same as it was made 120 years ago. The reason it survived is because it's functional. It ends up like your best pair of blue jeans. After you wear it for a few times, it becomes part of you. Every hat that comes off our production line has had 12 or 15 sets of hands touch it. They’re regular people who live in our community and who show up to work every day putting all the care they can into making the best winter hat they can.

Gina forecasts the number of hats we need to make in a year, and we divide it by 250 working days. We completely level load our factory. Our factory makes the same amount of hats every day, and there's never a purchase order completed with a two-month gap in it anymore.

There are four parts to a hat. There's a brim, there's ear flaps, there's a crown and there's a lining. I believe it's 17.4 minutes to make a hat. That's the time to spread it, the time to cut it, the time to embroider it, the time to put it all together, even tying the bow.

You can't complete this story without emphasizing, you saw the people here making this hat. There's not a machine that just pops out a hat. Every one of these loving women put this hat together from start to finish. They're doing the same thing all day long, and they keep the intensity up all day. Every time I walk through here, I'm just so proud of them.

A man stopped me on the street about five years ago and said, "You're from Stormy Kromer, aren't you?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm from the factory." And he said, "I'm taking the tour tomorrow. I can't wait to see the machine that ties the bow in the front of the hat." And I smiled and I said, "You'll love to meet Anna." Back then it was Anna, but today it's Mary.

Gina: Our family has a long legacy of employing people here in this community, even before this business. My great-grandparents were here in Ironwood, sort of at the founding, running businesses. There's a tradition of employing people, supporting the community, figuring out how to make things happen in a remote place like this.

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