A Look Inside One of Tennessee’s Oldest Denim Manufacturers

The New York Times recently published an article on L .C. King Manufacturing Company, one of the oldest work and outdoor garment manufacturers in the USA. Most famous for its in-house brand Pointer, L .C. King has come into the limelight as of late with a slew of designer labels looking to tap into its steeped heritage. 

In Bristol, Tennessee lies L .C. King Manufacturing Company, the oldest cut-and-sew factory in the United States still owned by its founding family. This year, Jack King, fourth generation, L .C. King celebrated 100 years of manufacturing. The factory is mostly recognized for its production of work and outdoor garments for the rural south – think: canvas chore coats, dungarees and coveralls. As well as providing these rugged uniforms for many of America’s prestigious retailers of the time, Mr. King’s great-grandfather, Landon Clayton King, a sportsman, created Pointer in 1913, the same year the factory was founded.

While the factory continues to produce the label today, the Pointer brand has recently gained interest from the menswear market after Japanese designer Junya Watanabe modified some Pointer jackets for his men’s line. A slightly cleaner and more technical take on the haphazard repairs and reinforcements of turn-of-the-century rural farmers, Watanabe’s deluxe versions are stocked in some of the most high-end boutiques around the globe and start for a mere $800.

In the article Mr. King notes, “Having Mr. Watanabe’s endorsement made a big difference in terms of confidence. It really helped us know that we can sew stuff that people want as fashion.” In the last two years a number of new designers and designers interested in American-made have used the factory, including Marc Nelson from Knoxville, Lumina, a casual men’s line in Raleigh. N.C., and Ruell and Ray by Ashley James. What’s more, Mr. King is keen to build these relationships and showcase his wealth of his skill force and invites these designers to use factory as an atelier where they are free to work. As the article quotes, “At L .C. King, the quality comes not just from design, but from the manufacturer.”

The factory itself still retains much of the charm of its origins: beautiful red brick exterior, ’30s wooden crates that serve as shelves, and vintage machines that ring on the pine floors with a rhythm from another time. But factory’s most valuable asset is the workers – the backbone and life force of the company. Their skill sets are second to none with some dedicated employees serving over 26 years in the plant.

The article goes on to explore the future of the brand and where Mr. King intends to take it. Over the past few years Mr. King has seen Japanese hipsters and West Coast workwear fans pick up on Pointer and is well aware of the potential to be uncovered, but he is keen to do it with the right vision. Additionally, with many brands now approaching with the American-made attitude, it is offering an opportunity to rebuild an industry in pieces.

If you would like to read more on the story, head over to the NY Times website or alternatively take a look at the Pointer and L .C. King Manufacturing Company webpages.

All images sourced from New York Times.

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