A profile of Johnson Woolen Mills and its Owner


I stumbled upon a great article from 2004 about Johnson--it turns out that the woman who answered my email and sent me the PDF of the catalogue, Stacy Manosh, is its owner. Kind of makes me want to rethink my own interest in buying Woolrich vintage to get something new from her. Anyway, I found this on the Film Noir Buff site. [oh, and I found a video that I tacked on below the article]

PROFILES IN BUSINESS: Stacy Manosh and Johnson Woolen Mills
By Marcel, Joyce
Vermont Business Magazine

It seems odd that a company founded when Andrew Jackson was president - and which hasn't changed that much since then - should seem so fresh and new. But in a world filled with huge conglomerates and suffering a glut of cheaply-made clothing from China, South America and almost every place but the United States, Johnson Woolen Mills seems close to radical: It's a company owned and run by the fourth generation of the same family, making by hand high-quality, long-lasting outerwear in Johnson using American-made textiles and thread.

The company is such a rarity that it was recently featured on a Travel Channel show called 'Made in America," along with such corporate icons as HarleyDavidson, Ivory Soap, Milton Bradley and John Deere.
There is a twist to the story, however. After being handed down from father to son for more than a century, the company is now owned and run by a woman. Her name is Stacy Manosh.

Ile woolen outerwear world is a man's world, but that doesn't faze Manosh, 42, who is small, blonde, knifethin, and filled with sparkling vitality. She talks fast and sprinkles her conversation with witty aphorisms. A former tomboy, it comes as no surprise when she announces - twice during one conversation - that she owns a purple Fat Boy HarleyDavidson motorcycle.

Johnson Woolen Mills was founded around 1836 by a man named Andrew Dow. The factory, with its retail store, sits in the center of the tiny town of Johnson, on the banks of the River Gihon, a name plucked from the Bible: "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads... And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia." (Genesis 2: 10-13).

Back when Vermont was a sheep-raising state, almost every town had a woolen mill like Johnson`s, where farmers brought their fleece for cleaning, dyeing, spinning and custom weaving.
After a time, Dow picked up a partner, Isaac L Pearl. Eventually Dow sold Pearl the company and retired.

"The old mill, a frame building, was burned to the ground in 1872, and it is likely that, with the disappearance of the old mill, the custom weaving for the neighboring farmers came to an end," reports the 1961 "History of Johnson, Vermont," which devotes a chapter to Johnson Woolen Mills.

In 1890, Pearl and his son started manufacturing heavy woolen clothing 30 ounces to the yard! - for loggers. "It has been said that the pants became so stiff with-use and dirt that they could stand alone," the book says.

The company was then advertising itself as "Makers of the Best Wearing Trousers in America." Even today, the distinctive red and green plod coats and vests and the heavy woolen pants are frequently passed down from father to son,which is great for the company's reputation, but of a questionable benefit to the bottom line.
The main idea was to make what is most effective to- the winter climate of northern Vermont, that which is especially suited to meet the needs of the out-doors' man, the farmer, the huntsman and truck drivers when the earth is deeply covered in snow," says the book. "These garments are good for forty degrees below zero."
In 1905, DA Barrows of Orleans joined the Pearls, bringing with him, according to the book, "new energy, new capital and new ideas." He soon became sole owner, and in 1926 he brought his son, Robert S Barrows, into the business. In 1930 they founded a corporation, and in 1955, grandson DR Barrows joined the company.

DR Barrows had a son and a daughter, but instead of passing the business down to his son, who "made other choices," Manosh said, he sold it - not passed it, but sold it - to his daughter.

"My great-grandfather gave it to my grandfather, my grandfather gave it to my father, and I had to buy it," Manosh said.
"Why? I'm a woman."

It seems that the Barrows were an oldfashioned family Even though Manosh's mother enjoyed a 23-year career as a teacher, she also cooked, shopped and ran her home, as the women of the family were supposed to do.
"My dad didn't think women belonged running businesses," Manosh said. "But I've always been on the adventurous side. I don't know if my father doubted my ability to run a company, or if he was trying to save me from the terror of it all. It's not for the faint of heart. There are hard decisions you have to make, hard choices, and you have to be able to live with them. So maybe he, in his own mind, was trying to save me. I don't know."

Manosh has always loved the woolens business. When she was a child, she came in after school to help her father and the seamstresses. In 1983, straight out of college, the only job she wanted was to travel New England as a Johnson Woolen Mills sales rep. Her father wouldn't let her; he already had someone on the job.
"He was an older gentleman, and he was doing the states of Maine and New Hampshire, which was what I wanted to do," Manosh said. "My father said, 'No, I have to wait until Mr Clark retires. 'I said, 'Dad, geez, I'm your daughter, I'm just out of college, I really want to do this.' My dad said, 'No, we're going to wait'."
So for three years Manosh hovered in the background, working odd jobs and waiting for Mr Clark to retire. Then she began a nine-year stint on the road, representing the company first in Maine and New Hampshire, and then extending her territory to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. During her travels, she got to know most of the miff's best customers.

"To this day, it's just wonderful, because the phone will ring and I'll pick it up, and it'll be John's Country Store in St Francis, Maine, and I dont know if you're familiar with Maine, but you go to the very tippy-tippy top of it and take a left, and that's St Francis," Manosh said. "They speak French, and the first year there, it was so hard, because we'd talk about 'les couleurs, she will be red, yes?' Now I pick up the phone, and it's John, and I know who he is, and I can say, 'Hey, John, how are you? How's your wife? What's going on.' And I can picture the store, and I can picture them, and it's like friends." Personal relationships are important to Manosh.

"In business you need to build relationships," she said. "It's not about how much money you make, although you do need to make money - it's not a dirty word. And we do make money. Not a lot of money, mind you, but we do survive. But to me it's the relationships - getting John and his customers what they want."
Manosh left the business after nine years. She married Howard Manosh, "the largest well driller in the state of Vermont," and started a real estate agency, Manosh Realty Services, in 1996. She and Manosh are now divorcing.
Five years ago, Manosh's father began thinking about retiring.
"So I went to the Union Bank and said I need lots of money," Manosh said. "They gave it to me."

In 1998, Manosh bought the company from her father for $500,000 and established a $700,000 yearly line of credit to run the business. Currently, she employs 35 people and does about $2 million a year in sales from the factory and the store.
"The rules of the game are you have to have the line of credit paid off for 30 days," Manosh said. "Last year I couldn't do that. This year we've worked and scrimped, had a couple of factory layoffs, increased sales, cut costs, and we did pay off our line of credit. We're in good standing with the bank. The $700,000 line of credit is a big nut for me. That's a lot of money."
Ken Gibbons, president of the Union Bank, has known Manosh for 20 years and describes her as a "hard-working person who has a pretty good handle on her business."

"I think it's a great little business, and a big part of the local economy," Gibbons said. "I think the Johnson Woolen Mills trade name has got wonderful recognition. And I can also say that the retail store has come up with some fairly new and unique designs."

Besides being Manosh's banker, Gibbons is also one of her customers. Last Christmas, for example, he was looking for a present for his wife. A few months before, Manosh had showed him some sample car coats with hoods, so he went to the store to buy one.

"The sales girls said they hadn't seen it," Gibbons said. "Then all of a sudden Stacy came up out of nowhere. I asked her about the car coat and it turned out she had made a dozen for a sales rep. I bought the very first one for my wife. She loves it. A business as old as that still has to do innovative things to stay in business."
Adding a stylish line of women's clothing is one of several of Manosh's innovations.
"My father was kind of fixating on the male market, while I'm more working on increasing the female market," she said. "Women are the ones with the money. They've got the credit cards. They're the shoppers. They're the ones who will come into your store and buy something. A man will brag to me about how he inherited his jacket that he's wearing from his greatgrandfather, and give me a five-minute dissertation about how they handed it down. I don't want to hear that. I want someone who comes in and buys a new coat every year. Or at least every two-years. That's one of the drawbacks to this business."
The mainstay of the factory and store remain the famous woolen coats, pants, vests and jackets.

'We don't make the fabric any more," Manosh said. "We buy our fabric on bolts and do the cut-and-sew here. We don't tell people where our fabric comes from, but it's mostly from New England mills. And it's American-made, and made to our specifications. It has to be perfect."
In a world of down, Gore-Tex and fleece, it seems the market for wool is still strong.

"Who needs wool outerwear?" Manosh said. "Farmers, loggers, state agencies - a lot of people work outside. We do a lot of jackets for the game wardens in New England. We do the Connecticut Environmental Police coats. The Massachusetts state coats, the State of Maine coats for the fish and wildlife people. Real Vermonters are outside."

And don't forget about the hunters.
"We do a nice jac shirt now that has an orange cape," Manosh said. "States have their regulations about how many inches of orange you need to have when you're out hunting, and this meets the state requirements. It's so bright I always tell people, 'If you get shot with this on, I'll give you your money back.'"
The factory has also developed a specialty in "big and tall; clothing. "We make pants up to a size 60 waist, and we make jackets and coats up to 60 long," Manosh said. "Picture your refrigerator with a wool suit on. That's what it looks like. They're huge. And we sell out of them."

The retail store has expanded its inventory to include the Carhartt line of work clothing, beautiful Icelandic Design sweaters for women, sleepwear, made-in-Vermont Cold Hollow knit hats, Hudson Bay Company point blankets and a host of fast-moving items Eke socks, bags, hats, baskets and gifts.

"We manufacture our own products and then bring in a whole bunch of other gorgeous products," Manosh said. "We even have a catalog. It's nothing fancy. We don't have a huge budget. We're Yankee conservatives."
Besides expanding her inventory, Manosh keeps a close eye on labor costs. Sometimes that means closing down the factory for weeks at a time.
"When we shut down, the staff gets unemployment, so it's a good deal for them," Manosh said. "They're great people, and they're not getting rich by any means. And they're all artisans. They're all talented and craft-y. They do a great job. Because we're a sewing factory, they're women. So the holidays, we've found, is a great time to take a few extra weeks. Their kids are home from school. It's so cold sometimes it's 19 below. They're home stoking their fire and making sure the pipes don't freeze, not out trying to get their car to run so they can get to work."

The factory's schedule is dependent on orders. When they dwindle, Manosh shuts down. But this can still be a winwin situation.

"Last summer we took the month of July off, which again, everybody loved," Manosh said. "It was summer, the kids were home from school, the women could be with their kids, be outside."
Johnson Woolen Mills has approximately 600 dealers across the country. One, of them is Shaffe's Men's Shop in Bennington, which has carried the line for about 13 years.
"It was a fine we've had a lot of requests for, and that's why we took it in," said owner David Shaffe, who praised the company's inventory, accessibility, quality and small-town charm.
"In this day and age, we greatly appreciate that," Shaffe said. "We carry a number of products which may be of high quality, but they're imported from all over the place. It's nice to see a company that's small, independent, home-based and makes quality products. It's kind of ironic that we're saying how great they are, when even a store like mine, an independent men's clothing store, is becoming extinct."

Keeping the factory running means expanding its markets, so Manosh takes her company on the road, regularly renting booths in national clothing and outerwear trade shows. Through them, she is making inroads into the urban areas. But she longs to enter the European and Canadian cold-weather clothing markets.
"That's one of our goals," she said. "Another one, in the next five years, is that we'd like to open one retail store a year in some high-traffic area. It will take manpower - or woman power - but we'd like to do it. But we have that $700,000 credit fine. I have to run the company for an entire year on that - do all the payroll, pay all the taxes, pay all my bills, expenses, zippers, buttons, heat bill, light bill. So it doesn't give me a whole lot of room to say 'Hey, let's go to Germany and let's have a booth'."
Manosh knows she needs state and federal assistance to expand abroad. Currently she is working with the New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, but she calls them "slower than molasses in the middle of the winter."
State support would be welcome, but Manosh

State support would be welcome, but Manosh doesn't have the time or staff to seek it out. If she could ask Governor James Douglas for help, she said, it would be for "a little handholding as far as learning how to expand our products in other markets. How do I introduce my products in other cold countries? What can the governor do to help me get into Canada, to deal with the money exchange and NAFTA? How can I get into Germany? I know enough to know that I don't know."

Marketing assistance would also help. Manosh Ekes to quote the actor John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff Clavin on the hit television show "Cheers" for many years, and who is now the host of the Travel Channel show that featured Johnson's Woolen Mills.
While he was in Johnson, "Cliffy" told a local reporter, "Vermonters have a philosophy of making the best products in the world, then they say, 'Let's not tell anyone about it'." Manosh would like for that to change.
Most of all, Manosh would ask the governor for help with health care. Only partly in jest, she said her struggle with health insurance costs is turning her hair prematurely gray.

"I'm buying my hair dye by the case these days," she said. "I can't afford to get my people decent health care coverage. We pay some, but every year it goes up and up and up. Right now I've got a $5,000 deductible. If they get sick, they just hope they die, because they can't pay it. I can't pay it. The health care situation in this state is in crisis and no one is doing anything."
Manosh also faces an upstream battle against off-shore companies with cheaper labor costs and more modern technology, said business consultant Steve Bourgeoise, a former president of the Franklin Lamoille Bank and now the founder of Strategic Initiatives for Business. He is consulting with Manosh on how to cut costs and increase markets.
"She's doing it the old fashioned way that her greatgrandfather, grandfather and father did," Bourgeoise said. "But she recognized that she had to introduce modern approaches to business in the way she was managing the company. I was proud of her for being able to bring these changes about and not forfeit the nostalgia that surrounds the Johnson Woolen Mill. You feel like you're walking back 50 or 60 years when you walk into the store."

The company's high quality products attract customers who will occasionally take a flight to quality," Bourgeoise said.

"They say, 'I'm going to buy something that will really last and I'll pay a little bit more'," he said. "And when the consumer does that, Johnson Woolen Mills comes to mind. After all, they are made in the USA."
Young and Horse Crazy
Manosh can trace her Barrows ancestry all the way back to the Mayflower.
"We're very English," she said. "We came over and settled in Irasburg, where we were farmers. My great-grandfather started a store in Woodsville, NH. They were all very savvy when 'it came to money."
A high-energy entrepreneur almost from birth, at 10 she was making sand candles and selling them outside the factory store - especially during foliage season.
"My mother would take me up to the sand pit, and I would get this very, very fine sand, and make candles," Manosh said. "I was one of those cute little kids, so the tourists had to buy a sand candle. And they were very nice sand candles. So I made a lot of money doing that. Basically, that was my first job."
She started working at the factory at an early age.
"I'd help my father make boxes, or sweep, or whatever," Manosh said. "He'd flip me 50 cents or a dollar - you know how parents are." Early on, Manosh developed a strong work ethic, doing things like returning bottles to get the deposit and helping around the house to earn her allowance.
"I was always focused on working," Manosh said. "I didn't want somebody to give me money. I wanted the opportunity to make it myself. I wanted to show people what I could do. I was careful about how I spent my money, too. I wasn't flamboyant about it. I didn't go out and buy a Harley Davidson until later in life."
When she was 12 or 13, Manosh and her best friend had a paper route.

"I guess you would call us tomboys," Manosh said. "We were playing sports and doing things that the boys did. She came from a family with five brothers, and they had paper routes and so we had a paper routes. We'd set our little alarm" clocks for 2:30 or 3 a.m. It would be cold. We had our little bicycles - you had to know how to ride a bicycle to have a paper route. I learned about managing money that way."

Manosh saved every cent she made at the Sterling Trust Bank on Johnson's Main Street.
"And when I got enough, I would buy a couple of different brushes, or a bucket, or something for the horse," she said.
The horse, Rafi, a 7/8th Arabian, was a gift from Manosh's grandfather when she was 12.
"In 1979 he was Vermont Open English Pleasure Champion, which is unheard of in a Morgan state," Manosh said. "We had to compete in Open English Pleasure classes against a zillion Morgans. And at the end of the year, he had the most points. And I was riding."
The horse became the center of Manosh's life.
"I didn't really care about boys," she said. "The horse was my best friend. We would go to horse shows together, and we worked very, very hard. I would work hard to earn money to pay for my entries in the horse shows, and to buy a new brush. I was very focused, and when I focus, I just totally focus."
Manosh is still an animal lover. Today, her "family" consists of four cats and a older Golden Retriever named Tucker, who accompanies her to work every day.
"Animals teach children about responsibility," Manosh said. "I learned so much about things depending on you. And it drips over when you're running a company, and you have 35 employees and they're depending on you to make the right decisions, to keep the company profitable, to keep things moving, to keep their jobs. I learned a lot about responsibility from the horse."
Sports were also important. As a freshman in high school, Manosh was already playing varsity basketball.

I was a hustling little guard," she said. "I loved sports and being outside and working. In the summer when I was in high school, I'd come to the mill and sew. We'd start at 6:30 in the morning, so I'd be here from 6:30 until 3 pm, then I'd have the afternoons. Then, when I got a little older, I worked in the store. I'm very outgoing and social. I love people, chitchatting, 'Hi, how are you?' So I went to the store."

Manosh graduated from Lamoille Union High School in three years instead of the usual four.
"I was in a big hurry to get out and strut my stuff," she said. Then she went to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, but got homesick during her first year. She told her parents, she wanted to come home.
"Well, didn't they make my life miserable?" she said. "You'd think I had just committed murder or something. They said, 'All right, you want to come home, you're going to pay rent, and you're not going to use my car, and...' Wow! Where did all these rules come from? So basically, I got the message: Stacy, get back into college. So I applied for UVM. As soon as I said I was accepted at UVM, well, all of a sudden, 'You can use the car..."
Manosh graduated UVM with a degree in history and education and a minor in business. Then she waited until her father made her a sales representative and her life at Johnson Woolen Mills could begin.
Woman in Woolens
Once Manosh owned the company, she found that being a woman in the woolens business would be a struggle.
"Some of the men would try to take advantage," Manosh said. "They'd think, 'You're dumb, you're a woman, you don't know what you're doing, let's put it to you.' The thread dealer would give me a higher price on my 12,000 yards of black thread. Some of the suppliers would send me second-hand goods. And I knew it."
Manosh started getting multiple bids on all her supplies.
"If I bought thread from one company, I'd get bids from another company, and then a third," she said. "And I'd put them all together and go, 'You know, I've been buying thread from you for two years, and I'm paying 56 more a comb than I can get it from somewhere else.' And as soon as I said that to the sales rep, 'Oh, really, well I'm so sorry, we can look at that.' It wasn't easy. There were a lot of battles I had to fight."

Some people called Manosh "a *****."
"But I love a good battle," she said. "Bring it on. I've had a wool dealer who sent me fabric with all these runs in it. I would have to cut all around them. It was crap. I called them up and said, 'This is not first quality stuff.' And they said, 'Well, of course it is.' And after a few times of refusing it, not paying for it, saying, 'Send a truck and come get it,' you know, maybe I was a *****. But I made them toe the line. Then they start to respect you. They think, 'We'd better send her what she wants, it better be right, we'd better give her a good price.' It takes years to build that, but now they're all pretty square."
The Internet has helped Manosh deal with her with suppliers.
"You can check prices in three places just like that," Manosh said. "They can't buffalo you like they used to."
Now Manosh is an accepted player in the business world. She was the first female president of the Morrisville Rotary from 1997-98, and director of the Lamoille Valley Chamber of Commerce. She is currently on the board of directors of the Banknorth Group.
Resisting the current business trends, Manosh said she would never ship her manufacturing to another country.
"If we can't make it here we won't make it," Manosh said. "I won't go offshore. Never. Look what that does to your community. The 35 people who have jobs here wouldn't have jobs here. What would they do? I care about that. I dont see myself as a matriarch, but I see myself as caring about my community. You have to make hard decisions, and one of the hard choices is maybe if we take four to six weeks off to cut expenses, we can stay in this country."
In fact, things seem to be working in reverse. The Japanese, for example, are big customers. They send Manosh their pictures and designs and she makes them in Johnson.
"They have great ideas," Manosh said. "A lot of ideas for products we get from other people. We will manufacture a lot of items for other countries. We'll private label, or whatever. We make a classy product. The Japanese are great because they pay really well. They wire the money into our account before products leave. I like that. My bank likes that."
Johnson Woolen Mills does not compete with other outerwear manufacturers like Woolrich, Filson and Pendleton. In fact, Manosh stocks their merchandise in her store.

"We're so small that we're not considered competition," she said. "Anyway, the wool people get along great together. We're like a family. We work together."
Having learned to be stronger, faster and smarter to earn her father's attention and respect, Manosh now uses these skills to grow the business and keep her employees working. One thing, however, still bothers her.
"My father still hasn't said, 'You know what? You're doing a good job'," Manosh said. "He still hasn't said, 'You know, Stacy, I'm proud of you.' He just can't do that. It's like going to a homeless man on the street and asking to borrow a thousand dollars. He can't do it. When you grow up like that, it probably tilts you a little bit. So I can't help being an overachiever, striving to be the best."

[Edit: Oh, and I found this: [video=youtube;xvsEbBLJ6lE]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvsEbBLJ6lE[/video] ]

Anon 18th Cent.

Inactive user
Great article and video. I have a woolen red and black plaid coat I bought from n. Press in Cambridge, where I used to live. Must be 10 years old now. Absolutely first-class stuff.


Active Member with Corp. Privileges
After looking at the catalog, I'll have to make a drive up one weekend; they're probably about 2 hours from my house.


Honors Member
Bemidji Woolen Mills also has some nice offerings and their range of products is a bit wider in certain areas. Also made in USA...


Starting Member
Johnson Woolen Mills makes some really beautiful things, and it's well worth the trek out to Johnson if you're within a couple hours (I used to live in Southern Vermont, and have been lucky enough to visit several times). Their store is amazing- backpacks, shirts, mittens, vests, etc. in a huge variety of their own fabrics. They sell cut lengths of many of their fabrics as well.

I have a green plaid hunting jacket from JWM that keeps me warm all winter long. A few years ago I wore it into a very local Vermont donut shop, and an old man sitting down was wearing the same jacket, only heavily-aged. I said, "Nice jacket", and he said, "You too, but mine's from 1965".

If you're ever in Southern Vermont and don't have the time to make the drive north, the H.N. Williams general store in Dorset carries a good selection of JWM coats, vests, and pants (as well as horse feed, bullets, beer and pancakes). I'm not sure why this company doesn't have the share the same notoriety as Pendleton or Woolrich- it certainly deserves it.


Honors Member
Is their website complete in terms of their offerings? I'm on the fence between ordering from Johnson's and Bemidji. I prefer Bemidji's jackets because I like the button front but they don't offer green/black plaid in the model I'm interested in--which Johnson's does. Any chance that Johnson's has other models that don't show up on-line?


Starting Member
Having visited Johnson less than a month ago, and their website just now, I would say they definitely had more models and fabrics available at the store- good sale items, too. I remember several additional jacket styles, and in more fabrics than they display online. And if I recall, I think there were a few button-up models similar to the Bemidji jackets. I don't have any personal experience with Bemidji, but I do love my Johnson Woolen Mills jacket.


Honors Member
Pulled the trigger today. Went with Bemidji. Ordered the North Shore Double Back Double Front Jacket. The clincher was their willingness to make it in a pattern not normally offered. Getting it in green and black buffalo plaid. If they have the fabric on hand, they'll make a special one for you at no upcharge. Should take 4 weeks which I think is reasonable for a custom order. Great to deal with over the phone--super responsive and friendly. Will report back once it arrives.



Wow, 30oz wool! And at a great price. Please post pics. I just got a new vintage Woolrich hunting coat off of ebay. My wife thinks it's hideous but i find it magnificent. I'll write it up when get a chance.


Honors Member
My order arrived today. As a recap, Bemidji Woolen Mills will do a custom order, at no upcharge, assuming they have the fabric on hand. I went with the double front, double back jacket in green buffalo plaid. From order to delivery was exactly 4 weeks--as promised when I placed the order. Button front, 2 buttoned chest pockets, hip pockets, and game pocket in the back. I'm really pleased. The sizing is pretty much true to form. I'm a size 39 jacket and ordered a 40. With a sweater on there is still a bit of wiggle room in the chest. The wool is heavy but I wouldn't say this is a truly cold weather jacket. There is a layer of lining in the back, but I don't think I'd wear this in really cold weather. It will be great for walks in the woods, etc.

I'd definitely buy from Bemidji again.



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