After a wooly start, Portland company expects fleecy future

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PORTLAND — In this case, getting fleeced will have its benefits.

Former City Councilor and School Board member Dory Waxman, now the owner of Old Port Wool & Textile Co. at 52 Danforth St., said she is expanding the business with the help of her son, Ben Waxman and former Brian Boru general manager Whitney Reynolds.

“We are building a sister company, we want to be sustainable and pay good wages” Waxman said of a venture to produce fleece outerwear using American products and union labor.

Though not yet named, Waxman said the company will begin production by Labor Day, Sept. 7.

The symbolism is not lost on the Waxmans and Reynolds, but the necessity to produce is critical: They have been invited to take part in a trade show of American-made products in Boston on Sept. 12.

Formerly the owner of Casco Bay Wool Works in Brunswick, Waxman resumed making wool capes in 2013 and opened Old Port Wool a decade after she sold Casco Bay Wool.

“I sold when woolen mills began closing in Maine,” she said.

A trip to the Richmand Textile mill in South Grafton, Massachusetts, convinced the trio to branch out into fleece, with support and supplies from Polartec in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

“It is just amazing. That is a little mill putting out so much good stuff,” Waxman said of Richmand.

Ben Waxman,  a former political consultant with the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., said he was ready for a career change.

“That was the moment when I said ‘we are going to build a big factory in Portland,'” he said. “I came up in politics, but I didn’t want to in be in politics for the rest of my life.”

Reynolds agreed.

“I think a little fire was sparked for both of us,” she said.

With her contacts in the dining, food and beverage industries, Reynolds plans to generate interest in selling outerwear embroidered with company logos.

Ben Waxman said the company will try to match prices offered by manufacturers with overseas production operations, but will also emphasize a red, white and blue business plan.

“These will be American- and union-made, so the money goes back into and builds community,” he said. He also expects sales to a younger demographic with a more developed consumer consciousness about sourcing, labor practices and overall sustainability.

Working from patterns to make apparel has not changed greatly over the decades, Dory Waxman said. The real challenge is finding a workforce.

“We are going to have to teach people to sew,” she said.

The company is launching a seven-week training program for eight potential employees, set to begin at the end of the month. As in the days of Casco Bay Wool, Waxman said she is looking for immigrants, and has developed a pilot project with Portland Adult Education, Catholic Charities of Maine, Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprise Institute, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and the state Department of Labor.

Program elements include math and English courses as needed, and on-the-job training skills in sewing. Jobs will be offered at the end of the training, and the shop will be unionized.

“I’ll work with them to make sure workers get the representation, whatever they decide,” Ben Waxman said.

Dory Waxman said she expects the pilot program to continue as the company grows, so that other small mills and manufacturers can benefit from a trained workforce.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Ben Waxman, left, Whitney Reynolds and Dory Waxman look over patterns and materials at Old Port Wool & Textile June 30 as they prepare to expand the business into production of fleece outerwear on Danforth Street in Portland.

Old Port Wool & Textile owner Dory Waxman demonstrates a material cutter June 30 at the shop on Danforth Street in Portland. The company expects to begin production by Labor Day of fleece outerwear.

Whitney Reynolds, left, Ben Waxman, and Dory Waxman plan to expand Old Port Wool & Textile with the help of a trained, unionized workforce.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • ann Aronsen

    Awesome, Red, White & Blue all the way! Wishes for the greatest Success. Love from Pocono Mtns. PA