Five Minutes With Steven Arenzon, president of Wisconsin Knitwear, Inc.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based supplier Wisconsin Knitwear, Inc. (UPIC: WISCKNIT) is the last surviving knitting factory in Wisconsin. Others have either disappeared completely or transferred manufacturing operations overseas. Arenzon, though, says he’s proud to be a U.S. manufacturer, and the knit beanies, hats, scarves and other accessories made in his shop have a classic, almost iconic American appeal. Produced, in some cases, on machines more than 100 years old, Wisconsin Knitwear’s products are made with the message or logo knitted directly into each piece. The art isn’t representational, however; each knitted logo is rendered in the same boxy font and simple timelessness. (For those in need of true-to-life logos, embroidery is available.) Here, Arenzon shares the history of his family-owned company.

PPB Can you share the history behind Wisconsin Knitwear?

Wisconsin Knitwear was established in the United States in 1979, but it is actually an extension of a sweater company originally started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by my grandfather, Julius Arenzon, in the 1940s. The family’s history, and the company’s as well, run from Poland, where Julius was born, to Argentina to the United States. My father, Mauricio, immigrated to the United States in 1963 and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working for another knitting company. After almost 20 years as its head designer, he decided to start his own company with the help and support of my mother, Sheila. Wanting to carry on the knitting tradition, I joined the family business in 1993. Today, I am proudly running Wisconsin Knitwear while my parents are enjoying semi-retirement and serving as my full-time business advisors.

PPB How is Wisconsin Knitwear different today?

Our factory space has grown from one machine located in one small room to more than 100 machines in a 30,000-square-foot building. For many years, our largest competitors were located in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. Today, we are the only knit headwear factory in Wisconsin and one of only a few left in the United States.

PPB How is it the same?

Even though Wisconsin Knitwear has expanded and grown over the years, in many ways the philosophy of keeping our business manageable and profitable has never changed. We have always believed in providing excellent customer service and high-quality knit products at competitive pricing. While we do use computers in our office, our factory floor looks like a step back in time. Many of our knitting machines are upward of 100 years old.

PPB It seems like your products are well suited to sports teams and their fans. Are there other industries or groups with which your products do well? Our knitwear products do well in a variety of industries. Our products are sold to military surplus stores, snowboarding companies and any companies interested in promotional marketing. Businesses with employees who work in cold climates often use our knit hats as part of their uniforms. Many schools and fundraising groups have also had much success with our knit products.

>>Is there someone you’d like to spend five minutes with? E-mail their name to tamau@ppai.org for possible inclusion in a future issue.

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