IRONWOOD, Michigan. (March 20, 2019) Entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the family behind the iconic Story Kromer brand. In 2001, the original Stormy Kromer company in Milwaukee was selling just 3,800 of its beloved six-panel wool caps per year. When Bob Jacquart, CEO and owner of Jacquart Fabric Products learned that the business was in danger of folding, he bought it. Today, with his daughter Gina Jacquart Thorsen at the helm, Stormy Kromer is thriving, selling more than 100,000 caps annually, along with a wide variety of apparel and accessories. Kromer products can now be found coast-to-coast in stores like Cabelas, Gander Outdoors and L.L. Bean as well as in independent retail shops such as Getz’s in the Upper Peninsula, and others from Montana to New Hampshire.
Although she initially had no intention of joining the family business, Thorsen, who serves as president of the Stormy Kromer Division of Jacquart Fabric Products, found she couldn’t stay away. After a decade in Texas, in 2010 she and her husband finally returned to the U.P. Thorsen has always seen something special in the region she calls home. “I was raised in such an entrepreneurial household — I always felt this pull towards business,” she explains. “There’s no place like the U.P. The work ethic here is outstanding and there’s a spirit of adventure and innovation. It’s really an incredible place to live and work.”
Thorsen also values the supportive business climate in the community. Local CEOs know and respect each other and share advice and resources, and area non-profits like Northern Initiatives provide loans and business expertise. She notes, “Over the past twenty years, Northern Initiatives has been a great resource for us, providing things like equipment loans, trainings, and more. We’re very fortunate to work in a business-friendly place. We have such a unique culture here, and we’re proud that the Stormy Kromer brand is a part of that.”
The local community is just as grateful for Stormy Kromer and the Jacquart family. InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante says, “This small family business has played a large leadership role in our community. They have created good jobs, provided on-the-job training, and brought positive attention to our region. The family is also personally involved in a number of projects and organizations that better our community.”
Under Thorsen’s leadership, Stormy Kromer has expanded far beyond the original men’s wool cap while staying true to its 100 percent made-in-America roots. One of her first steps was to introduce a women’s product line. “That was huge,” Thorsen says. “For more than 100 years this company never had a women’s product. Figuring out how to keep the functionality, durability and ruggedness while making it feminine has been fantastic. One of the ladies’ styles is our third best selling product today.”
Most recently, Thorsen expanded the apparel and accessories into an entirely new direction: pets. The reception has been tremendous. “People send us pictures all the time. Tons of them feature dogs wearing Kromers meant for humans. Clearly there was a very urgent need that needed to be met,” she laughs. The pet line, which debuted this past summer with a fashion show featuring shelter dogs, has been the best-selling new product line this season.
Stormy Kromer’s appeal has brought attention to the Upper Peninsula region. The original Stormy Kromer cap recently claimed the 2018 title for the “Coolest Thing Made in Michigan” at the Michigan Manufacturers Association Excellence Awards. The Kromer has even gone Hollywood. A main character in season one of the television show Fargo wore a Kromer, as did Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope and Alan Arkin in The Santa Clause 3. The biggest champion of the brand has been actor Jeff Daniels. Thorsen says, “He’s been to our factory a few times. He’s got quite a collection. He even appeared on the Today Show wearing our stuff. My phone started lighting up at seven o’clock in the morning with people telling me to turn on the TV.”
One of the most rewarding parts of running Stormy Kromer is the opportunity to act as the keeper of the legendary brand. Thorsen reflects, “People have told us they’re the fourth generation in their family to wear a Kromer, or that they’ve gotten married in their caps or buried a loved one wearing a Kromer. I love that the people who make our Kromers have been wearing them for generations. There’s a real sense of community around this crazy hat.”
InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula. www.investupmi.com
* Karyn Olsson, InvestUP: