Maine is not China, and in many ways, that's a fine thing, especially when it comes to Northport-based Swans Island Blankets. "We could never compete on price with low-wage countries or industrial looms," says company president Bill Laurita. His is not a volume business. Instead, the focus is on handcraftsmanship, detail, and a modern product made in traditional ways.
It starts with the sheep: Swans Island's high-quality fleece comes from a few American farmers who offer unusual hues and varieties, including wool from rare black and brown animals. If the resulting yarn needs more color, it's dyed by hand, using natural, often ancient materials such as cochineal (the crushed bodies of dried insects) for reds and Osage orange wood for teal. Instead of burning chaff — the debris in raw wool — with acid as is typical, they weave the blankets on hand looms and then extract rough bits with tweezers. Laurita says this "preserves the lanolin," which gives the material a downy touch.
The blankets, which start at $495, cost much more than the ones you'll find at Target. Laurita makes no apologies for that. "We could take lots of shortcuts, but then what would we have?" he asks. "We hope people want less crap in their lives." And more of the handiwork of true artisans. swansislandblankets.com
A version of this article appeared in the November 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.