Mountain Meadow Wool to open industrial dyeing facility
Ben Hostetler, the operations manager at Mountain Meadow Wool in Buffalo, Wyoming shows how parts of a mill work. Mountain Meadow Wool recently bought new industrial wool dyeing machinery that will make the company one of only three companies in the United States that dye wool on a contract basis.
At Mountain Meadow Wool on Plains Drive in Buffalo, the raw material comes in the back, before it's scoured in huge machines, then graded and sorted, spun, knit and finished.
But starting in June, some of that wool may take one extra stop – an industrial dyeing facility that will allow Mountain Meadow to dye up to 300 pounds of wool a day.
"Keeping American manufacturing going is challenging at the very least, but it's very rewarding," said Ben Hostetler, the operations manager at Mountain Meadow Wool, who spoke while surrounded by rumbling machines, pallets stacked high with incoming fibers and exposed piping for the new dyeing facility.
Mountain Meadow Wool started in Buffalo in 2007 and has since grown to 24 full- and part-time employees. The facility processes wool primarily from ranches across northeast Wyoming, producing yarns and apparel for local customers.
For decades, Mountain Meadow has been dyeing wool, but only by using a by-hand artisanal process that only enabled the company to dye 25 pounds of wool each day. The new industrial dyeing facility – complete with an elaborate boiler and plumber system and three massive dye vats – will increase Mountain Meadow's capacity to 300 pounds of wool per day.
"We innovate out of necessity," Hostetler said about the value of acquiring an industrial dyeing facility. "We are small scale and we do everything from start to finish, and to compete nationally or even on a global level, the more we can do in-house and consolidate those margins that would normally be separated, the better."
Mountain Meadow bought the dyeing operation from Ultimate Textiles in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Hostetler traveled to the facility in January and helped to load up three semi trailers full of equipment that was then transported to Buffalo. Aside from the dyeing vats themselves, the new equipment also includes an industrial-sized radio wave dryer for the wet wool and other yarn finishing equipment.
After the new dyeing facility is up and running, Mountain Meadow will be one of only three contract dyeing facilities in the country. Ninety percent of the initial orders for dyeing wool is coming from other facilities, such as in Maine and South Carolina.
Hostetler explained that most of the textile industry is now based overseas and there are very few U.S.-based textile manufacturers with the skills or equipment to dye wool on a commercial level. He said that the niche Mountain Meadow fits into is those who like traceability of products, sustainable clothing and those who love wool.
Producers Mountain Meadow works with also like that the facility is a one-stop shop. Instead of having to send their products from someone who scours wool, then to someone who dyes and then again to a knitter, Mountain Meadow is able to do all of those steps in one place.
Sometimes, it has been difficult for the company to find the skilled workers it needs to operate the new machines. Hostetler said they had been in discussions with a dye chemist from India, but it was too difficult to get that person a visa and find them housing in Buffalo.
That aside, Mountain Meadow does all of its own training and is working hard to train its own employees on the new machines. Hostetler hopes that being able to do all processing of wool under one roof will give Mountain Meadow a competitive advantage.
Aside from processing wool, Mountain Meadow also does around 2,000 tours of the facility each year, showcasing American manufacturing in Buffalo. The facility has one sheep outside that is there for those city-slicker tourists who have never seen the actual animal, Hostetler said.
"We can reduce our shipping costs," Hostetler said of the new dyeing facility. "Shipping is crazy right now. … Our volume is not very big compared to those big mills, but for smaller companies or brands that want that one-stop-shop, that gives us a niche."
Peder Schaefer is a journalist with experience writing on political campaigns, climate change, housing, and local and state government. Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island he has reported from his home state, Washington D.C., and across the country and abroad for his newsletter, Rhode Trip. When Peder is not chasing a story, he likes to read and people-watch while sipping coffee.
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