Origin Factory Tour

The local chamber of commerce had arranged for the public to go on a tour of the Origin USA factory this morning, and I’m always a sucker for a good factory tour, so I walked down the street (5 minutes away) to check it out. I’m glad I went.

For those of you who might not be aware, Origin USA started out as a manufacturer of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi tops. I learned this morning that they’re actually the only gi manufacturer in North America. The closest other one is in Brazil. Most of the American companies that sell gis import them from Pakistan, which is where Origin had originally outsourced its production. Then they discovered that the Pakistani company that was assembling its gis was also using the same pattern (the pattern Origin had supplied them with) to sell to other companies, just embroidering a different logo on them. After that discovery, they decided to move their manufacturing line to Maine.

That move was a fascinating process. They knew next to nothing about the actual creation of the clothing–how the machines work. How it’s done on a large scale. But they decided that they wanted to do things the old fashioned way. Manufacturing used to be huge in Maine, and they went around to old factories, buying the old machines that haven’t been used in years and years. In some cases, those machines didn’t exist in America any more, so they’d buy them from abroad and ship them back to Maine. (Ironically, one such machine they purchased arrived, and when they looked at it, they discovered it had “Made in Maine” stamped on it. It had been made in Maine, shipped to Europe, and now finally made the return trip years later.)

These days, they’ve branched out to making gi tops and bottoms, t-shirts, jeans, and boots. All of it is locally sourced. They bought looms and weave their fabric on-site with American cotton. They buy leather and dye it locally. They’ve taught themselves and their team how to service the old machines. It’s a knowledge base that was on its way out in America, and they’re working on bringing it back in a big way.

I had a vague idea they were in town, but I had no idea just how much business they’re actually doing here. They’ve got 50-60 employees, they’ve bought multiple buildings across the area, and they’re shipping a whole slew of orders world wide. It’s a compelling story, and it made me want to find out more about them and what they do. They strive to make products that are built to last. Their jeans are made with rugged material throughout (even the pocket linings), so they won’t wear out. I might try getting a pair the next time I need jeans, since I’m sick of my jeans always wearing out at the knees too easily.

Anyway, it was a great tour, and I’m glad I got to go on it. It’s wonderful to see a manufacturing success story right here in Western Maine, where so many businesses have closed over the years. I’m willing to pay more for something that goes to help local workers in such an immediate way, and I wanted to pass the information on to all of you, in case any of you feel the same. I’m not sure how often they offer tours, or if they will again, but it’s worth the time to go on one. Check them out!

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