Kentwool has been transforming wool into luxury yarn for five generations, or 179 years. For nearly seven decades, yarn has been made in Pickens.
Still, many people don’t realize that Kentwool is an important part of the upstate fabric, says Kim Kent, who became the company’s owner and CEO five years ago.
“So many people don’t realize we’re a local business. This deeply shocks me. I want people to know we are here. We are a committed corporate citizen. We have an office on Main Street and we have a facility in Pickens,” Kent explains.
“We are a proud company upstate.”
Kentwool employs about 55 local workers, operates in the United States and internationally — and sources domestically whenever possible, she says.
“We are committed to the region, the state and the country. The decision was made in 1843 to use and manufacture in the United States. It was easier back then,” Kent says. “When everyone relocated, we didn’t. We were committed to the people of our region. And we continue this commitment.
As proud as she is of Kentwool, Kent couldn’t have imagined she would be running it. She grew up in small town Georgia and graduated from Converse College in Spartanburg before heading to law school at the University of South Carolina.
After:15 minutes with Kentwool’s Kim Kent
After:From managing growth to redesigning transportation, GP McLeer takes care of policy and process
After graduating, Kent began a career in government affairs and lobbying. She worked with the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, the commerce department of SC, and eventually formed Copper Dome Strategies, LLC, in Colombia with two partners. She is still working with the company.
Her path to Kentwool and Greenville began when she married Mark Kent in 2007.
“Kentwool was Mark’s family business,” she explains. “He was at the head of the fifth generation of the company.” Mark’s father, the late W. Tom Kent, had moved the company’s headquarters from Philadelphia to upstate in 1954.
A few years after their marriage, Mark persuaded Kim to get involved in the business, serving as corporate legal counsel and joining the company’s advisory board.
He also got a promise that she would take over the business if anything happened to her.
“Nobody thinks it’s going to happen,” Kim Kent recalls.
But he did. Mark passed away suddenly in 2017. Thanks to their foresight and Kim’s involvement, Kentwool remains family-owned and operated.
“I took over right after his death. It never occurred to me not to. Mark asked me to do it. He trusted me to do it. We had to focus on preserving the business for the next generation,” she says.
“I immediately met with the team to tell them that we were not going to sell the business. I wanted to bring comfort and stability to the team who had certainly worked for the company for much longer than I had, many of them for generations.
Kent listened, asked questions and earned the trust of the leadership team assembled by her late husband.
“I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We had people who knew exactly how to make the best yarn in this country. All I had to do was not screw it up,” she says.
“We bring the raw material and transform it into wool yarn. Then we sell it to clothing manufacturers. There aren’t many people left in this country doing what we do. »
The key to the company’s survival and success is being small, nimble and customer-focused, Kent says.
“We are a 100% custom manufacturer. We don’t make a product to sit on shelves and wait for someone to buy it,” she says.
“Our customers come to us and say, ‘We want to make this amazing fabric for a high-end luxury sweater. And we need a yarn that looks like this and looks like this with colors that go from this to Then our team at Pickens meets with the design team and the technical team of the client, and we discuss how to bring their vision to life.”
The team produces “a premium quality product that customers use to produce their luxury goods. People who want to make a cheap item don’t go looking for our product.
One of these premium products is the Kentwool sock, a creation of Mark Kent and an offshoot of the textile and spinning industry.
An avid golfer, Mark wanted to produce durable, comfortable socks that protected his feet from blisters, his wife says. “Of course it would have our thread as its main component.”
“Our product is created with the best merino wool, and the price reflects this level of quality. It’s fantastic, and it also lasts forever. We are very proud of it. »
What makes Kentwool products special? It starts when the sheep. “We have relationships with breeders and suppliers. We are very particular about where we get our wool. We try to source our wool 100% domestically. There is not always enough supply.
After the sheep are shorn, the wool is taken to a company in Jamestown, South Carolina, where it is washed. “Then our factory in Pickens magically turns it into yarn,” Kent explains.
Employees use technology to check the quality of wool coming in and yarn going out. The wool is not dyed at Pickens; Kentwool has a partner in North Carolina that handles this part of the process.
“Our footprint is so small,” says Kent. “We have a low impact facility. We do not discharge water. We do not pollute. We are a dry operation, and what we generate as waste, we recycle.
As the company nears its 180th anniversary and Kent approaches his five years as CEO, she and the team are ready to start planning what comes next.
“We have men and women in our company who are doing great things. It is the greatest unexpected gift of my life to find myself in this position,” says Kent.
“It was fun. It was hard. It was difficult. But it’s also super rewarding.