Joining a growing list of bike and outdoor brands, in August, Kitsbow announced they would be moving its operations to North Carolina. We reached out to David Billstrom, the chief executive officer of Kitsbow, and asked him a few questions on what helped make that final decision.
Dirt Rag: I know that you were looking at several locations before coming to the final decision of NC. What was it about North Carolina that was appealing to Kitsbow to make that final decision?
David: We had been working on moving our manufacturing to somewhere in the Southeast for about a year; TN, VA, SC, and NC were all in the mix. We narrowed that down to 11 locations in VA and NC, and in June, we visited all of them. While there were NC locations on the list, Old Fort NC near Asheville was added at the last minute. Before June, I would have given you 80% odds we would be in rural VA, near the NC border.
It was a perfect combination, the beauty, and access to the Blue Ridge, 2 miles from our office on gravel, a ready and eager workforce in Old Fort NC. Ethan Allen had just announced a plant closure affecting 300+ employees, and nearby to Asheville. We will also be sharing our historic building (a sock mill!) with a brewery. It literally couldn’t get any better.
We’re the first company to move manufacturing to Old Fort in years. We’re the only California company we know to move production to Western North Carolina in recent memory.
DR: As someone who is a transplant from CA to the east coast, the rich history and architecture here are just magical. And the brewery onsite, wow the stars just seemed to line up.
What type of production will Kitsbow be doing at the NC facility?
David: Almost everything we sell, eventually. We make about 25% of our revenue from the clothes we make in Petaluma. Within 24 months, we hope to make 100% of our garments in NC.
DR: Wow! That’s a heck of deadline. When do you hope to have that production started?
David: We will be making our first clothes by Halloween.
DR: Did I read the news correctly that Kitsbow will be partnering with a local Technical Community College for job training?
David: Yes, we are!
DR: That’s fantastic. Is it true also that Kitsbow will be employing 53 jobs over three years?
David: Yep. At least that.
DR: Any plans on a consumer storefront, or will this be a factory only?
David: Stay tuned for more news about that. But hey, with a brewery in the same building?
DR: That would be cool. Our crew loves going out of the way to go to an excellent local brewery. That’s a pretty standard consensus in the community, though. Not news to you!
Have there been any thoughts on Kitsbow’s east coast presence at cycling events as things get settled?
David: We will be sponsoring the Bookwalter Binge for the second year (later this month, an Asheville Gran Fondo) and we’re taking a close look at other Eastern cycling events for sponsorship.
DR: Make sure to keep Dirt Fest in mind. They are pretty swell events. David, thanks so much for taking the time! We are stoked to have Kitsbow on the east coast, along with so many other great outdoor and bike companies.
David: We are thrilled to be in a community that values not only good jobs but entrepreneurship and the outdoors. We are surrounded by people who love trails, rivers, gravel riding, single track riding, and road riding. Well, it is inspiring to be surrounded by all that energetic activity! We’re very, very lucky to be able to make this choice. We’re grateful.
We’re also appreciative of the welcome from outdoor brands already in Asheville and North Carolina — we have more offers for help and support than we ever imagined. Other apparel and sew operations in the
region have also been supportive and encouraging. Just wow.
And now I have to get back to work. We’re still installing electricity and air compressors for our new factory!
DR: Well, good luck! We will be down there to check it out and ride bikes as soon as you give us the word.
Check out the trails in Old Fort, NC here. Old Fort is 25 miles from Asheville, NC and it is part of the Pisgah National Forest where you can find a plethora of fantastic trails. Dirt Rag was in Asheville not too long ago, check out our story on the Bike Farm and trails here. Also check out Watts adventure along the Appalachian Beer Trail here.