The Industrial Re-Revolution: How Kitsbow Is Helping to Usher in a New Era of American Manufacturing

Nov 2, 2022 at 14:10
by Pinkbike Staff  


This is how a town dies.

The first thing to go is the jobs. The plant that employs 30 percent of the town shuts down. Everyone knows it’s coming but it still feels like it happens overnight. The other plant on the other side of town goes next. Textile jobs move overseas. Then the people disappear, longtime residents migrate to other towns for work, and the shops wither away. The ice cream store, the mechanic, the drug store … they all close one by one, replaced by vacancy signs. The plant sits empty, tarps covering holes in the roof. Kids throwing rocks bust out the windows of brick warehouses. Storefronts are boarded up. Some people hang on, but the population shrinks to triple digits, down from a few thousand. A skeleton crew really, just enough people to keep the lights on. There are a few jobs to fill. McDonald’s. Security at the old plant to make sure the local kids, bored and nothing to do but look for shit to break, don’t take it over.

Photo Ben Ward

On the edge of town, the interstate hums. There’s life to the east and west—towns that are thriving with jobs and art scenes and restaurants with charcuterie plates, but all of that progress skips this town. This town, which thrived with industry at one time, isn’t even a pit stop anymore. It’s just a memory.

It’s happened all over the country as small manufacturing towns suffered when blue-collar jobs were lost to cheaper labor in Asia. It’s a Bruce Springsteen song. A Hollywood script about hardship and perseverance.

Photo Ben Ward

There aren’t as many songs or scripts about a town coming back to life, but that’s what’s happening right now in a corner of the Southern Appalachians where Old Fort, North Carolina, a textile town that has been a shell of its former self for two decades, is staging a comeback through a revival in American- made manufacturing. In 2019, Kitsbow Cycling Apparel moved its headquarters from Petaluma, California, to Old Fort, bringing 60 new jobs. These are old-school jobs at a sewing machine, the same kind of jobs the people of Old Fort used to rely on. The same kind of jobs nobody thought would be coming back. Kitsbow’s move has helped spark a resurgence in this forgotten town. Signs of life are everywhere, from the new brewery just off the main street to the new trail system being planned in the nearby national forest. Growth is imminent. Old Fort is poised to become the next great small mountain town in the South. But can the town grow without displacing the locals that have always called Old Fort home?

Photo Ben Ward
Kitsbow CEO David Billstrom moved production to Old Fort seeking a new way of business.

Made To Order

Kitsbow’s Icon shirt is almost too pretty to wear while riding. It’s made from Pendleton’s merino plaid fabric, with patches on the shoulders and elbows for extra durability. Slim cut, snap buttons, bright blue thread accents on the pocket … it’s dateshirt quality, and as of late 2019, it’s made-to-order in Old Fort, North Carolina.

Kitsbow’s production floor doesn’t look like a typical sewing factory. In Asia, factory floors are packed with sewers—all women—crammed together, sitting in front of machines, where they stay all day, every day, making the same cuff or lapel or collar, for about $2.10 an hour. Dozens of sewers will work on each shirt, assembly-line style, as scraps of waste fabric pile up on the floor. At Kitsbow, nobody sits. The floor is divided into work stations—horseshoes composed of several different white, gleaming machines—where one or two makers move from one machine to the next, putting together an entire shirt, or pair of shorts on their own. After the shirt is made, the sewer presses a red button, signaling the completion of another garment, and signs a “maker’s” card that gets packaged with the clothing. The floor is spotless. There are no scraps in sight. The crew at Kitsbow can make several tech tees in an hour, but the Icon requires more precision, so they’re making one or two of those an hour. Order one today and you’ll get your shirt in about a month. This is not a sweatshop. It’s a tech startup.

Photo Ben Ward

“One of the worst things about apparel moving overseas is that the industry missed the manufacturing revolution,” says David Billstrom, Kitsbow’s CEO, adding that this form of manufacturing, dubbed “the Toyota way” for the car company that pioneered it, is more efficient and less wasteful. It relies more on skilled labor and high-tech machinery, not cheap labor in developing countries. “This is how clothes should be made.”

Billstrom wasn’t really considering Old Fort for Kitsbow’s new factory and headquarters. The company makes high-end mountain bike clothing—$250 technical flannels and $175 riding pants that are classy enough to wear off the bike. The California-based company wanted to bring their manufacturing back to the United States but couldn’t make it work on the west coast.

Photo Ben Ward

Photo Ben Ward

“California wasn’t just expensive, there isn’t really a work force,” Billstrom says. “There aren’t enough people to fill the jobs.”

Billstrom cut his teeth in Silicon Valley but had spent years living in small southern towns, and he knew the region would be a good fit for Kitsbow’s new operation.

“People don’t move away from the Southern Appalachians. There’s a wonderful combination of resilience and a sense of place that you don’t find elsewhere,” Billstrom says. “As a business, it just makes sense to go to a place where people aren’t gonna move away, because it takes so long and costs so much to train sewers.”

Photo Ben Ward

Old Fort was originally off the table because it has historically been a dry town. You had to drive across the county line to get a beer when Kitsbow was choosing a new home city, and Billstrom wanted more than just a ready labor force. He wanted a town that offered a certain quality of life. But he gave Old Fort a second look and discovered that a new state law would allow breweries to sell beer in dry towns and counties. There was also a space available that would be perfect for Kitsbow’s sewing operation—the old Parker Hosiery manufacturing building. And the town, which had at one time supported several manufacturing plants, had an eager workforce familiar with the nuances of manufacturing jobs. And then there’s the location—Old Fort sits at the base of the Black Mountain Range, home to the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi. The town of roughly 1,000 is surrounded on three sides by a forgotten corner of Pisgah National Forest and has two trophy trout streams running through its limits. A couple of Pisgah’s signature mountain bike trails, Kitsuma and Heartbreak, end a few miles from Kitsbow’s new home.

“It’s the goldilocks location,” Billstrom says.

Photo Ben Ward

If you drove through Old Fort just a couple of years ago, you probably wouldn’t have described it that way. If you were being polite, you’d say Old Fort had good bones. The main street would be cute if it wasn’t for all of the empty storefronts. Look further and you’d find dormant warehouses and factories, half-empty churches, trailers with weeds growing around broken-down cars—the only thriving business was the Dollar General, which seems to come standard with small-town Appalachia these days. As late as the ’70s, there were five manufacturers operating within the limits of Old Fort. They made furniture and clothes and car parts, but they started closing in the ’80s, when the Old Fort Finishing Plant, a textile company, shuttered its operations and let go 500 employees. The trend continued with most of the other manufacturers ceasing operations in the last two decades. Ethan Allen furniture was the most recent casualty, shutting down the majority of its operations in 2019 and laying off 300 workers. Now, only Auria is left, making carpets for cars.

“My parents worked at the Old Fort Finishing plant,” says Lavita Logan, a third-generation Old Fort native who now runs People on the Move, a nonprofit advocating for the town’s Black community. “The town was doing really well for decades. When the manufacturing jobs go away, people either move or drive out of town to find other work. They shop elsewhere. The town just dies.”

Photo Ben Ward
Third-generation local Lavita Logan, top left, runs People on the Move, a nonprofit that advocates for Old Fort’s Black community, which represents about 30 percent of the town’s population.

Kitsbow started making clothes in Old Fort at the end of 2019. Only one employee moved with the company from California. The rest of the now-55-person workforce is local, coming from Old Fort, Asheville and the surrounding county. Hillman Beer Company opened a brewery and restaurant at the same time, operating on the other side of the Parker Hosiery Building. Kitsbow has since opened The Ride House, a retail space and café that serves as a meeting point for cyclists and a de-facto visitor’s center for people hiking and riding in the Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest.

“When Hillman and Kitsbow came here, we had nothing going for us,” Logan says. “But those businesses have opened things up. You can see the potential of the town now.”

Photo Ben Ward

Photo Ben Ward

This is just the beginning of Old Fort’s second life, so it still feels sleepy. The Ethan Allen factory flanks one side of downtown, empty except for a few employees who make furniture for U.S. embassies. The front roof is caving into itself and is covered in tarps. Other nearby warehouses and factories sit crumbling. Storefronts are still largely vacant on the main drag. But there are also signs of revival. One of the old warehouses has been converted into a CrossFit gym. A cluster of container homes with living roofs is tucked into a corner of town. A second brewery is under construction and scheduled to open this summer. And a second manufacturer, Triple Aught Designs, which makes backpacks and tactical gear, is moving its operations from California to Old Fort, bringing 70 new jobs. McDowell County Community College is converting another warehouse into a trailbuilding school where potential trail workers can gain hands-on education and certifications. It’s good timing because Old Fort is set for a trail renaissance.

Photo Ben Ward

The Fonta Flora State Trail, a 100-mile greenway that will run from Asheville to Morganton, will bisect downtown, and 40 miles of new singletrack are slated to be built in Pisgah National Forest just outside the city limits. It’s the largest trail development project on Forest Service land in the south, and it’s happening in a part of Pisgah that typically doesn’t get a lot of attention. While the Pisgah Ranger District between Brevard and Asheville has become home to a world-class riding destination, the Grandfather District outside of Old Fort is largely overlooked. The mountains here are tall and steep, but there’s a lack of trail density. Well-ridden trails like Kitsuma and Heartbreak are isolated and can’t be connected without significant road miles.

Photo Ben Ward
Heath Cooper, far left, works at Kitsbow and is a G5 volunteer.

Photo Ben Ward

“The forest outside of Old Fort sits in the shadow of other parts of Pisgah,” says Jason McDougald, executive director of the G5 Trail Collective, the nonprofit that’s spearheading the trail project. “It hasn’t seen the attention or maintenance that other parts of the forest has seen, so even the trails that exist can be hard to find.”

The G5 Trail Collective has been rehabbing the handful of hiking and cycling trails that are already on the ground outside of Old Fort, and is waiting for the results of the environmental study before breaking ground on the new system, which will include much-needed connections for Kitsuma and Heartbreak. Beginner-friendly loops are in the works too.

Photo Ben Ward
With its location on the edge of Pisgah National Forest, Old Fort is poised to be a prime mountain bike town.

“The sky’s the limit for Old Fort,” McDougald says. “There’s a lot of great energy around town right now, and once you have that momentum, you can’t stop it.”

And while most people don’t want to stop Old Fort’s inevitable growth, certain forward-thinking stakeholders are attempting to harness it, so that the locals who have called Old Fort home for generations don’t get priced out of the town’s evolution.

Photo Ben Ward
Jason McDougald runs the G5 Trail Collective, which will lead the inevitable trail renaissance.

Photo Ben Ward

Philanthropic Profit

Karen Rogers has all kinds of stories about Old Fort from her childhood. Rogers was born and raised here and likes to tell stories about how her parents met while running moonshine down the mountain, racing to get their booze into town first. Or stories about how she would swim in nearby Curtis Creek, and walk from school into town to get ice cream while waiting for her mom to finish work at the Parker Hosiery building. The same building that Rogers now works at sewing Kitsbow apparel.

Photo Ben Ward
The Kitsbow factory lives in the former Parker Hosiery building, once a thriving manufacturer.

“I never thought Old Fort would be a bicycling town,” she says while moving from one white machine to the next, making a merino-wool tech T-shirt. “I’m excited that there’s finally some industry back in town. For so long, the only jobs here were $8 an hour for 40 or 50 hours a week. You can’t live like that.”

Old Fort has never been a leisurely city. Asheville, 30 minutes west, has been a resort destination almost since its inception, but Old Fort has always been about business. It was originally the meeting ground for the Catawba and Cherokee tribes, neutral territory to work through treaties (archeologists are working at the site of the new trail system and plan to have signs along the trails that tell the story of the original indigenous settlers in the area). During the American Revolution, it was called Davidson Fort, the westernmost outpost of white settlement in America. As a railroad hub after the Civil War, the labor force in Old Fort was responsible for pushing the iron line farther west, deeper into the mountains. The town’s industrial backbone was well solidified by the time manufacturing kicked into high gear.

Today, Old Fort might be embracing the bicycle, but only because the bicycle is good for business. The largest funding partner of the new trail system is People on the Move, which secured a $450,000 grant to fund small businesses for Black residents. They sent their first $75,00 to G5 to fund the trail project’s extensive NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process.

“We’re trying to find ways to bring more revenue into the town, so local businesses can thrive, and we see people coming to hike and bike. They’ll need to have some place to eat and drink or stay overnight. It’s gonna bring more revenue,” Logan says.

If the notion of a Black-led, community-minded nonprofit being in the business of building mountain bike trails sounds unconventional, welcome to what progress looks like in Old Fort. The town has always had a large Black population—roughly 30 percent—but it has also largely been an unofficially segregated town. Black residents have typically lived in two neighborhoods on the outskirts of town, known as Baptist Side and Cemetery Street, both of which have been largely ignored by the city to the point where they lack infrastructure like sewer systems and trash collection.

Photo Ben Ward

“We’re working to make the Black community more visible and give them a safe space to express themselves,” Logan says.

She sees the progress coming to Old Fort and is working hard to make sure Black residents don’t get left behind. In addition to funding the trail project, the grant money that People on the Move earned will help kickstart a handful of Black-owned businesses, from a barbecue restaurant to a cluster of log cabin rentals. Logan, along with Billstrom and McDougald, are also part of a council of community leaders that’s helping to shape the impending growth. Their first priority is affordable housing so that low-income families won’t get pushed out of their own neighborhoods as Old Fort grows, as has happened in other mountain towns.

“We’re making a big push to get a jump on affordable housing before prices get so crazy,” McDougald says. “How do you retain wealth in a community so people aren’t kicked out? If someone’s living in a mobile home, how do you create a path for them to buy an affordable home?”

Right now, that push is taking the form of a massive workforce housing project going in next to the campus of McDowell Technical Community College, 10 miles from downtown Old Fort. The project is being spearheaded and funded largely by local nonprofits and trusts that are making housing equity a priority in the county over the next decade.

Photo Ben Ward

Billstrom sees the revitalization of Old Fort as a key aspect to Kitsbow’s thriving bottom line, so the company is involved in a number of practices that seem to be good-natured altruism. The company runs a bike shop for employees and is distributing donated bikes to local kids, so families that work at Kitsbow can learn to ride together. They pay for 100 percent of their workforce’s health care and are vocal proponents of the push for affordable housing. They’re also eager to turn Old Fort’s food desert into an oasis, where locals can make affordable, healthy diet choices. It sounds generous—and it is—but it’s also profitable. Ensuring affordable housing means his employees can stick around and Kitsbow won’t have to train an endless cycle of new hires. Paying for health insurance and encouraging healthier habits keeps his employees able to work.

“It’s obvious to me you can be a capitalist and compassionate at the same time,” Billstrom says. “There are so many examples of where the right thing to do for a long-view profit motive is the right thing to do, period.”

Photo Ben Ward

The notion of profit through altruism is never more apparent than in Kitsbow’s decision to bring its manufacturing back to the United States. On the surface, it’s a feel-good story about restoring American jobs, but Billstrom insists it was a sound business decision. Manufacturing in the U.S. allows Kitsbow to shift to an on-demand model instead of ordering batches of garments from a factory in Taiwan a year in advance. You order and pay for a shirt, Kitsbow makes it. Instead of borrowing money to place large orders ahead of time, Kitsbow became cash-flow positive. Making the clothes here also cuts down on waste (40-percent of clothes made overseas go into the landfill), and allowed Kitsbow to transition from sewing mountain bike clothes to sewing personal protective equipment within a matter of hours when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.

And all of Kitsbow’s profit-minded philanthropy is working; Kitsbow originally brought 60 jobs to Old Fort and they need to hire at least 10 more people to fill demand. Since moving to Old Fort, the company has seen 50-percent growth—and that’s during the pandemic.

“We can’t make stuff fast enough right now,” Billstrom says, adding that there’s also so much work to be done in the town of Old Fort. He envisions a pumptrack, pedestrian- and cycling-friendly streets, access to the trout streams and more healthy food options. He’s determined to see Old Fort learn from the mistakes of other mountain towns and make smart, long-term decisions. “We want Old Fort to thrive, and the people here want us to thrive. If you do it right, one hand shakes the other. That’s what’s happening here.”

Photography: Ben Ward


165 Comments

  • 220 110
 On a political note...when we read people complaining about Californians moving in and pushing their liberal policies like fair labor rates, health insurance, and hiring POC this is why we roll our eyes at your uninformed opinion. "Liberal" policies are bringing towns back while "conservative" policies keep people poor and uneducated. That's the reality of the situation.
  • 58 60
 Except is was 'ol BJ Clinton and his terrible U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 that destroyed these communities in the first place.
  • 59 18
 Interesting. Strange how there's been a huge surge of people and biz moving from blue to red(states).
  • 31 3
 I mean, I agree to some extent, but companies like this couldn't exist in a place like LA or San Francisco either.
  • 40 9
 There's a lot to unpack there, I really wanted to find some info that supported your comment but quickly found myself falling down the rabbit hole of highest homelessness in "liberal" states, countries, etc. It does seem like the small towns do indeed do better when leaning left, but there's no blanket statement, or policy the fixes everything. It seems you can't help one person without making another suffer. Some Asian child is now unemployed (and I don't mean that jokingly). Our world is truly fkt up.
  • 20 0
 @nohit45: I think this happened way before. Probably in the 70s when globalisation was advertised as expanding into new markets, while actually trying to exploit the cheap labour.
This did bring enormous modernisation to these countries, who are now the better for it.
  • 16 22
flag jrocksdh (Nov 16, 2022 at 9:54) (Below Threshold)
 @DizzyNinja: meanwhile everyone is trying to get into USA.
  • 14 6
 @Sycip69er: Source- “I know bro”
  • 12 6
 @nohit45: yes. he held a gun to their heads and said move your business to china or else!
  • 20 0
 @jrocksdh: If you sell your house for 1.2 million and buy a house that is bigger for 350k, pocketing the difference, does that mean you're doing it 100% for politics, or is it, something, else...?
  • 40 17
 @stealthpenguin: LOL I'll give you a first hand source. My little country town here in Colorado hasn't been able to get hemp and solar farms to get approved because "conservative" folks don't like the connection to "liberal" interests. They want to keep complaining about the coal factory that is down to a few employees. They want to the rules removed on farms and factories here because the Clean Water Act is too restrictive in their mind. Meanwhile the water is so tainted from industrial and livestock practices that it is unusable. I could easily get a permit rubber stamped by the county board because I know they have no scientific education and refuse to hire knowledgeable people because they "can't trust the big city folks" 'Murica
  • 47 5
 @Sycip69er: conservative.. liberal.. the lamest dude in the room always gonna be the person that interjects... 'on a political note' when no one is being political. Also anecdote is considered the very worst evidence in science.
  • 11 5
 I'm not so sure about that - what are the politics of the cities / towns with the most homeless?
  • 5 25
flag Sycip69er (Nov 16, 2022 at 10:44) (Below Threshold)
 @stealthpenguin: Aww let me know when you want to play at the adult table again. We'll give you a cheat sheet to try to keep up with us the next time.
  • 20 28
flag carters75 (Nov 16, 2022 at 10:46) (Below Threshold)
 Your "liberal policies" are destroying cities, and America for that matter, at a rapid pace. Take your political ramblings someplace else.
  • 23 2
 @jrocksdh: Some may be trying to escape to the US from somewhere else as refugees, but I'm not sure if a lot of people from developed countries would want to forfeit their healthcare and social systems to move to the US.
  • 6 1
 @stealthpenguin: truest thing said in this thread so far. Left right? f*cking yaaawwwn
  • 19 0
 @carters75: Nah, globalization policies have destroyed small town America... but those were pushed by both the left and right for a few decades.
  • 20 32
flag conoat (Nov 16, 2022 at 11:14) (Below Threshold)
 wtaf my dude.....do you not understand the historic context of liberal and conservative?

your, and the CEO's really, strawman army is ridiculous.


when people complain about Californians moving places and bringing the same thing that drove them from CA, it isn't any of the shit you or he are purporting....it's onerous taxation and regulations, anti-gun rights bullshit, child indoctrination in government schools(3rd grade drag shows anyone?), etc.

what you describe is known as classically liberal. which is what conservatives have always been. Freedom, liberty, self-determination. Neo-liberals are all about centralized planning and control. the opposite of the american ideal.
  • 3 0
 i still have no idea what they do?
  • 11 0
 The illusion of choice is still strong. Thanks for bringing your crappy politics here.
  • 20 12
 So, hiring people based on their race is "anti-racism"? Huh?

I thought the whole thing was to get people to focus on race LESS.

Pfffffffff lol
  • 1 0
 deleted
  • 26 19
 @conoat: Tell me about how kids are indoctorinated to hate drag queens (hint: they learn it from their parents, folks who ascribe to your cultural values). There is nothing wrong with a man wearing women's clothing, and there is nothing wrong with kids seeing it. The only way it becomes "wrong" is by people like you judging them, and then teaching their kids to judge them. Aren't drag queens expressing their freedom, liberty, and self-determination? Or are you gate keeping those freedoms for straight, white, christians? You: "Sure, have all the freedom you want! Just only do what I like." Hypocritical brand of freedom.
  • 1 0
 @EnduroManiac: where then?
  • 2 0
 @HB208: most California textile workers have figured out they can and are making huge $ with taco/fruit cup stands. Many counties/cities in Ca have gbecome very lax to steet vending.
  • 3 0
 Imagine saying this when Florida and California exist at the same time. Lol Goodness.
  • 5 0
 Yet they're leaving CA because why?
  • 7 2
 @Sycip69er: yeah, California is the epitome of good energy policy lol.
  • 1 0
 @stealthpenguin: this is perfect
  • 7 16
flag conoat (Nov 16, 2022 at 15:57) (Below Threshold)
 @chilllout: LMFAO.....spoken like a true groomer

It has literally nothing to do with men wearing women's clothes or vice versa, and you f*cking know it.
  • 29 0
 This is a great result; but why is taking care of your employees and community an exclusively "liberal" policy? There are plenty of right leaning CEO's and businesses that do exactly that. Reading the article, I couldn't find where this particular CEO stated his political views. A lot of the divisive rhetoric in this country comes from folks doing exactly what you are doing here, @Sycip69er : co-opting good things for "your" side, and then pointing the finger at the other side. How about we give credit where it is due: a community of varied interested coming together, finding common ground, and steering towards success.
  • 1 0
 @fruitsd79: equity $=def big part of it; as is politics(which is education/taxes/crime/et al)
  • 4 1
 @bonjurns: great point. None of this political debate matters, go ride your bike and give someone a hug.
  • 3 0
 @woofer2609:
No argument here, I'm on board with your sentiment generally. However, I did exactly that. I moved from Melbourne to the US in 2000 and lived here ever since.

Everyone has a different story to tell and seemingly we need not agree on everything.

I once had a conversation about who I would rather speak with at a social gathering...someone I agreed with or someone I disagreed with. Ill choose the disagreement every time. Makes for a far more interesting conversation and life. (Respect for thr other side/position/belief makes this possible - something this country as a whole struggles with unfortunately)
  • 7 3
 @conoat: spoken like a true “patriot” defending some imaginary victim’s honor from an imaginary villain. You ain’t a hero, guy. Stop pretending you’re saving the world.
  • 6 17
flag conoat (Nov 16, 2022 at 19:54) (Below Threshold)
 @chilllout: stop sexualizing kids, creep
  • 5 0
 @conoat: how has he done that??
  • 2 0
 absolutely ignorant comment and not the right place for this... goodness that was ignorant.
  • 1 0
 @jrocksdh: It does not even look like the majority, so everyone is a huge exaggeration. Additionally if you make the ration to the population, Germany seem to come much ahead of the US. Just saying.
  • 6 2
 I live an hour from Old Fort in Charlotte, NC. Old Fort is 20 mins from the most major metro area in western NC, Asheville, NC. Renowned for being the San Francisco of North Carolina, it's hardly a conservative hellhole. In 2022 "liberal policies" are more well known for letting kids take hormone blockers and forcing a "vax" on people. I'm sure there's more employed POC in NC than in your CO. Ask NYers that move here CONSTANTLY about how well "liberal" policies have brought back NY. We don't need your "blue state charity." People here are pretty happy.
  • 7 2
 @conoat: Congrats @Qanonoat you found another imaginary enemy! This time in the comments section of a leisure time hobbyist's website! It's almost as if you're twisting reality, to fit your hero-complex narrative! You're really connecting the dots now, "doing your own research." Exposing the global cabal, one mountain biker at a time. Hey, got any spare blood for me to drink? I need to fill my water bottles before my ride. Pfff. Take it to Truth Social, kook.
  • 3 0
 how wrong you are. first comment and it couldn't be any more inaccurate. ugh, disheartening.
  • 6 5
 @chilllout: uh no. There is something certainly wrong with kids being subjected to drag queen strip shows. It's inappropriate, and in most cases pedophilia. Your thinking on this issue is the problem with the country and world and really is a cancer. I think you need a psychiatrist.
  • 3 2
 @nocker: then don't take your kids to drag queen brunch. how many of those actually exist anyway? I've never seen an advertisment for one. Ever. are you sure this is the rampant issue ? you really want to die on that hill?
  • 2 0
 @fruitsd79: There's been a bunch in Boise. They weren't controversial until 2022 Pride decided to host Kids Drag, which caught the attention of far-right politicians and activists in the state.
  • 3 2
 @nocker: Show me where I said it's OK for kids to be subjected to strip shows. You pulled that out your arse. Of course strip shows are inappropriate for kids. Shows how much mental gymnastics you're willing to do to imagine an enemy.
  • 4 1
 That must be why Democratic run states don’t have any poor people???
  • 4 5
 @chilllout: you f*cking dingus......drag queens don't dress like a business woman. LMFAO....they are hypersexualized portrayals of women, and their actions further this portrayal. Everything about drag is sexual, and it's beyond the pale to pretend otherwise.

just. f*cking. stop.
  • 3 0
 @bonjurns: everyone should just read your comment and then settle down. This article has little to do with politics and much to do with ethical business management, which is what we should be celebrating.
  • 1 4
 @conoat: @nocker @Qanonoat Trotting out the tiredest of tired tropes- nice. Drag queens lead to pedophilia in “most cases.” The actions of drag queens are hypersexual. Everything about drag is sexual. Government schools are indoctrinating your kids (rightwing dog whistle much?). Oh puhleeease. What year is this, 1964? Your arguments are laughable because they’re based entirely on stereotypes, which are necessarily untrue. “All drag queens are blah-blah-blah.” No they’re not, every person is different, which nullifies your argument.
I agree with you on one point, there is likely a certain level of pedophilia going on in the drag scene. That’s wrong and disgusting. What you two geniuses willfully ignore is the truth that there is a certain level of pedophilia going on in every culture, in every country in the world, including yours. Are you two culture warriors rooting out the sickos within your own culture? My guess is not, but let me know. With this truth established, it’s obvious that “saving the children” could not be your true motive. With the veneer of altruism shattered, it becomes obvious your true motives are scapegoating “the other” for power and control, because “they’re different” and don’t conform to your value sets. All your indoctrinating horseshit is just cover for your true, selfish motives. Oppressing the other for power and control. Yes, there are those with evil intentions that walk among us, but don’t turn a blind eye that they’re also in your ranks, and probably at the same rates as any other culture. That’s not an excuse to demonize an entire group. So, @Qanonoat, what were you saying about freedom, liberty and self-determination? Tell me how you’re equally applying the same hatred and oppression to all sickos across the board? Sure scapegoat the drag queens, but you’re not fooling anyone except yourselves.
  • 3 1
 @chilllout: more like 1984 from my point of view.

Have you remembered to take your meds in a while? You seem a bit manic.
  • 1 0
 @chilllout: "every person is different, which nullifies your argument."

that is the biggest hand wave in history. LMFAO
  • 1 0
 Or you could just leave politics out of it. Please keep your religion to yourself.
  • 58 1
 I visited Asheville back in May and, because I read this story when it was published in Bike or Beta MTB a year or two ago (can't remember exactly when), I made a point to connect with David and get a tour of the Kitsbow factory. It was the highlight of my trip. The training and resources they provide for their employees, the quality of the facilities, the attention to detail in their manufacturing processes, the technology of the equipment they use, the quality of the materials they source - all top-notch and very impressive. Not to mention the time and resources they've dedicated to making themselves a hub of the local community. The Kitsbow retail store/coffee shop/bike shop, the group rides they organize, and the craft brewery next door are huge additions to Old Fort (which, at the risk of sounding like a judgmental ass, is a town very much in need of some nice things to spruce it up). Sure, Kitsbow's products are pricey, but you're paying for the utmost in quality and you're supporting a brand who truly cares about its employees and community.
  • 3 21
flag carlwheezer69 (Nov 16, 2022 at 14:06) (Below Threshold)
 Usher Raymond IV is an American R&B singer, not sure what he has to do with the Industrial Revolution. He wasn't even born yet, POOR journalism. Would love to see some sources cited here. Back to Usher, Confessions (2004) established him as one of the bestselling musical artists of the 2000s decade, containing four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles—"Yeah!" (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris), "Burn", "Confessions Part II", and "My Boo" (with Alicia Keys)—and the top-ten "Caught Up". It sold over 20 million copies worldwide and was certified Diamond by the RIAA.[7] After splitting from his manager and mother in 2007, he released the albums Here I Stand (200Cool and Raymond v. Raymond (2010), both of which debuted atop of the Billboard 200 chart and respectively produced the number-one singles "Love in This Club" (featuring Young Jeezy) and "OMG" (featuring will.i.am). The EP Versus produced the top-five single "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" (featuring Pitbull) before the release of the top-fifteen single "More". Looking 4 Myself (2012) also debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with the top-ten single "Scream". The R&B ballads "There Goes My Baby" and "Climax" received Grammy Awards in 2011 and 2013. "I Don't Mind" (featuring Juicy J) also reached the top-fifteen in 2014, while Hard II Love (2016) peaked at five on the Billboard 200 chart. In 2018, he released A, a collaborative album with record producer Zaytoven.
  • 1 0
 Glad to hear some first hand facts. I wonder where it eventually goes. Like does 'growth' have to mean expansion, more customers, and eventually outsourced products in order to maintain profit. Or do the products continually get more expensive. I feel like I could substitute 'Chris King' for 'Kitsbow' in your write-up and the description would still work. Like, is the dream sustainable.
  • 29 1
 Pinkbike: giving us beta’s hits back.
Get every click out of that good written editorial product.
Maybe, just maybe: make writing great again?
You got the writers.
In this world of clickbait (even pinkbike yes I know) junk and Long form still rules.
  • 8 0
 I agree. The Beta articles (this one included) were so good.
  • 1 1
 Such a great article! I almost finished the second sentence!!!
  • 19 1
 It's a cool story, and the clothes look great. But they're hella expensive. That said, they're locally made with good ethics, so it might be worth saving up for it even if it's just to protest big manufacturing. I could get behind this if I had a little more cash.
  • 28 3
 I'm willing to pay a little more to save the American Experiment.
  • 2 0
 @fruitsd79: Where to get the funds if average wages don't allow it. A vicious circle/spiral. Same thing that got us here in the first place.
  • 1 0
 @fruitsd79: I am willing but cannot afford to be
  • 1 0
 I'm also impressed with this Kitsbow story. Enough so that I hope to add some of their gear to my closet in the future. Nearly all my life money has been tight and I've shopped for bargains. In the past handful of years my financial situation has improved some though; with becoming empty nesters and some inheritance money from the passing of my father. As a result I've started investing in better clothing.. trying to choose brands with ethos to take care of their employees and the environment. I like Patagonia gear. I'm buying my socks from darntough.com out of Vermont, and recently placed my first order for jeans from originmaine.com in Maine. While they cost a bit more, I'm not a fashion whore with a need to buy new all the time. Clothes tend to last me for several years; so a little more up front for quality and supporting American laborers I can now justify.
  • 2 0
 All of my riding clothes have failed after anywhere from 6 months to 2 years: zippers torn off, stretched out, etc, Zoic being the worst offender where not a single pair of $80 shorts lasted more than a year (of 5 I had).

Kitsbow stuff is more expensive, but it is made considerably better. They also have great warranty support and will repair items rather than toss and replace (or just toss). The bike industry right now is churning out garbage that isn't meant to last more than a year, but brands like Kitsbow are making things that last in the long term. You pay for it now, but it evens out in the long run when you don't have to re-buy all the stuff you bought that broke after a year. You also have the option to get it repaired.
  • 18 1
 I love what they are doing and everything I have purchased from Kitsbow has been amazing. It's the type of clothing that may outlive you. I ripped my Icon on a fishing scramble a few years ago and they fixed it for me for free.
  • 12 3
 Im glad they created some jobs in Old Fort, a town im passing through pretty often to ride Kitsuma and some other trails outside of the area.

But let's not make it sound like they are doing some selfless act by moving to a town only to breathe life in it out of the goodness of their heart selling super high end mountain bike clothing. They moved from the most expensive area in the country in both labor rates and property costs to a fairly poor town that is going to have a lower average salary and property costs.

That being said nothing wrong with what they did, and I am glad to see it and I think Old Fort will eventually end up like Asheville in a way, certainly not as large. But the people that are currently living in Old Fort will not magically benefit from this, mostly people from up north or down south will be the ones moving in and then complaining about these ugly houses that these "poor" people are living in near their new house.

Also Hillman brewery is awesome and is certainly bringing in its own money into the area, we stop by and eat/drink everytime we pass through. The new law passed makes it possible to drink in the town as long as its brewed on premises ala brewery.
  • 11 0
 Canadians will also know that Old Fort is where all the best cheddar is made
  • 1 0
 mmmm fromage (drools)
  • 1 0
 Did you mean Armstrong?... And now I want some hawkins cheezies.
  • 10 3
 Not all of President Clinton fault but it was the biggest mistake of his presidency allowing China into the WTO. Pushing for more trade between China and the rest of the world. Allowing that truly killed the American Factories and other countries factories also.
  • 3 0
 It also allowed American companies to sell their products into the largest economy on the planet. If not China then the factories would have gone to Latin America so opening the Chinese economy to American companies was probably one of the goals. Of course the entire point of this article was that in order to keep their premium products cheaper, Kitsbow choose better manufacturing practices in America to achieve that.
  • 2 0
 It’s true. It’s been liberal and conservative dogma that trade is good but perhaps now we realize it’s not with a closed authoritarian partner.
  • 8 0
 I'm pretty sure this is content was originally in BETA magazine. Can't fault the quality its just a shame BETA ended the way it did and the disaster around international postage.
  • 10 0
 Publishing a story like this today of all days while Outside axes 12% of Cycling Tips staff . How ironic.
  • 6 0
 Abandoning the locals and employees who believed in you when you first started, who fostered your growth to what you are today, then to preach about how community is of upmost importance...yea right. It's just a cost of doing business I suppose. Sounds like they are doing all around great work in Old Fort, but I doubt they would have moved there if the town wasn't so cheap and labor wasn't so plentiful. Have the new employees enjoyed the same compensation as their forgotten CA counterparts? Has pricing reduced as a result of lower operating costs?
  • 1 0
 It's worth noting that Kitsbow is employee owned. My guess is that the move was one geared towards sustainability of their business model. Maybe as time goes by the prices will drop as they pay off more of the debt associated with the new facility. They've got a lot of overhead - good warranty - good materials - new facility - until production benefits from scaling or debt is reduced it'll take time to reduce the costs to the consumer.
  • 18 13
 Im sure moving to a state with the lowest wages and worker protections had nothing to do with it. Kitsbow has (although I’d argue hillman brewing has brought more) brought some life to Old Fort…the locals are already priced out of the town.
  • 9 2
 That's the unfortunate thing about it, about our economic system as whole. Despite manufacturing someplace cheap, the locals still can't afford the goods produced. The workers ("as of December 31, 2020 Kitsbow paid an average hourly wage of more than $20.00") can barely afford to live in town ($218k avg home sale). No doubt that it has something to do with outsiders who don't work in the town buying property there either as vacation homes, remote work locations, or AirBNB investments.
  • 21 3
 Not sure how you just read an article all about bringing decent employment to a run-down, vacant old town and managed to make that a negative thing. A business like this moving in is great news for local people.
  • 13 0
 We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

They created 54 local jobs and that money helps to funnel out into supporting businesses in the community (mechanic, grocery store-hopefully one can displace dollar general, generic downtown shops)
I also hope they give tremendous discounts for employees, or maybe even free garments regularly
I hope to be able to support Kitsbow in the future and I hope others do too, and that they continue to prioritize the locals
  • 3 0
 @PHeller: US economy is crazy. People are out of their town. This is happening also in Milan the most liberal and "innovating" place in Italy. The reality is that this place sucks and I am proud to live far from Milan. I always get so bad when people are forced to leave their place for big economical drawing.
  • 4 0
 @tom666: Just my observations from someone who lives 10 minutes away from Old Fort. Baxter Healthcare (3,000 employee, largest IV solutions/bag facility in the world) is the true economic heartbeat of McDowell Cty.
  • 4 1
 @PHeller: That equates to a 40k salary, so house prices are just over 5x annual salary. You should try living here in Bath where the average house price is well over 10x average annual salary.

JP
  • 2 0
 @Jprestidge: Anywhere within hours of Toronto or Vancouver and home prices averages also 10x average salary.

So imagine prices at Old Fort double and thats what a lot of the worlds RE looks like.
  • 1 0
 @Jprestidge: So true. 5x salary exceeds historic rules of thumb for housing affordability in the US, but it's not that bad compared to a lot of places, including Petaluma CA, where I live and where Kitsbow left a few years ago.
  • 4 0
 My point was, manufacturing in the USA is expensive, and in most cases, its a holy grail when a consumer can manage to pay reasonable prices AND the laborers of said products also get decent wages. That holy grail usually only appears when overheads and greed are minimal. In the case of Kitsbow, the consumer pays a premium, but that's not reflected in the average worker wage. Being that Kitsbow is employee-owned this is likely due to overhead - high cost high quality materials, costs that consider lifetime no-questions warranty, a manufacturing facility and equipment that is brand new (not contracted to an existing manufacturer who paid off equipment and property ages ago.)

It's great that Kitsbow is doing this, and they are being relatively successful in their business, and they are employee owned - but it also illustrates how expensive it is to do business even in relatively inexpensive areas and how the costs involved (property, healthcare) can translate to wages that are still pretty "meh" despite the premium price point of the product. I just wish there were mechanisms in place that allowed Kitsbow to pay higher average wages, for their employees to afford houses locally, and for their market share to grow as other American workers can buy their products more easily.
  • 1 0
 No, you're right. It would be better if they hadn't come.
  • 1 2
 @shredddr: Or just dont act like your saving the world because you pay 50 people $20/hr.
  • 4 0
 @LaXcarp: 50 $20/HR is exactly what a run down town needs. A few more employers like that and it won't be run down for long.
  • 2 0
 @inverted180: I actually underestimated - when I checked it turned out that the average house price in Bath is £600k and the average salary is £30k. Madness!

JP
  • 3 0
 @PHeller: the wages are a reflection of the costs of living in western NC. Good benefits also are part of their wages so with low health insurance premiums mean they make more more per hour too. You can't compare the wages in Cali or Connecticut to the mountains of NC. The biggest advantage to Old Fort was the experienced workforce but low cost of living was a nice bonus. The article went into great effort to describe what people are doing to keep that low cost of living low while maintaining economic growth.
  • 2 0
 Either way, it's cool to see a company bring jobs of any kind back to the US. It's sad when locals are priced out of a town, but that happens everywhere. No matter where you go if anything improves the home prices soon follow. I'm priced out of the town I grew up in, and it's highly due to people from LA and Bay Area coming in and buying homes with cash above asking. For people everywhere let's home local legislations put energy into affordable housing.
  • 1 0
 @LaXcarp: "Baxter Healthcare (3,000 employee, largest IV solutions/bag facility in the world) is the true economic heartbeat of McDowell Cty."

So you're saying it injects a lot of cash into the local economy
  • 1 0
 I suspect that Baxter isn't the big influence on the housing prices in Old Fort, but the area isn't completely barren of jobs like some other areas of Appalachia. Baxter employs a lot of people in that area and the wages are good for entry level, and even better for elevated positions. Old Fort also sits on the border with Pisgah, so there are likely lots of folks who work for Baxter who want "out the backdoor" access to trails in Old Fort that Marion and McDowell can't provide without a short a commute (although if you work at Baxter you likely pass right by some trailheads along 221).

That being said, Baxter's main production facility is in North Cove, which has virtually no residential areas near it. It's 12 miles northwest of Marion and 20 miles from Old Fort.

Old Fort and the surrounding areas are still relatively cheap compared to most places with that kind of MTB access and small town feel, so the wages the folks at Kitsbow are making are probably satisfactory. It's just a shame that even with that lower COL and lower wages, Kitsbow stuff is so expensive. Glad somebody is buying it - even if it isn't me!
  • 5 0
 the disparity between the with and withouts will only get worse if we continue to believe that sourcing overseas is the answer for "cheap" prices and massive profits. we just end up losing jobs here and impoverishing people in Asia and beyond.
This is a feel good story but it needs to be replicated 100's if not 1000's of times for it to have a net positive effect on the poverty epidemic in North America.
Maybe its time to not just post these articles but call out all those that are not acting altruistically and are intent on hoarding profits first and foremost....
  • 2 0
 I mean, you gotta start somewhere. Companies don't have to be altruistic to make an impact either. You need profits to expand your company and continue producing in small American towns.
  • 5 1
 Wonderful story. Jeff Kendall Weed has a very well done video on Old Fort as well. Kitsbow is certainly not cheap, but the few things I have from them are excellent. Manufacturing in the US isn't cheap but this article highlights the benefits.
  • 4 0
 Was just in Old Fort 1 month ago. Decided I wanted to try some different trails from the usual Asheville/Brevard trails while on vacation. I can vouch the vibe of the town is great and the trails as well. Gateway trails are tons of fun!!!! Old Fort Bike Shop in the Kitsbow building also bailed me out in a pinch with a new chain and sealant refill.
  • 4 0
 A real and relevant story, beautiful photography, and quality writing. Like another commentor said, I know PB has the ability and talent to write more articles like this. I would happily sacrifice every bike review out there (bikes are pretty uniformly good these days) for even just a sliver of more content like this. I don't say this to demean anyone at PB, as I know the talent is there and these stories probably make a ton less money, but this really brought me back to when mountain bike storytelling held a higher place in our collective community.
  • 12 9
 The very foundations of these mountain towns are exploitation of resources and people. Hopefully old fort will not get wiped off the map by new money, politics and a forced agenda from a new hipster population. It happens everywhere so I expect it will there too. Find a cool quiet place, make it popular. Run out all the people that make it that way with the cost of living. Boom, it’s the recipe that is used over and over. Move on to the next one. First they extracted the minerals and timber. Now it will be the spirit of the place.
  • 3 0
 This was a good article, worth reading and scrolling through.

Data miners at Pink Bike, look at time on page and adjust content strategy as needed Smile

Expensive shirts, but maybe things were never supposed to be so cheap? If the shirt lasts a few years, that's better than me buying several $50 shirts a year.
  • 1 0
 i completely agree that things were never supposed to be so cheap. they were meant to be hard wearing and reparable.
  • 5 1
 shortage of labor in CA? lol yeah right. We are 7th biggest economy in the world and there is no shortage of skilled workers or labor. You just probably didn't pay a living wage for CA so no one applied.
  • 5 0
 Could it be that rather than "didn't want to pay living wage for CA" it actually isn't feasible to pay people what represents a living wage in CA to make clothing? How many companies sell hand sewn clothes made in CA, New York, Vancouver, London, Norway, Switzerland or some other place with extremely high cost of living? If they do what do they charge?

Various taylors make suits on Saville Row in central London and a suit will run you $5000+. If you pay those prices for labour that will be reflected in your prices and the number of people that can afford what you're selling gets very small and it becomes very challenging to sell enough units to keep the lights on.

Rather than be cynical about it why not be pleased that they're trying to create living wage jobs in an American town that really needs the jobs. The easiest thing to do by a mile would be to outsource the work to China or Vietnam and that's what almost everybody does.
  • 1 0
 @tom666: Search and State makes at least some of their clothes in NYC.
  • 1 0
 @93EXCivic: Awesome for them. Bet their stuff is expensive.
  • 1 0
 @tom666: IMO considering the price of a lot of cycling clothes I see it isn't unreasonable. It is cheaper then Kitsbow. Their field shirt which seems comparable to the Kitsbow Icon and made in the USA is $165. I believe some of their stuff is also not made in the USA.TBH though I have no idea how they manage that.
  • 3 1
 We just need to make more of our own shit across the board instead of buying shit that was made in other countries. Hopefully the hopeless GBP will facilitate the inauguration of more of this kind of company in the UK by altering the blance of import costs and local labour.
  • 1 0
 I don't know why you were downvoted for that...
  • 5 3
 A great article! I think it belongs in www.longreads.com or something. Maybe needs a bit more attention to the locals' side of things and less hype from the CEO. Regardless, this is a really interesting development to pay attention to. Can PB consider revisiting this story in 2-3 years? I'd love to know more about how the town is planning its growth to avoid property bubbles, displacement of locals, and how it might manage pre-existing issues for better or worse with the influx of new industry. Did you (can you?) send someone over there to interview locals?
  • 1 0
 Property bubble already exisits, mayor is from the good ol boys club so not really much desire to change the status quo. Although they do allow breweries now which is providing the most value.
  • 5 0
 Nothing in Old Fort proper on Realtor.com for under $265k and it’s a beater. Rejuvenation successful!
  • 1 0
 It’s a relatively short drive to Asheville. That is just everywhere in the us these days.
  • 2 0
 Great article! I proudly own a few pieces of Kitsbow, it's not cheap at all but it's some of the best stuff I've ever used, and they repair their stuff too. All the new energy in Old Fort is super exciting, and I can't wait to try the gate way trails with my young son!
  • 2 0
 Personally, I love what Kitsbow is doing. Making high quality, non-disposable gear in the US, reducing waste, and putting money back into the community in a thoughtful way. The made to order thing is great, they can have more sizes available without sewing a ton of clothes they might not be able to sell easily. Wait times are pretty minimal usually.

Yes, some of their stuff is expensive, some isn't too bad though. Their super flow cooling tee is my all time favorite summer jersey, and not horribly expensive at $69 at full retail. Granted, I am fortunate to be at a point in my life where I can afford to spend extra money on quality gear or to support a company whose philosophy I believe in. Their stuff fits me super well, it's well made, and they are a cool company. To me it is absolutely worth spending the money on.
Too bad the timing of this article is a little off because they just had a virtual tent sale where things were 50% off.

One other thing, if you like the company and want to support them they are doing some crowdfunding through Wefunder right now. With only a $100 minimum investment, it's pretty easy to help further their vision.
wefunder.com/kitsbow
  • 4 2
 This is my kind of story, community development at it's finest, I know Old Fort, it makes me want to move back to Appalachia .. until I saw the pictures of the rainy streets that is Smile

Great story, more cowbell!
  • 4 1
 Nevada - aren't you literally praying for rain?
  • 4 0
 Rain makes the dirt good
  • 1 1
 Your def not from socal lol
  • 4 1
 What a delightful long form article. The real question is, can you drink the beer that's made there now or is it still dry?
That and employers having to pay health insurance.
  • 15 1
 we may not have healthcare but have you seen the size of our military? just shoot the cancer away.
  • 1 0
 Again, I really enjoyed this article as it served as a reminder that there are many characters and even more actions that goes into making a vibrant community. I appreciate the details that Graham and Ben have covered in this article to shed a little light into what is happening in Old Fort, NC. It's an inspiration for me to be mindful of seeking out opportunities, no matter how insignificant they may seem, to be involved in my community(ies). I'm also inspired to visit the Kitsbo website AND to make plans to visit Old Fort so that I can sample the developing trails and take in the town's vibe. Nice work Graham and Ben!
  • 1 0
 A long time ago, some 'red' state business, thought it prudent to move production overseas...for one reason: Profit. Why pay our workers big dollars when they can pay fractions overseas and get passable quality...or "better" quality and high prices...for the same darn thing...

Then all the other capitalist, for profit, companies joined in...it's just the way it goes in corporate 'red' America as well as ANY other place of business....

So it's not about liberal anything...or conservative anything...just pure profit. Sad part about this stuff? They seem to want to revitalize the entire area from the cost of their clothing...wow. Stuff is sick expensive! Definitely for the rich....
  • 1 0
 I like the Kitsbow model. It's also becoming slightly more common. Another good example outside of the MTB space is American Giant. Of course, as many have pointed out, this is in no way a return to the "mass production" days of the post WWII US economy and shouldn't be viewed as a panacea for the many hard hit small communities in the US - at least in current form. It's a complex issue with no clear solutions.

On the one hand, the modern trend today is very anti-consumerist and emphasizes buying less, but higher quality that lasts longer at the expense of a higher premium. This is the Kitsbow model. There are benefits to that (namely environmental), but there also costs and costs beyond merely that it's more expensive. 'Consumerism' is many things, but, most importantly, it is precisely what many claim they want...the return of mass manufacturing to the US. So Kitsbow produces 60 jobs with its model, whereas a massive textile mill, historically (setting aside automation), employed thousands (maybe an entire community).

For the Kitsbow model to do the same, you'd need Kitsbow, American Giant, and a bunch of new "small batch" companies coming into these towns. Whether the "artisan" or "small batch" economy can pull that off remains to be seen. There's definitely a romantic conservationist appeal to the "craftsperson", "hand-making" goods using locally sourced products in small quantities. But the rub with this model has always been that they can never employ at scale or make affordable items. As such, they tend to become luxury items of the upper middle class. That said, I'm open to the idea and it would be great to see something like that pulled off. It's going to require a ton of new entrepreneurs and risk takers, when most people are not that in my experience. Most people feel better working within systems created by others rather than creating their own (which is risky).

Take the founder of Kitsbow, David Billstrom. According to his bio, he has about a 40 year career as venture capitalist, with stints at huge corps like Intel and Disney. Impressive, but also very rare. Billstrom is the type of guy who can afford to risk something like open up a "craft" mtb apparel company in Old Fort, NC. Very uncommon. But, I will say that although younger generations get a bad rap (sometimes deserved), I am impressed by a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in this space among young people. There's a lot of small "craft" businesses opening up by young people. Keep it up! Again though, not sure it can even compete with what people claim they hate: consumerism.
  • 1 0
 "politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex"

It's sad that politics and the constant bickering about coke and Pepsi are contaminating even mtn biking. Power cares about 1 thing more power. Everything else is theatre. Love to see this article. Love to see what Kitsbow is doing. Now they just need to make something relevant to me.
  • 1 0
 Great article. I really enjoyed the depth of this story and how it highlights a bike brand, it's shown in a larger context. I hope the story of Kitsbow and Old Fort keep moving along this positive track. I'll pinch some pennies and pick up something from Kitsbow to support this mission. I'm also down to travel to this region and try out some trails in the future.
  • 1 0
 I really want to love Kitsbow and I appreciate their ethic and ideas. My only beef is with the fit of their products. I have shelled out for two items and as a 5'9" 170lb man I feel like sausage when I put them on. While the gear looks casual, it is made for tall skinny folks. I think there would be a market for sweet MTB gear that also fits the average rider. If you really love your employees, make some shit that would actually fit them.
  • 4 1
 Great story. I've looked at Kitsbow stuff a number of times but the price is just a little too much for me. Maybe someday.
  • 1 0
 I wish they had a "try before you buy" program. Wouldn't be hard to administer. Pay like $30 to ship an icon to you, wear for a week and ship back. If you like the product, order one up. Kitsbow could subsidize the initial purchase by crediting all or a portion of your rental towards the new garment. I'd be more interested in their product if I could try before buying. Probably a good chance I'd purchase if the fit, feel and function are as good as they suggest.
  • 9 6
 I saw dentist on a new SB120 outfitted in full Kitsbow - he would not talk to me.
  • 4 0
 @j1sisslow: you forgot to make an appointment, rookie mistake.
  • 1 0
 GTA have PPO.
  • 4 0
 I am really impressed by the photography work. Big emotion
  • 1 0
 You can make a great day in Old Fort. Few laps of Kitsuma in the morning, good sandwiches at Hillman, and cool down with a family friendly hike to Catawba Falls right across the street.
  • 1 0
 Own one of the Icon shirts. A dog ripped a massive hole in the sleeve. Mailed it to Kitsbow and they repaired the thing and you cannot tell it was ever shredded. Turn around on it was like 1-2 weeks. Pretty awesome.
  • 3 4
 I want to support USA made. But... Kitsbow is not the best way to do it. Why? 1) The continued use of large amounts of man-made materials, especially virgin (non-recycled) man-made materials. 2) Even when they get the materials right, their prices are insane. Compare the Kitsbow Icon 100% wool shirt for $233 with the Varusteleka Sarma 100% wool shirt for $169. Yes, the Varusteleka one is made in Lithuania vs. the USA, but arguably Lithuania has better worker protections the NC, USA. Regardless, it you can't tell me that its 137% more expensive to make a shirt Old Fort, NC vs. in Lithuania, especially as the later is in the EU.

The point here is simple: I want to support USA businesses. But I want those businesses to do the right thing - no virgin man-made materials and don't use the "Made in the USA" as way to Yeti-fy your prices. We are willing to pay extra to get stuff made by Americans but not if you are using it as a badge of material excess.
  • 3 1
 Kitsbow, cause everyone needs $100 MTB Shorts, oh wait, if you want the padding that's another $75.
  • 2 1
 LOVE seeing American made...was intrigued so I went to their web site $199.99 to @269.99 for ONE set of baggie shorts! DAMN!!!!!
  • 1 0
 Awesome article. This is a company I will do business with. Wasn’t long ago you could purchase a Santa Cruz that was made in Santa Cruz along with Intense in so cal.
  • 1 0
 here's another from Colorado, they must have something going on for making tech jackets and gear there. fulsusUSA dot com looks like legit stuff
  • 1 0
 Turns out I like small town living, right down to the over priced grocery store. I think in another 20 years they might accept me as a local.
  • 3 1
 This story was both beautiful and sad. Thank you.
  • 2 1
 Really impressive! What Kitsbow and the town is going and the article writers. Well done.
  • 5 3
 Great article. This is NPR quality stuff.
  • 2 0
 Absolutely beautiful photography with this article, great work Ben
  • 2 0
 Excellent photos. Good luck with your venture!
  • 1 0
 Always grateful for when a story carries images to help tell it! Excellent work Graham and Ben
  • 1 0
 PB Staff: More content like this please. There are many of us out here who still read.
  • 1 0
 It’s great that there are enough mountain bikers who can afford this stuff to make Kitsbow successful.
  • 1 0
 there is a bot on this thread....not a chance this will be two sided and we all know that limp biscut side
  • 1 0
 Folks forget that furniture and textile jobs moved from the Northeast US to the South because of the cheap labor.
  • 3 1
 What about Petaluma?
  • 5 4
 They got lucky only 1 Californian decided to go lol
  • 1 0
 I really enjoyed the read.
  • 1 0
 What a great story told and captured beautifully.
  • 1 0
 Absolutely FANTASTIC article! Please keep these coming!
  • 1 0
 freeridesystems dot com 12yrs strong made in co. support this
  • 1 0
 This is one cool story!
  • 1 0
 Great article
  • 2 5
 Californians will tear up north Carolina. It is happening at the beaches, cities and mountains. Inevitable, but still sucks. There is a reason Portland, Seattle, LA, San Francisco are cesspools
  • 3 6
 Moving to unwoke small town Merrca I see.....good for you, enjoy the freedom!





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