Buck Mason co-founders Erik Allen Ford and Sasha Koehn (above, from left to right) didn’t set out to save a 144-year-old factory in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s just something that happened along their decade-long quest to create the perfect T-shirt.
The label, which was founded in California in 2013, specializes in casual staples including tees, henleys, and jeans designed to a granular level of detail. While Buck Mason had partnered with domestic and international factories to produce its wares, by the autumn of 2022 the founding duo had decided to build a T-shirt factory of their own outside of Dallas.
That’s when Ford received word that Mohnton Knitting Mills, a knitwear operation founded in the late 19th century, was about to go belly up. The business, established in 1878 to produce hats, was split between a fabric knitting mill in Shillington, Pennsylvania, and a cut-and-sew facility located just a few miles away in Mohnton. After a run that oversaw more than half of the United States’ history, the firm had given its employees their two weeks’ notice.
As soon as Ford set foot in its facilities, he recognized that something special was at stake—the fate of perhaps the last vertically integrated knitwear facility in a region that had once been a rag trade hub. But aside from the buildings and the machinery, Mohnton Knitting Mills held another precious asset: a highly skilled workforce.
“It was pretty wild,” Ford tells Robb Report. “We had to move quickly because we would have lost all of the employees if we hadn’t put the deal together in essentially real-time. And that was our greatest fear: that if we didn’t move fast enough, we would have lost all the expertise.”
The deal went through, and by January 2023, employees returned to their stations at what was now called Buck Mason Knitting Mills. Today around 20 people—the employment rolls have increased since the acquisition—are split between the mill in Shillington, where American-grown cotton is spun on circular knitting machines into proprietary slub and pima yarns, which are then fashioned into tees at the cut-and-sew facility in Mohnton.
Buy Now on Buck Mason (Slub Classic Tee): $45
Buy Now on Buck Mason (Slub ’90s Boxy Tee): $45
Buy Now on Buck Mason (Slub Curved-Hem Tee): $45
The ability to control each part of the garment-making process has amplified Buck Mason’s perfect-tee quest, allowing the company to implement a highly involved quality control protocol that takes points of measurement for every tee that comes off the line. Buck Mason has also utilized the mill to develop a new fabric called “Toughknit”—a durable, heavyweight cotton inspired by mid-century tees—which is being made into long and short-sleeved iterations at the cut-and-sew facility and is expected to launch in early October.
Though the tale of an out-of-town firm swooping in at the last minute to save a historic factory may pull at the heartstrings, Ford says the deal wasn’t only about preserving American-made. “I just want to build the best product in the world for the best value for our customers,” he tells Robb Report. “And I wouldn’t feel right if we built something in the U.S.A. that we could build better elsewhere.”
But for all the sense it made for his business, Ford admits to a streak of sentimentality.
“It was definitely strategic, and it was about quality,” he says. “But it was also tough to think that these people are going to go work at Amazon, packing and shipping boxes, when they could be making the best T-shirt in the world.”
And under the title of Buck Mason Knitting Mills, that’s precisely what they’ll go on doing.