Amazing Interview on the History of Northwest Custom Apparel Since 1977

History of Northwest Custom Apparel since 1977

Interview with founder and CEO, Jim Mickelson

This is Erik with Northwest Custom Apparel, and I’m today with owner and CEO Jim Mickelson of Northwest Custom Apparel, we’re going to have a few questions and answers with Jim. Jim, how did you start this? Where’d you get the crazy idea to come up with embroidery?

Jim Mickelson Started in Prudhoe Bay Alaska

Jim Mickelson Prudhoe Bay

How it all Started with Northwest Custom Apparel

It started in 1977, and I’d worked on the Trans Alaska Pipeline for about 3 years. We got a little commemorative gift for all our employees in our management team. I took it upon myself to order 300 cap patches and sew them onto the ball caps.

Prudhoe Bay Keeping America Independent Patch
A Fabric Patch, the first designer patch by Northwest Custom Apparel and Jim Mickelson

The first ever custom patch said, Keeping America Independent Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Well, I brought the custom patch hats up to Alaska, and somebody said, “Well, don’t give those guys anything since you paid for them. Why don’t you sell them?” I put a sign on my desk, and I sold 300 custom patch hats within two days, commemorative caps with a pipeline.

I said I’ll do this again. I kept continuing doing it. Because I was on a rotation where I worked the week in Alaska, I flew home to Seattle and returned to Prudhoe Bay. When I returned to Alaska, I had plenty of time and space to put it on the Atlantic Richfield corporate jet and fly the custom patch trucker caps to Alaska.

Starting A Custom Patch Factory

Then the next move was that the … I said, “If this is so successful when we finish building the Trans Alaska Pipeline, I might not have a job that I want to find something to do. Despite still having a great job, I contacted the Barudan embroidery machine company in 1977. Barudand manufactures 12 head embroidery machines.

After a meeting with the owners in Charlotte, North Carolina, I decided to purchase one embroidery machine since the price was right. I took the chance and shipped it to Tacoma t up to the northwest, and I taught myself how to make embroidered patches and sew them on the trucker style fitted caps. I purchased the caps from Paramount Headwear in Missouri.

Nike was the first major client

Nike was their first client. Now a Billion Dollar Company.

Well, because I had the only one, and we were the first company with an embroidery machine, I didn’t even really have to advertise because people sought me out. We were doing really well doing the patches.

Then we received an order from a company from Blue Ribbon Sports. They asked us to embroider some polo shirts and I said, “Sure. We can embroider polo shirts.” Well, Blue Ribbon eventually … changed their branding name and they became Nike. You can imagine the kind of work that I was getting on my embroidery machine. From there, we had to buy another machine, and then another machine, and another machine.

Apparel Manufacturing gets shipped overseas

Well, what happened in the apparel industry in a country called China? They found out that Eddie Bauer, Columbia, REI, and all the big companies that were manufacturing apparel up here in the northwest found it a whole lot easier to move their operations or their manufacturing to China and the Far East. Well, what happened then is that we lost all our business because, and all these sewing factories were shutting down so we had to come up with another business model.

Bob Roberts (Middle) sports announcer for the Washington State Cougars Football Team stopped by for some Rose Bowl gear in 2003

What NW Custom is Doing Now

What we’re doing now is that we… We decorate polo shirts, jackets, hats, and anything that an employee would wear to have the company’s brand recognized. We’ve been doing this for better than 15, 20 years. It’s been a comfortable position that we’re in.

We’re no longer the only embroidery company. By the last check, there are probably close to 800 embroidery companies in the state of Washington. Maybe we were the birth mother of the embroidery industry in the Northwest. We’re still doing well. We still are here. We’ve got a nice facility in Milton, Washington.  I invite you to stop into our remodeled showroom and say “Hello”, and visit with me and our friendly staff.

Jim Mickelson can be reached at 253-922-5793 or by email at [email protected]

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Antonio Massey

Production Team: Folder

Antonio Massey recently joined NWCA in June of 2022. His role on the Production Team has greatly improved our processes and productivity. Antonio is always willing to lift heavy boxes or help his co-workers during busy times. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his dog and mastering video games.


Alicia Wada

Shipping Clerk

Alicia Wada is passionate about helping her co-workers at Northwest Custom Apparel in any way that she can. She works in our Shipping and Logistics department. Alicia, who goes by Ali, has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. She lived in Japan for ten years and recently brought her family to America in 2019. She is interested in learning crafts and textile art from around the world.


Erik Mickelson


Erik Mickelson’s position as Manager is more than a job, it’s a passion. It’s always fun and exciting because he enjoys marketing, computers, and coming up with innovative ideas to help NWCA grow. He majored in accounting and finance at Washington State University, graduating in 1996, and returned to school to obtain his Master of Business from WGU, graduating in 2016. Erik continually strives to advance his education through podcasts, audiobooks, and industry tradeshows. He is married to a remarkable and caring wife named Wendy, a Registered Nurse, with whom he shares his many hobbies and a love for the outdoors.



Ruth Nhoung

Production Manager

Ruth Nhoung is our Production Manager and Northwest Custom Apparel is lucky to have her. Thanks to her vast knowledge of machine embroidery and dedication to creating a comfortable and supportive work environment, the production plant runs smoothly and customers are pleased with our work. She is a loving mother and grandmother and enjoys spending quality time with her siblings. She says, “I love everything about Northwest Custom Apparel: the people, the atmosphere, the work, and the customers. I love what I do and I embrace all of NWCA’s core values”.


Steve Deland

Art Director

Steve Deland has been our amazing Artist since 2017. He loves working at Northwest Custom Apparel because he appreciates the goal-oriented, progressive-thinking management style. He is most passionate about his art, which includes scroll saw woodwork, and his five grandchildren.



Taylar Hanson


Taylar Hanson is a highly acclaimed Saleswoman at Northwest Custom Apparel. She has a BA in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles from Washington State University. “Go Cougs!” The best part of Taylar’s job is getting to work with longtime customers who trust us to do the best work and take care of their needs. She is passionate about appreciating nature, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.


Nika Lao


Nika Lao is very knowledgeable in how the business is ran because she began as an Embroidery Machine Operator and has worked hard to become the excellent and personable saleswoman she is today. She enjoys the stress-free environment and the many chances to connect with her co-workers over potlucks, BBQs, and bowling parties. Nika is a proud sister of two highly successful brothers and can boast mastering three languages herself: Khmer, Thai, and English. She is an avid camper, enjoys going to farmer markets, and loves cooking.


Bradley Wright


Bradley Wright has been a vital team member of NWCA since 2017. As our accountant and knower-of-all-things, Bradley is proud to work closely with his wonderful colleagues. He studied at the University of Washington. These days he dedicates his free time to his new house.


Dominic Nguyen

DTG Operator

Dominic Nguyen recently joined our Direct-To-Garment department. He says he loves the family work environment at Northwest Custom Apparel. In his free time, Dom likes to listen to music, hangout with friends, and play video games. He comes from a very big family which can be very chaotic at times, but is always exciting.


Sothea Tann

Production Team: Trimmer

Sothea Tann recently joined the Production Team in 2022. She finds Northwest Custom Apparel to be a good working environment with helpful and friendly staff. In her free time, Sothea spends quality time with her family and, overall, focuses on a peaceful and happy lifestyle.


Brian Beardsley

DTG Supervisor

Brian Beardsley has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. He is our DTG Supervisor. Brian loves that he gets to work with high-tech machines in a fun atmosphere. He has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. He said, “I always wanted to create visually interesting assets in a variety of mediums”. In his free time, he enjoys building and painting models, playing video games, designing, and playing his guitar.


UT Tri Tran

Embroidery Machine Operator

UT Tri Tran loves Northwest Custom Apparel so much that, although she has already retired after a long career in machine embroidery operations, she is happy to return part time. She says, “I love the family style work environment and how everyone shares food, laughter, and fun on a regular basis.” In her free time she is dedicated to living a healthy and peaceful lifestyle with her friends and family.



Embroidery Machine Operator

BunsereytheavyHoeu, who goes by Theavy, won our Operator of the Year in 2021. She takes on many roles in the production team. She says, “These are not my co-workers, these are my family! I cherish all the memories we make together”. When she goes home to be with her family, she makes the most of her time with them by holding family get-togethers and even karaoke competitions.


Sreynai Meang

Embroidery Machine Operator

SreynaiMeang is a hard-working Machine Operator. She is most passionate about helping people. Sreynai, who goes by Nai, likes to exercise in her free time and talk with her family in Cambodia.


Kanha Chhorn

Embroidery Machine Operator

Kanha Chhorn has been an Embroidery Operator with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. She is delightful and always makes everyone smile and laugh. Kanha takes on additional tasks that allow us to exceed our customers’ expectations. In her free time, she can be found at her local temple or spending quality time with her family and friends.


Savy Som

Embroidery Machine Operator

SavySom is one of our Machine Operators who is passionate about embroidery and sewing. She enjoys working at NWCA because of its flexibility. She has two teenage sons and loves spending time with her family on the weekends.



Embroidery Machine Operator

SorphornSorm has been a Machine Operator since 2011. One of her four sisters works here as well. Her other relatives are in Cambodia. In her free time, Sorphorn studies English, listens to music, and enjoys exercising.


Jim Mickelson


Jim Mickelson, after a successful career with a major oil company, founded Northwest Embroidery in 1977. This was the first commercial embroidery in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, Jim has become the guru of embroidery never refusing to answer a question or offer advice to his fellow embroiders. Jim and his wife Leeanna raised four wonderful children who went on to successful business careers.

Northwest Custom Apparel
Northwest Custom Apparel
152 Google reviews
Janice Herron
Janice Herron
Love their amazing customer service! From ordering over the phone, through email, or in person at Northwest Custom Apparel, everyone is very helpful, and very nice! Always! We have been ordering our apparel for our local small business through them for many years! Thank you Thank you!
Morgan Pero
Morgan Pero
Excellent people, products and customer service!
Drew Halverson
Drew Halverson
Great product offerings/results, swift communication, and helpful staff. Highly recommend!
Tim s
Tim s
Northwest Custom apparel always does great work! We have been a customer for over 25 years and are always satisfied with the products we get!!
NW Custom Apparel treats us like we’re their only customer! Everyone is always so friendly and helpful. They’re great!
Randy Birch
Randy Birch
We us Northwest Custom Apparel for our work shirts and they are incredible. The staff is super friendly, the quality of workmanship is outstanding and they stand by the work they do. I love this place.
Heidi Christiansen
Heidi Christiansen
The company I work for has been buying custom apparel for the team members for years now. We love working with NW Custom Apparel because the process is easy, delivery is timely, and materials are high quality. Anytime I’ve ever had an issue, they’re quick to resolve it. We’ve purchased both embroidered items and DTG graphic tees. We’ve purchased blankets, shirts, jackets, hoodies, etc. Everything ends up looking super professional, and our team members always have positive things to say. Ally is always there at the warehouse with a smile and a friendly greeting when I pick up materials. She is so helpful and respectful. Taylar is a wonderful customer service rep. I’ve sent her some complicated orders—like 20 different items with all different colorways and styles or 150 items with three different styles—and she is so good at getting everything just right. I plan to continue purchasing from NW Custom for high-quality custom apparel.
Hoa DeBusk
Hoa DeBusk
Have used them for years. Knowledgeable team that is always so helpful in recommending options or creating designs. Great quality too for embroidery or digital prints. Very happy with them as a vendor.
Stacey Perez
Stacey Perez
We use Northwest Custom Apparel for all of our professional embroidery needs for the orthodontic office I work at. They do great work, are quick and have never missed a deadline. Highly recommend if you need any custom apparel needs.