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Amazing Interview on the 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, and 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

Mention Promo Code Nike1977 and receive a free nike polo shirt on your next order
Nike was their first client. Now a Billion Dollar Company

Well, because I had the only, 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 making really good 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 says, “Sure. We can embroider polo shirts.” Well, Blue Ribbon eventually … They 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 at the apparel industry is a country called China. They found out the Eddie Bauer, Columbia, REI, 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
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’d be … We decorate polo shirts, jackets, hats, anything that an employee would wear to have the company’s brand recognized. We’ve been doing this for better on 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’s 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 email at [email protected]


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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