Woven Roots Episode #6: Made in Kentucky: Carlisle’s Textile Journey

Aired: November 30, 2017

Nestled in the rolling hills of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region, the town of Carlisle is home to around 7,000 people. Carlisle used to be home of two manufacturing plants for Jockey International, a textile manufacturer and distributor of underwear and sleepwear for men, women, and children. In 2000, Jockey closed up its sewing plant in Carlisle, laying off 326 people. Four years later Jockey moved its operations to Mexico and closed its Carlisle knitting plant, as well as the nearby Maysville and Mount Sterling facilities, affecting 440 total jobs in the region. Jockey’s closing had devastating impacts on the once bustling town of Carlisle, as young people began to leave in search for work elsewhere and high-wage jobs nearly disappeared. However, the economy of Carlisle is currently growing with a movement towards regional economic development and textile revitalization.

In early autumn, Appalachian Transition Fellow, Sam Hamlin sat down with Tracy-Pratt Savage, Development Director in Carlisle-Nicholas County, and also member of Carlisle-Nicholas County’s Chamber of Commerce, to talk about what folks are doing to revitalize textiles in the area through innovative production that taps into high-end and niche markets. For example, high-end baby bedding company, Liz and Roo, moved its operations to Carlisle in 2016. Custom sewing for Liz and Roo is done at the former Jockey International plant, now owned by Carlisle-owned and operated, 3 Star Industries, which sews premium covers for utility vehicles and manufactures windshields.

One of the challenges that many emerging rural textile companies face is a shortage of skilled workers to take newly-created positions. Tracy talks about how folks in Carlisle are attempting to address this problem though an exciting partnership with the Maysville Technical and Community College to develop a textile and sewing certificate program to assist young people in developing the skills needed to work in textile manufacturing.

The episode concludes with a discussion about an approach to economic development that Tracy calls rural regionalism. Rather than going it alone in efforts to revitalize their economy, folks in Nicholas County are working with other small towns in surrounding counties to build up region-wide textile manufacturing, tourism, and community collaboration.

For more information on Carlisle’s history and current endeavors, visit the Nicholas County Economic Development Authority at nicholascounty.ky.gov.

This December, keep a look out for our special final episode on hide tanning, flax, and weaving arts at Cedar Creek Farm.