FALL RIVER — The big names land at T.F. Green Airport and head for the Braga Bridge.
Every month, designers and developers from Nike, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Under Armor, make the trek.
“They get to Fall River and they are impressed, ” said Charlie Merrow, chief executive officer of the Merrow Sewing Machine Co.
“They come here to create a product. But when they get to Fall River and they see the mill buildings, when they see this building, they see authenticity.”
And then they realize there are designers here. There are cutters and sewers who can make good clothes. There is the Merrow Sewing Machine Co. that will design and build machines to let them make stitches that have never been seen before. There are shops that can produce prototypes with precision and speed.
“The textile business is not so much a business as an ecosystem, ” Merrow said. “We still have it here in Fall River. It’s not really healthy, but it is here and it is not everywhere else. It can be nurtured and it can grow.
“We have to look at that ecosystem and help it grow. If you don’t have sewing machine mechanics and sewing machines, if you don’t have designers and sewers and cutters it won’t work.”
Merrow Sewing Machines, 502 Bedford St., is in the middle of that.
The company began its life in 1838 in Hartford, Connecticut. Joseph Merrow originally made gunpowder. An explosion convinced him that knitting machines were a better bet.
He developed machines that improved the way socks were made. The company grew and innovated, sending machines for knitting and sewing to 60 countries. It moved to Fall River in 2004.
The innovation continued. The company developed a new way to knit and stitch shirts, sweatshirts and leggings in an itch-free merino wool. WoolPRO garments are being tested by skydivers, mountain climbers, runners and circus acrobats around the world.
They developed the Patchlight, a half-ounce LED that runners, hikers, kayakers or dogs can wear at night for safety. The light is produced in another granite mill, right across the street from Merrow.
They developed sales software that allows Hyde Painting Tools to sell online.
They developed stitches that have never been seen before.
All of that is done in Fall River because the city makes it easy to turn an idea into a reality, Merrow said.
“When you put it down on paper, the pros and cons for doing business in Fall River, the pros greatly overwhelm the cons.
“Our mill buildings are just one of them. I could turn the lights off in here right now. The building would be lit beautifully. It was designed before there were electric lights.”