Inside an old factory building on Milwaukee’s south side, the hum of dozens of mid-century industrial knitting machines is a constant sound – like it has been for decades.
Wisconsin Knitwear Inc. has produced custom knit hats, scarves and headwear out of the four-story, 30,000-square-foot facility at 1111 W. Lincoln Ave. since 1998, but the Milwaukee-based company has been in business for the past 43 years.
Today, its products are shipped around the world, largely to clients on the East Coast and Midwest, and have been worn as spiritwear for schools and sports teams; promotional merchandise for businesses and bands, including big names like Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, The Lumineers and Dr. Dog; and simply as a crucial accessory to the typical Midwest-winter wardrobe.
Wisconsin Knitwear produces about 200,000 to 250,000 products in a typical year. In an industry increasingly driven by automation, mass production and offshoring, what sets Wisconsin Knitwear apart is its “old-school” process, said Steven Arenzon, who took over ownership from his father, Mauricio, an Argentine immigrant who started the company in 1979.
“We’re the last knitting company in the U.S. that has the machines that make our knit hats, with names knitted directly into the hats,” said Arenzon. “(Other companies) have different machines, newer machines, new technology… and that doesn’t work for me. I like the old-school.”