By Rick Garcia
Without a doubt this will be one of the harshest winter on record. As we dress layers upon layers of winter gear to keep warm, wearing a Stormy Kromer hat completes the ensemble.
Today, the hat best known for its stitched ear-band wrapped around a baseball style cap was the brainchild of George “Stormy” and Ida Kromer in 1903. One story tells of Stormy, a semi-professional baseball player who grew up in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, was also a railroad engineer for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. To prevent the cold and wind from blowing off his baseball cap, he asked his wife Ida, an accomplished seamstress to modify the cap which would be comfortable and functional. The popularity and demand of this hat caught on and eventually the Kromers started a business. The rest is history.
In 2003, Bob Jacquart, CEO of Jacquart Fabric Products and a third-generation Kromer cap wearer, overheard that the Kromer Cap Company would discontinue production of the hats. He saved the brand by owning the rights to continue the namesake and worked with an ad agency in Milwaukee to restore brand by marking the back of each cap with a Stormy Kromer signature and year (1903) of its origin.
Bob Jacquart grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where his family was in the small grocery business in Ironwood. In 1958 Bob’s father, who was a fireman, set up a side sewing shop in the home basement which became Jacquart Fabric Products. The business then moved to his grandfather’s grocery store and endured when Bob took the helm.
With many opportunities to go to college and suggestions that he would make a great engineer some day, Bob decided to take the entrepreneurial path, which was already in his blood and also being a good mental athlete, by learning and mastering in sewing for the fabric business. He eagerly took on many different tasks from making custom boat covers to performing maintenance for wealthy summer residents who came from Chicago and Milwaukee. His ability to be reliable, adaptable and innovative led to other projects that involved any degree of sewing or stitching fabrics in diverse industries. Production items include pet beds and furniture, boat covers, large tarps, heavy machinery covers, speed skating rink pads, large custom tents and enclosures, hard protective cases, and winter hats and outerwear. In addition to operating the Stormy Kromer Mercantile brand, Paus Pet Products, which features warm, comfortable pet beds and cat furniture are part of another successful line which both has large online and catalog presence.
The Jacquart family takes pride on the quality, care and tradition of the SK brand which is proudly made in the U.S.A. right in Ironwood, Michigan. Bob’s two grown daughters, Gina and K.J., essentially run and manage the day-to-day operations, while Bob mentors and actively advocates business entrepreneurship by serving on leadership boards at Michigan Technological University and Michigan Garment Industry Council.
The Kromer cap is synonymous to anything and anyone associated from the Great North Woods where you rarely see anyone without one of his caps warming heads. The rage has extended throughout the country and in Canada. The line has a wide assortment of color, style and fabric which are all hand crafted for quality control. The target audience is also wide and varied from men and women, young, elderly, rural, outdoorsman, and urban dwellers.
For those not familiar with the legend of the Stormy Kromer wool cap, it would be best to learn from the “caretaker” of the legend, Bob Jacquart himself, where he offers personal and group tours of the factory from montages of historical and current photographs and articles in the halls to various operations on factory floor where 104 employees work.
There are many great caps made by many great outfitters all over the country and world. But to have a world-class manufacturing company in Michigan made by local residents who specialize in quality grade fabrics and can endure sub-freezing temperatures in the winter – “Hats-Off” to Bob and his SK team!
This was printed in the March 9, 2014 to March 22, 2014 edition