Country Cottons Are A True Mom-And-Pop Business

100% Cotton Kitchen Towels, Lehmans.com

Pete and Toni Hogan, outside the ‘manufacturing center’, autumn 2013.

Locust, North Carolina isn’t the biggest town on the map. You might not think there’s a whole lot going on there. You’d be wrong–because Pete and Toni Hogan’s three-car garage doesn’t hold cars–it holds a thriving business!

Pete ran Country Cottons from the spring of 2008 until the end of 2010, when he retired. “But folks kept after me, kept asking if we had anything left, if we could tell them where to find dishtowels that were 100% American,” he said when interviewed for Country Life last fall.

And so early in 2013, he and his wife picked the business back up, and now they’re busier than ever!

“We use cloth woven right here in North Carolina,” he says, clearly pleased, and gesturing to the giant rolls of fabric stacked to the rafters in the garage/production room/workshop.

100% Cotton Dishcloths at Lehmans.com

Rolls of American-made and woven cotton fabric reach nearly to the garage ceiling.

“I just didn’t find the non-American cloth up to my standard, and I can work with weavers close to here, in Newton, who know exactly what I want.”

Each roll holds 100 yards of the waffle-weave cloth, and weighs about 75 pounds. Pete picks them up from the weaving mill in his Ford pickup and hauls them home, where he and Toni cut 1,200 dishcloths per roll. “Or 600 kitchen towels, depending!” says Toni.

The Hogans make both for Lehman’s, in coordinating colors of green, red, white and cream. “And Lehman’s keeps us busy, especially at the holidays and in the spring,” Pete notes.

He’s built a giant cutting table into the south wall of the garage, and he and Toni unroll the giant spindles of fabric, using electric cutters and guidelines on the table to cut the fabric to the correct sizes.

100% cotton dish cloths being cut for Lehmans.com

Pete makes long cuts first, then cuts the fabric crosswise, using an entire roll of fabric during each cutting session.

Then, he takes bags of cut toweling to a sewing contractor in Albermarle, NC, where all the pieces are pressed and hemmed. When they started, they’d load the cut toweling into boxes, but soon discovered it was easier to handle in big, heavyweight trash bags.

“We use one color bag for the dishcloths and another color bag for the kitchen towels, so we always know what we have in terms of inventory,” said Pete.

At her desk, Toni folds and ties each cloth with twine, and packs them neatly in cardboard cartons.

“When they come out of those boxes for y’all up there in Ohio, they look as pretty as they do now. We put some thought into packing them in such a way that they’d stay nice in the box, and look good in the store y’all have, or pack well into a catalog or internet order from y’all’s warehouse.”

100% cotton Dish Towels from Lehmans.com

Toni ties each set of towels with twine and packs them into the box under her worktable.

Her lovely Southern accent flows, but her hands never stop moving as she gets the cloths ready to ship. Together, they figure they’ve shipped approximately 10,000 bundles of dishcloths and kitchen towels to Lehman’s over the years.

The business is still growing, too. Their son and daughter-in-law come and help out after their day jobs end. Their older granddaughter helps with tying and packing, and her very young sister likes to watch her grandpa cut the fabric.

In spring of 2014, Pete and Toni are moving the business from the garage to the homeplace where Toni grew up, just a few thousand yards away. “It’ll be nice to have my garage and storage back,” Toni laughs.