BY LINDA BAKER
// Photo by Eric Näslund
On a Friday afternoon, Mark Korros, the 61-year old CEO of Pendleton Woolen Mills, is in the company’s Portland home showroom, where the Native American-style blankets Pendleton has been making for a century share space with a relatively new product line: jacquard towels fashioned out of cotton, not Pendleton’s trademark wool. In just a few years, the towels have become a several-million-dollar business for the iconic brand, which celebrates its 104th birthday this year.
A longtime apparel executive who most recently was CEO of Seattle-based Filson, Korros took the reins at Pendleton in February. His goal is to continue down the path the company has been following for several years: updating a historic Oregon brand for the modern consumer. “We need to constantly provide loyal, ongoing customers with new products that excite them,” says Korros, a Kentucky native who wore the company’s classic board shirt as a kid. “But we also need to create products that will attract new customers.”
Incorporated in 1909, Pendleton employs about 900 people, including 223 in the company’s Pendleton and Washougal woolen mills. In addition to 70 retail stores around the country, Pendleton operates a wholesale business, and company products are distributed in 25 countries around the world.
CEO: Mark Korros
Factoid: 427,000 sheep shorn for Pendleton annually
Although the family-owned company took a hit during the economic downturn, Pendleton has since been on an upward trajectory, says Korros, who declined to reveal revenues. “We’re definitely in expansion mode,” says Korros, who spoke to Oregon Business about a month before participating in a classic company ritual: attending the Pendleton Round-up with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. “It’s like the Superbowl around here,” he says wryly.
Helping power the company’s growth is an array of new initiatives aimed at achieving a mix of the traditional and the contemporary. Korros is also alert to global apparel- industry trends, such as the push to bring back manufacturing to the U.S. and a surge of interest in sustainable fabrics.
In 2014, for example, Pendleton will debut a spring version of the Portland Collection, a 3-year-old line of modern textiles featuring updated styling, eco-friendly fabrics and fresh colors, including custom-print silk dresses and reversible jacquard coats that have been featured in the likes of Vogue and GQ.