A Conversation with John: Wilson & Willy's

I first had the chance to meet John Mooty in early 2012, not long after he helped to revive Faribault Woolen Mills the prior year. After working together on a few projects, and getting to know of his involvement at Faribault, it became evident that he had an enormous passion for the work he was doing. Almost all of our conversations about clothing and lifestyle goods, as well as each respective industry and its process, always managed to circle back around to the topic of creating community and connecting consumers to the very people behind the brand or the item they were purchasing.

John recently launched the e-commerce side of Wilson & Willy's, with the physical space opening in January of 2015. The concept of Wilson & Willy's is to not only bring great product to the market for men, women and the home, but to also take part in the conceptualization and manufacturing of those products, start to finish. Everything is made in the USA, with a dedicated focus on the local craftspeople in and around Minnesota as much as possible. In this interview we had the chance to further discuss community, the inception of Wilson & Willy's, as well as learn about the inspiration for the in-house label.

"The importance comes from our universal appreciation of dedication. An individual's dedication to their craft, a company's dedication to quality, and our own dedication to where we live."

Interview by Darian Hocking
Photography by John Mooty

To John Mooty and Wilson & Willy's

Wilson & Willy's

Most people are familiar with your work as the Creative Director for Faribault Woolen Mills, designing everything from the logo and branding elements, to blanket patterns and designs for the company. What led to the inception of Wilson & Willy's for you?

What I loved most at the Mill was working with others to create things that carried unusual substance in unexpected applications. It was finding creative ways to fuse capabilities together in new forms that ultimately led to a product with new interpretations and meaningful stories tied to them. Wilson & Willy's is a platform to connect, collaborate, and share the stories of neighboring manufactures and apply that same development mindset across a wide variety of categories. I love seeing people work together, especially those who seemingly have little in common, to create something entirely new given the right idea and excuse to bring it to life.

Its scope was further developed after teaming up with Rita Mehta of The American Edit to complete the initial assortment and provide a balanced perspective of where we could take the idea. We were able to combine our experiences and aesthetics to introduce an environment focused on the manufacturer regardless of size or category but with the consistent theme of quality, substance-driven products made by proud, talented individuals.

I'm familiar with Rita Mehta of The American Edit and share her like-minded approach to building community and manufacturing. How did that working relationship come about?

She did a piece with our now photographer Ashley Sullivan on the Mill this past Spring. They came in for one day and the way both the story and visuals were presented seemed like they had spent years getting to know the brand. I had never seen it presented that way from an outside glance so I was impressed by their execution and proud to share it.

We met for coffee a few weeks later where I asked if she would help assemble this new project and we kept it rolling from there. She brings a wide range of knowledge and capabilities that I do not have so we balance each other out really well and I think it allows us to consider a healthy variety of perspectives.

Did you always know you wanted to have a brick + mortar shop?

I have loitered around retail for many years and always loved thinking about what my interpretation would feel like. Working at the Mill, I began to further understand from a manufacturer's perspective what to look for in a retail concept that could bring additional value beyond a solid sales channel. My passion is product design, developing something from nothing, and finding ways to interact and support those I respect and enjoy, even as a spectator, what they do. So, realizing that if I could do all of these things in one realm of focus, its ideal form would be retail and due to the importance of tangible interactions with the products here, we felt Wilson & Willy's had to incorporate a brick and mortar setting.

As we were discussing earlier, about half of the products in the shop are designed exclusively for Wilson & Willy's. How did you manage to find the right people, brands and manufacturers to work with for these items?

It was a combination of teaming up with those we had previously worked with as well as trusting the ideal Minnesotan and American mindset of creating nothing but quality product. As many of the items we built have passed through Minnesota in some capacity, we wanted to start exploring this idea at home and get involved with the talent and resources we have around us. We are lucky to house a wide variety of talented manufacturers and it continues to strengthen and grow every year. The idea of doing what you can to support your neighbors is alive and well up here and we felt it was time to provide our perspective on how to bring people together from both the manufacturer and consumer communities.

Creating a sense of community is very important to you. Aside from the fact that each component down to the tags of the in-house items are American made, what led to the importance of capturing and sharing the stories of the makers you work with locally?

The importance comes from our universal appreciation of dedication. An individual's dedication to their craft, a company's dedication to quality, and our own dedication to where we live. I wanted to develop a single environment, both physical and digital, that could get involved with these stories and do them justice. The American-made movement has already proven that people desire to support local manufacturers and Wilson & Willy's is out to explore its boundaries. Our focus on product creation and substance rather than a specific category allows us to span a wide product range and look both down the street and across the country to assemble the full picture.

You've just launched some Wilson & Willy's menswear pieces made in New York with a focus on a simple aesthetic. How did you decide this was the direction you wanted to go?

I had a chance to work on a few different apparel projects in the past and through them tried to learn what it would take, what not to do, and how to develop the idea from brands and people that I admire. We approached it like any other contributing manufacturer to Wilson & Willy's, I felt we could provide an unusual interpretation from an unexpected place. It is based on classic American work-wear in material and construction but blended with a raw, contemporary perspective that appreciates simplicity in aesthetic and functionality.

The mens apparel so far is certainly a simple yet clever mix of classic and contemporary. What has the response been like so far?

We have only had it in our hands for about a week so hopefully the response is yet to come. I also think for a new brand, especially one that isn't showing or set up to wholesale, that timeline of gauging its reception will be longer than normal. We first need to give people a chance to interact with it and we will make adjustments after hearing what they have to say.

One thing I appreciate about Wilson & Willy's, is the decision to carve out a single space and blend together multiple industries, from mens and women's to home items. It's a great showcase and mix of local manufacturing. Where do you see the shop fitting in, with regards to the current retail landscape?

Thank you. I think it will be fun to see the response to this especially when it is all in one room. As far as where it fits, I think it is an interesting compliment to what is going on and simply an extension of our experiences and interests when it comes to sourcing and product development. We have a long ways to go in developing the concept but I am proud of what we have been able to do so far with it.

Outside of the current list of items already made for Wilson & Willy's, is there anything on the horizon for future products for the shop?

We are constantly developing and will definitely have some new project introductions this Spring. One I am really excited about is with Conway Electric and Minnesota-based lighting manufacturer Hennepin Made. It is a pendant series connecting the capabilities of both companies to create something a little different from what they currently focus on. It was awesome to watch their interactions together and fun for us to provide input along the way. These projects are a learning experience for us and help to  I think it encapsulates a lot of what we are trying to do with Wilson & Willy's so I am excited to see it come to form.