Having been in apparel and branding for 30 years you get to see literally everything....good, bad and sometimes - exceptional. This could mean product, the way a company communicates and people. John Mooty is exceptional. Founder of NWKC apparel, Sentinel Golf and The Solomon Hughes Golf Academy, John is that rare business person who understands process, creative, product and relationships.
As you will see with the first question, I discovered NWKC when I was playing golf with ACL founder Michael Williams a few years ago. Michael was wearing an NWKC crew neck and I was seriously blown away because it fit perfect and the fabric was perfect aesthetically and its hand feel was bang on. I was really impressed and Michael and I talked about NWKC and John for the first few holes.
I went home and looked up the site and was a huge fan of everything John was doing. We ended up chatting on the phone and it was interesting to learn John’s background in both apparel and business school.
The next few years though, I have watched John grow NWKC the right way and then launch Sentinel Golf which he nailed and could literally own the golf industry if he made the choice to build golf apparel. The industry right now, which as we all know, is shiny fabrics and covered in diamond shapes and kangaroo prints. It is in need of change.
If you want true performance, I believe the best technical apparel on the planet right now is NWKC because John knows what he is doing at a level so few in apparel would ever understand.
John and I both make apparel and some people would wonder why I would write about another apparel brand.
This isn’t about an apparel company owner and operator. This issue of footprints is about a person I have incredible respect for on so many levels as you will see in this feature.
He has supported FR. from day 1 as a customer. His aesthetic is world class. His execution is world class in every project he touches.
We need more people like John Mooty in the world.
Hope you enjoy… Ralph | fr.
1. I discovered NWKC the very first time I had met Michael Williams from ACL when we were playing golf together in Toronto. He was wearing one of your crew neck pullovers and I noticed it right away- material was perfect looking and aesthetically, I had never seen anything like it. It was the perfect blend of simplicity but stood on its own from anything out there. I asked Michael what he had on and he told me about NWKC and asked him if I could feel it - nothing felt like it either. I was a fan instantly before I had looked up the company when I got home that day. Michael as we both know is incredibly particular about what he wears and a number of my friends have also picked up crew necks and all said the same thing - quality is phenomenal, fabric is beautiful and technical...design aesthetic is perfectly executed. How did this project develop initially?
I got into the world of textile design with a focus on domestic manufacturing through my time helping to revive the Faribault Woolen Mill in 2011. I fell in love with all aspects of that project from working with brands I admired to developing quality first products, and the ability to tell real stories from all angles of the business spanning the archival/ historical perspective to the people/process side. From there, I went back to get my MBA and when I was finishing up, knew I wanted to carry what I loved about working at Faribault into a menswear label but didn’t know exactly what that was going to look like.
Two things happened that made NWKC possible, things necessary to kickstart any idea, inspiration and the ability to execute. The inspiration came when I was sitting with my Dad in my apartment. We were researching defunct brands that could be fun to bring back, specifically those in Minneapolis. After digging through books and google searches, we realized we were sitting inside the answer. My apartment at the time was the original Northwestern Knitting Company factory building that ultimately became Munsigwear. When the company was purchased by Perry Ellis and shut down the Minneapolis plant, all associations and ownership of the NWKC entity were left behind so we picked it up.
The second piece was the fabric, our ability to execute. NWKC was founded on the double knit concept, originally making underwear and union suits with wool yarns pushed to the face and silk yarns pushed to the skin side. This construction was developed and patented by George Munsing and made them the largest underwear producer in the country during the first quarter of the 1900’s. Through my time at the mill, I met a consultant for Woolmark and just so happened to set up a meeting with him during a visit in New York. He brought a swatch card from a mill he was working with in North Carolina and it ended up being the perfect starting point for the NWKC Merino Dual Cloth. Two years of development later, after making adjustments to the weight, knit structure, and finishing process we were off and running.
2. I have been in the performance technology arena for 30 years and to this day think merino is one of the most technical materials in the world. It is also very difficult to work with and as we know, there are a number of ethical issues that surface with merino when it comes to mulesing. I have spent a lot of time in New Zealand working with mills over there to understand it and there is a lot of debate about pure merino vs a blend. Take us through your sourcing process and why you decided to use a blend with your knits. (Note from Ralph - I personally love both blends and 100% merino depending on the application).
We source our Merino yarns from Suedwolle in Germany, a global leader in wool yarn innovation and practices whose entire line is RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) Certified. This basically provides a tool to recognize the best practices of farmers in how they manage their land and respect animal welfare running from farmers to finished yarn in how it is certified. All other yarns and fabrics are sourced from the best possible manufacturers we can find. Our tri-blend yarns come from Cap Yarns in South Carolina, we use stretch wovens from Schoeller in Switzerland, US-made Supplex Nylon, and ponte knit linings from Japan to name a few.
We went with a blended construction for two main reasons. First it was a way to give a nod to Georgre Munsing’s original double knit method. I loved the idea of taking his original thought and tweaking it for application today. The blended approach gives the formalness and aesthetic versatility of wool on the face and the comfort (in my opinion) of a cotton sweatshirt on the skin side. The second justification was that I am allergic to wool so this construction also lends itself to taking the itch out of the equation for those that are more sensitive to the wool fibers.
3. You have your MBA and in our conversations we tend to talk just as much about business strategy as we do design and brand. It's rare to understand both business and creative...and even more rare to be able to execute both so well as you do. Would you say you were more approaching your career from a business perspective initially and developed your eye for creative or was it in reverse? For me, it was creative first and then worked incredibly hard to learn business fundamentals, finance and strategy.
I get the business perspective from my Dad and creative perspective from my Mom so those two have been building in tandem and butting heads my whole life. School was business focused but what I was working on outside of class was always creative driven. In college, I would finish accounting class and go design t-shirts. The brand was called Airtime and it was centered around 1940’s/50’s radio and WWII-era propaganda.
These days the business and creative sides of my brain just turn on and off constantly over the course of a day and I have come to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to use both. That being said, it has taken time to figure out when to stop listening to one voice or the other. I used to find myself trying to design for other people (for seemingly business reasons) and it created misrepresentation of true intent (things like color or pattern selection, photography and visual development, voice of the brand, etc). As time went on, I started to be more selfish (as bad as that might sound), making creative decisions for what I would want to see as a customer or for what I believe in and found that it creates more consistency across all facets of a brand.
4. What is your position today having gone through the pandemic on two things - Manufacturing locally and secondly, being a DTC (Direct to consumer) based company.
It basically solidified the feeling we were doing the right thing for what we needed on both fronts. Manufacturing locally helped us stay agile and on schedule. We lost three months (thankfully during our down season) with our cut and sew partner out in NY but after that were able to operate at normal speed and hit the deadlines we needed to fulfill Fall/Winter stock. Also because I live in Minneapolis and don’t have the ability to visit the factory on a daily basis, we had an effective process already in place to design and develop at a distance.
Set up as DTC and not having to panic over brick and mortar outlook or wholesale uncertainty, we just doubled down on that approach. We were on our own timelines (so we had unique flexibility) but did not have the cash flow to gamble on new product introductions so we took a pre-order approach that really helped limit risk while still being able to experiment and keep things interesting. Sample what we like, only make what people want, and not deal with excess.
5. My biggest influences in design and brand are pretty diverse from early 1990s Shawn Stussy, mid 80's Timberland , really vintage Polo, Turnbull and Asser shirts and ties, Church's shoes, Trent Reznor music and visuals, Ben Howard music and visuals, Dieter Rams and Todd Hido photographs and pretty much anything Radiohead put their hands on including Jonny Greenwood and the film Phantom Thread. Who do you feel are your biggest inspirations and influences?
Most of my influences came from the intersection of sports and music. I grew up watching Jordan highlight tapes and And1 Mixtapes on repeat, skateboarding with CKY / Rodney Mullen vs. Daewon Song, then in high school it was music with Pharrell / Kanye. What made me start putting my own thoughts on paper at that time was the exposure to new editorial-type streetwear brands at the time like The Hundreds and Award Tour / Madbury Club.
Then as my career took a creative turn after college, my biggest brand influence became Best Made. From their early days up until selling the company, Best Made showed me the importance of consistency. Regardless of your opinion of painted axes, everything customer facing was absolutely dialed. Even a general Best Made google search at that time was a beautiful collage and perfectly controlled representation of their brand. Every detail was considered from top to bottom in product, material knowledge, story, photography, and retail environment. Also, their approach to collaboration in design, storytelling, and assortment strategy has stuck with me still. These days, from a brand perspective and in my opinion, Aime Leon Dore has taken the reins. Their consistency, collaborations, context, and authenticity gives a lot to admire and grab onto.
From a voice and attitude perspective, a significant amount of my influence comes from what guys like you, Michael Williams, and Christian Hafer are doing. Those perspectives on product, golf, being a Dad, and life that happens in between and beyond has been very valuable for me personally and in work.
6. You have what I consider to be the most important brand, company and project in golf right now with Sentinel. Where did the idea for Sentinel come from and can you tell us more about your project designs and processes.
It came from three college friends with very different professional backgrounds (an entrepreneur, race car driver, and lawyer) looking for an excuse to get together more often and have a fun set of problems to work through. The rangefinder case was the last poorly considered piece of equipment on the bag, an afterthought and obligatory add-on by manufacturers. Personally, starting a golf specific brand was not on my radar but the void was there and we had an ability to execute on it after building prototypes with my friend and longtime collaborator Phil Schade of 1733.
We leaned into it and the projects so far are an extension of my sourcing background, hunting down and working with obscure materials, trusted manufacturers, or product categories that have been left to the wayside with a mindset that the assortment should take its cues from the neighborhood hardware store. Sturdy equipment, built the right way, maybe found in dim lit, dusty aisles, with more substance behind it than its Home Depot-like counterparts.
7. Where do you want to see Sentinel in the future? (Note from Ralph - it will be the most influential brand in golf).
If we can keep finding interesting things to share and great people to work with, we will try to keep chasing things down. I think there is a lot of potential for out-of-the-box material and category exploration in golf and Sentinel has become a fun excuse to try that on a small scale. I have really enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between the menswear and golf world. The golf community is incredibly supportive and vocal so I am excited to see how those relationships progress over the life of the project.
8. The Solomon Hughes project is really special - can you take us through how this came about, what it is and where you would like to see this go ?
We see the SHSGA as developing into a youth mentorship and scholarship program that celebrates the life and legacy of Solomon Hughes Sr. and utilizes golf as a bridge to teach and encourage academic and athletic greatness. It is founded in conjunction with The University of Minnesota Men’s & Women’s Golf Teams and its mission is to create meaningful change within the game of golf and the lives of students through youth enrichment opportunities supported by mentors and coaches to encourage awareness, patience, perseverance, and self confidence on and off the course. It hopes to serve young people between the ages of 13 and 19 experiencing a lack of opportunity or resources, with a focus on Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color(Culture).
The idea became a reality after a conversation I had last summer with my good friend Greg Johnson. Greg is from a long line of Minneapolis educators and his family has been ingrained in the community throughout that time. He is currently training to be a firefighter but is also a musician, industrial sewer, and has experience working with young people in a creative outlet through Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis. We share a lot of the same interests so would always get together and talk music, arts, culture, fabrics, sourcing, and golf.
That day, I shared with him the story of Solomon Hughes that I had found while digging around the Minnesota Historical Society archives. Our conversation snowballed into the possibility of assembling a mentorship and scholarship program built in celebration of Solomon Hughes for youth in underserved communities that would use golf as a bridge for college prep, social and emotional intelligence, and career exploration.
We have been chasing it down ever since with the big addition to the equation being the University of Minnesota Golf Team. The idea was that if we could connect kids in surrounding underserved communities with collegiate players and coaches as mentors, sharing the access and resources that come with a University like the U of M, and building meaningful programming around that foundation, we could construct something of value for both students of the Academy and University students. We have since built a small internal team, a solid support network of contributors, and have three open events scheduled this Fall that will help launch the full scholarship program for next year.
9. What are your views on sustainability and ethics in business in an industry that throw these words around without really understanding what they mean and how to execute?
I think many pockets of the supply side have made incredible strides in innovation and dedication to doing things better than they have in the past. From materials, to process, to marketing and how they express these practices to customers. There are still many issues with it as a whole but in my opinion, it is now the demand side’s responsibility to prove they have the same willingness to innovate and adapt. We as customers must show we can truly commit to dedicating the same budget to less items. The budget doesn't have to change but the quantity of things needed in our closet does. It is up to us to prove we no longer need disposable clothing at the cost of unethical manufacturing conditions and unsustainable raw material processes.
10. Top 10 albums of all time
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Exodus
Sunny & The Sunliners - Mr Brown Eyed Soul
Rodriguez - Cold Fact
Big L - Lifestyles Of The Poor & Dangerous
Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead
Rolling Stones - Some Girls
Wu Tang Clan - 36 Chambers
Sublime - Sublime
A Tribe Called Quest - Low End Theory
Sam Cooke - Ain’t That Good News
11. If you were not involved in Sentinel and NWKC - what industry would you go into?
I have always had a huge interest in and appreciation for architecture, both commercial and residential, so would love to pursue that further. My preferences in architecture are similar to music where I don’t really have a genre preference but just love things for their specific intention and purpose. I love making the old new again, making the new with a nod to the old, and appreciate other approaches even when they don’t do either of these, when it’s a genuine, natural space.
12. What's in your bag (which I believe is a Mackenzie)?
Before Sentinel, my golf bag was a pretty sad sight so it has been fun to build it from the ground up and be more intentional about what I carry around. Unfortunately the gear upgrades have had little to no effect on scoring.
Driver / 3-Wood - TaylorMade Sim2
Irons - Titleist AP2
Wedges - Titleist Vokey SM8
Putter - PING Vault 2.0 ZB
Grips - Iomic
Sentinel / MacKenzie Ultracomp Walker
Sentinel / Bubbawhips Carbon Miracle Whips
Sentinel / PushCut Enigma Headcovers
Sentinel / Scout Black X10
13. I am a pretty huge advocate for reading business and philosophy books - any books that have an impact on you that you would sugges?
The most influential philosophy author for me is Sigurd Olson. Sig was born in Chicago but spent most of his professional life in Ely, Minnesota as a teacher, wilderness guide, outfitter, and ultimately conservationist. He was President of the National Parks Association, President of the Wilderness Society, and drafted the Wilderness Act of 1964 to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, America’s most visited wilderness area. A little preview:
“The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores...There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.”
What I love most about Sig’s writing is his ability to communicate the importance of human interaction with nature. Not only the importance, but the need. The need to experience it, understand it, and preserve it. Most of his writings involve camping, canoeing, and fishing but his lessons and perspectives (like this quote) can easily translate to how we think about golf, being on a bike, or a surfboard. Like all great work, it gets better with age and one could argue Sig’s writings are more important now than when he wrote it. If you were going to pick up one book of his, I would go with The Singing Wilderness.
14. We have talked about putting on an event for players to attend with NWKC, Sentinel, FR., Christian Hafer and his BCS project and of course Michael Williams and his ACL Golf project. I think it would be one of the most interesting weekends of golf you could ever put on because of the type of people who would attend with the huge shift happening in golf right now. Where would you like to see an event like this happen? (My choice would be Cabot in Nova Scotia as it's the most pure golf environment on the planet).
It would be a trek but Tara Iti looks absurd. Wherever it ends up being and whenever it gets put on the calendar, I am there though.
Instagram has served as a great tool to stay connected and on top of what everyone is working on but there is definitely a void in true interaction, especially after this year, so I know it would not only be special but much needed.
15. Cycling has significantly evolved over the last 15 years thanks to Rapha and the evolution of gravel, streetwear exists solely because of Shawn Stussy and surfing is also going through a major transition now a shift back to grassroots riding and incredibly influential brands like Need Essentials (best brand content ever made on Youtube). Where do you see golf headed in the next few years? Where do you see menswear headed?
Golf has come a long way in the past few years but I think it is still at a crossroad. It has an incredible groundswell of positivity, innovation, and personality but there is still a significant majority that either are yet to catch the wave or are too complacent to change their perspective or expectations. Also, the idea of versatility has been pounded into our heads recently by ad-heavy brands but in my opinion, true versatility has still yet to be achieved. And as of late I am thinking maybe we need it, maybe we don’t.
I don’t know what that silver bullet looks like yet but something that comes to mind is we change clothes to play basically every other sport. It is just the way we feel in those clothes (either in style or function, ideally both) that solidify its intrinsic value for a specific use.
That being said, I do think there are pieces that transition well (in my bias opinion, the NWKC Crew is a good example) and the idea of post-sport comfort like you are building with fr. is a very pragmatic approach. So I think the answer lies in and around what is being developed, not counting out the classics, and we will see if it is versatility or specific performance that will win out.