Made in the Northwest: Robinson Windword

SPOKANE, Wash. – Inside Robinson Windword’s facility off of Geiger Blvd., there’s a whole lot of sewing going on with the company’s handful of full-time employees.

“We kind of think of ourselves as a very technical manufacturer for very specific types of products for very specific applications,” explained owner Jack Robinson.

Robinson started in the sewing business in his early 20s, while attending the University of Washington.

“I sewed up the first nylon wallet that I know of in existence,” said Robinson.

You heard that right. Robinson invented the nylon wallet that many people had in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And his business quickly took off after appearing in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

When Robinson went to the post office a few days after the magazine hit stands to check on orders, he says the postal worker, “Came back with two gunny sacks full of checks. Five dollar checks. So $40,000. And back in, that was probably 1978 then, that was a lot of money.”

He ended up selling his first sewing business, but then got back in with Robinson Windword in 1986, finding a niche as a smaller manufacturer.

The company now makes a wide variety of products, including airline parkas and bibs.

“In case they have to make an emergency landing on the North Pole, the crew has some survival gear to at least take care of themselves so they can take care of the passengers,” said Robinson.

It also does the lining for rescue litters used by search and rescue crews.

“Which is what you see hauled up in the helicopters with people laying in them,” explained Robinson. “So we’re in the background, making the liner, so people don’t fall through.”

Robinson Windword does everything from pet products to medical devices.

“We became registered with the FDA as a medical device manufacturer. So we do a lot of single use medical devices now,” said Robinson.

It also relies heavily on dozens of what it calls home sewers, independent contractors who do their work from home.

Robinson said home sewers can, “Be their own boss. Can sew in their pajamas. Doesn’t matter.”

Now that he’s a seasoned veteran, Robinson really enjoys helping young entrepreneurs get started.

“Because I’ve started a business twice and know the hurdles that you face. It’s challenging.”

And after stitching together a successful second act in the sewing business, Robinson laughed about having no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

“I’m still young. You know, I’m only 63. I figure I’ve got a good 20 years left.”