Working well and looking good
Work Wear Inc. outfits today’s modern worker with quality, dignity, and pride
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
Only 33 years old, Ivy League graduate Jake Dixon was already well situated as an investment banker on Wall Street, yet he realized his career dreams would take him back to his hometown of Seattle. Looking for a small business or startup to run, the right opportunity came along for him with Work Wear Inc. The new venture would bring him back to his family roots in the fishing industry, and since then Jake has never looked back.
My meeting with Dixon at his Pier 91 office took me as a Seattle native to a part of town I rarely see. I passed though Port of Seattle security to enter the fenced-off area and entered a world representing the industrial base of a city that seems to focus more on software and expensive coffee. But as Jake Dixon and I would discuss, the traditional industries that built Seattle are very much alive and well. This is the world that he now works in, with the goal of keeping workers well clothed.
Work Wear Inc. serves a variety of industrial customers, including several of the largest seafood companies in the United States. Their objective is to protect workers with quality work clothing and customized uniform solutions that meet the needs of large, diverse organizations. Since the company’s inception in the early 1980s, there has been a strong connection to Seattle’s Norwegian-American community. From the outset, it supplied the North Pacific and Bering Sea commercial fishing industries, before then branching out to other industries.
In the 1980s, many first-generation Norwegians found themselves working in the Pacific Northwest fishing industry, among them Ragnvald Svino, a transplant from Ålesund, Norway. Svino saw a need and an opportunity to import the high-quality work clothing he and his fellow countrymen remembered from their working lives back home. There was not only a certain amount of familiarity they sought, but they also understood the importance of uniforms in creating a positive work culture. Realizing that most of the Norwegian and Swedish brands they knew were not available in the United States, Svino began importing them under Svino Enterprises, building up a thriving business serving the local fishing industry.
In 1998, it was time to turn over the business to someone else, and Krystn Nesselquist, an active member of the Norwegian-American community who had worked for Svino for a few years, was ready to pick up the reigns. With a background in business that included several years with the international accounting firm Ernst & Young (then Ernst & Whinney) in Norway, she was well prepared to take the company to a new level. Nesselquist sought to expand its inventory and customer service, working closely with purchasing managers on the fishing vessels to understand their needs. She even frequently visited the ships, so workers could try on the clothes and provide direct input. She didn’t grow up in the industry, but she was a good listener and skilled manager, and the business grew.
When Nesselquist sold the business to Dixon in 2014, she stayed on in management. Dixon, whose father, Doug Dixon, manages the Pacific Fishermen Shipyard in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, has been around the Seattle fishing community most of his life, although Work Wear would be his first work experience connected to it. The collaboration between Dixon and Nesselquist has worked well, as the two work to evangelize and get the products out to more customers. Today, the product line includes flame-resistant clothing, thermal wear, rain gear, footwear, and industrial workwear. The company offers custom solutions with personalized embroidery and silk-screening. Quality in all the products sold is paramount.
“In Scandinavia, people are very proud of their professions, and companies support their workers,” Nesselquist explains, “and their uniform culture is part of this.” Dixon adds that investment in a high-quality uniform builds a sense of pride for workers and shows a commitment on the employer’s part, in addition to the benefits the garments offer in terms of functionality and wear. With double- and triple-sewn seams and reinforcements on knees and elbows, Work Wear’s clothing is extremely durable. The garments are well cut and meet the strict quality specifications of a Scandinavian work environment. Here in the United States, they measure up to the requirements set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For example, many technicians in fish-processing plants working around electrical motors and panels are exposed to arc flash risk, and Work Wear offers coveralls and jackets with the required flame-resistant protection.
While at the Work Wear office, I got a chance to inspect some of the garments and see their quality firsthand. The fabrics, many of which are water repellant, have nice finish, and the colors are attractive. Dixon points out that you can’t find the two-tone coveralls that Work Wear offers anywhere else, which give them a unique status among workers. The collections do not change year to year, as continuity and stability are the mainstays of the work-wear industry. Over the years, their royal blue coverall made of an 82 percent polyester and 18 percent cotton blend has remained their bestseller, easy to understand when one thinks of all those Norwegian fishermen.
But Work Wear is not only for Norwegian Americans. With a customer base all over the country and across industries, their garments are worn by people of all sizes and shapes, men and women of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Some non-custom items are even listed on Amazon.com, and when potential customers search the internet for the beloved Scandinavian brands, Work Wear Inc. will come up as the U.S. distributor.
“Every single person should be very proud of the work that they do,” Krystn Nesselquist maintains, and Jake Dixon is quick to agree. Work Wear Inc. is there to clothe today’s modern worker in style, with efficiency, dignity and pride.
For more information about Work Wear Inc., visit www.workwearinc.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.