Ken Michienzi is founder and CEO of The Merrimack Company, a sustainable clothing brand that is the newest shop on the fourth floor of Mill No. 5. When looking at the brand at surface level we see outdoor apparel for the outdoor enthusiasts of the Greater Merrimack Valley. But when we dive deeper into how the company began and the three pillars from which all decisions are based, we see a nod to the past and to the future of the fashion industry with specific ties to the area of Massachusetts where Ken was raised and has returned to live and work.
The Merrimack Company uses three main pillars to drive its mission: Community, Nature and Adventure. The company operates as a 1% for the Planet company, meaning a portion of the revenue generated is donated to a nonprofit that gives back to the community. In his case Ken has partnered with the Clean River Project, a nonprofit that helps to clean and conserve the Merrimack River. The nature pillar ties in with sustainability and being an environmentally sound company. The adventure pillar is a value of Ken’s and is more of a mindset of living boldly and intentionally. He recently took his own advice and set out on an epic year long adventure.
Before creating The Merrimack Company, Ken worked in the Tech field most recently holding positions with Apple and Tesla, Inc. Wanting a break from the Tech space in 2018 he toured the USA and Canada as a musician in an RV for a year, playing 180 shows in that timespan. But what he learned from the road was more than just geography.
The experience gave him a deeper respect and love for community. “Every city and town, wherever I went, people were so welcoming and so proud of where they lived.” He began thinking more about the community of The Merrimack Valley where he was born and raised, and decided to return after being away for ten years to invest in the community and give back. Knowing he wanted to create his own business based around sustainability it all began to come together when he saw the old mill buildings, the river and reflected on the history of the area.
The Merrimack Valley played a prominent role in the Industrial Revolution within the textile industry and he believes it is the perfect backdrop of marrying the old with the new for his clothing brand. Living in a mill building in Lawrence, being near the river and opening his first storefront in Mill No. 5 creates a historic connection with a modern understanding that we must be more environmentally responsible with a focus on sustainability. But that is difficult to do with today’s fashion mindset.
The fashion industry is responsible for upwards of 10% of the globe’s carbon emissions and is one of the biggest polluters in the world, using a tremendous number of unnecessary resources and producing an enormous amount of waste with fast fashion. Over the last decade or so, Ken says that clothing production has increased by over 60% and people are now only wearing their clothing an average of five times before throwing them away.
He says the best thing we can do for the environment is to not continually buy new pieces of cheaply produced clothing. When you need to purchase new clothing, he encourages purchasing items which are high quality and were made with the environment in mind. Ironically, the polyester, Gore-Tex and nylon that’s used in outdoor clothing is petroleum based and is particularly bad for the environment. He ensures that the manufacturers he uses have high ethical standards. They must meet his environmental requirements with the types of materials they use and within their production and they must pay a fair wage. He also works with local small businesses when he can for screen printing and embroidery.
Ken never thought he would be in the apparel industry. But it seemed like the best way to marry those core values of the Community, nature, and adventure. And to tie in the history and the legacy of the area. He took a leap and started to learn how to create apparel.
The Merrimack company is occupying window space on the 4th floor of Mill No.5 close to the Luna theater. The small space allows customers to ask questions about the brand, to browse his expanding collection and to touch and try on the quality items. “I think when people hear environmentally responsible clothing or sustainable clothing, there’s still the perception of you’re putting on a burlap sack and that it’s scratchy and itchy. I want people to see it and to feel it because my stuff is really high quality, really comfortable and you’re not compromising anything by making a better choice for the planet. I’ll argue that you’re getting higher quality, that it’s going to last you a long time, that it is going to feel super good and it’s going to allow you to get out there and live.”