William Coleman of Logan made bomber jackets for World War II and when the war ended, and the need dried up in 1947, he transitioned his factory into a family business making letterman jackets for local high schools and universities.
The company is still going strong today under the guidance of Abe Dalebout, who purchased the company about 5 years ago when none of the Coleman sons wanted to take over the business. Dalebout is a friend of the family and says, “none of the sons wanted to take it over after seeing their dad work so much. They decided to go a different route.”
It was a perfect transition for Dalebout. He owned Intermountain T-Shirt Co., an embroidery and screen print company. He also did work for Coleman Knitting dating back to 1987. He took over Coleman Knitting when Dick, William Coleman’s grandson, and his wife Cathy Coleman were in their 70s and ready for retirement. Dick started working when he was 15 and was ready for a break.
The business model for Coleman knitting can be summed up in one word — quality.
They only best the best leather and wool available and want to make each jacket long-lasting and memorable.
Coleman has a state contract which means they can go to any school in the state to offer letterman jackets as well as school officer, cheer, or club wear. While most of their business is in Utah they also do schools in Idaho, Colorado, and Nevada.
Dalebout feels he is upholding a long-standing tradition and wants to make sure that carries over to everyone that purchases from them, “We have returning customers, families, that remember the tradition of coming here and finding just the right match.”
All of their work is custom sized, which differs from other companies that offer standard sizing and standard coloring. And they do everything in-house except from some of the cheer wear. Students have the option of coming to the mills for a custom fitting or they have sales reps visit the schools and do measurements there. They try to please all their customers in style, fit and color. Dalebout remembers one boy from Bountiful who wanted to make sure the red on his Bountiful jacket matched the red exactly that is the Bountiful High color.
There is a lot of nostalgia attached to letterman jackets. Dalebout gets contacted over social media from people who find Coleman jackets in thrift stores as far away as New York or Georgia. Or they have people contact them with a picture and have them recreate a jacket for a parent or grandparent.
“My father-in-law was a runner on the track team at Weber High School and then Utah State,” Dalebout says, “he went on to qualify for the Olympics. We recently found his old letterman jackets from Weber and Utah State and they are still in great condition. People find letterman jackets all over the country and the leather is still in great shape.”
When asked if the business has been hurt by COVID Dalebout says, “We are so busy right now that we have to place a cut-off date for Christmas orders. People don’t realize how much people still love letterman jackets and what they represent.”
Coleman Knitting also used their facilities to make COVId masks and medical gowns for nursing homes and facilities, as well as local hospitals.
Dalebout has 45 employees, about 33 of which are seamstresses, with varying levels of skills and expertise. He says they have a tough task, but ladies who are skilled can do 4 to 5 jackets a day along with working on class sweaters and cheer wear.
“With schools shutting down and seniors not getting an end of year experience, it is sad,” Dalebout says, “with no homecoming dances, no normal high school experiences, letterman jacket sales are picking up. Most parents still want to have something nostalgic for their kids to hold onto.”