Kathryn “KK” Gregory Greer was just 10 years old when she started her first business. Playing in the snow with her brother one winter day in Bedford, Mass., she got tired of the icy, wet snow running up her sleeves and complained to her mother. Her mom’s advice: “Do something about it.” So she did.
Together, Greer and her mom sewed up a tube of fleece, making a hole for her thumb to anchor it to her hand. After a test run on the members of her scout troop, Wristies were born. In 1995, she and her mother began visiting other glove manufacturers to learn how they operate before patenting and trademarking Greer’s very own invention: fingerless fleece gloves made of Polartec fabric. The gloves are now used by kids and adults, alike, including athletes, winter-sports enthusiasts, and musicians.
Today, the business operates out of a two-floor, 12,000-square-foot space at the Salmon Falls Mills in Rollinsford.
“We make a garment that’s really unique,” Greer says. “People make fingerless gloves — I’m not saying I’m the first person to make them — but customers with circulatory conditions will write in and say they slept through the night for the first time because their hands were warm, or kids will tell us they did a book report on our story. That’s why I continue with Wristies. It’s so important to me to have that story continue.”
The current location, originally home to a weaving textile mill used for making long-underwear fabric, is especially significant to Greer.
“Are you kidding me?” she says. “I feel like part of the reason we’re doing well here is because the building … this is what it was built for. The energy in here was meant for textiles, apparel, manufacturing … and that’s what it’s being used for again.”
She and her mother originally ran the company from their home in Bedford, then moved to a mill in Lowell, Mass., for several years before settling in Rollinsford.
At 18 years old, after eight years of working on Wristies, Greer took a break to explore other interests. She attended Southern New Hampshire University and, after graduating, moved to California. She was working as a kayaking and mountain-biking eco-tour guide when she learned that her mother’s breast cancer had returned.
Greer moved home to Kittery Point and went back to work at Wristies. She, her mother, and their team soon expanded out of their 500-square-foot office, knocking down a wall to create more space for their stitchers and sewing machines, and exposing views of the Salmon Falls River. There would soon be another expansion.
In 2013, the owner of the company from which Greer bought her fabric, Mill Direct Textiles, asked if she would like to take over the cut yardage portion of his business. She changed the name to Mill Yardage and began selling cut yards of Polartec fabric to small businesses and people who sew. Only three years later, she was asked to take over the rest of the business, selling full rolls of Polartec fabric. And so, Greer acquired Mill Direct.
Today, Greer runs all three companies within one warehouse. Still using Polartec fabric, they also make hats, scarves, blankets, koozies, and pullovers. The only thing not made in the warehouse is the fabric itself.
One room contains large tubes holding rolls of fleece. In an illustration of how Wristies has come full circle, Greer had posed for a photo as a child in these very same tubes at the Malden Mills, the original manufacturer of Polartec fleece.
Greer’s only regret is that her mother, who died in 2011, isn’t here to see how their business has grown into the multi-company, woman-owned operation that it is.
Greer loves living near the water and spending time with her husband, son, and dog, Higby. She enjoys rock climbing and going on adventures in the small plane that her husband flies as a private pilot. “Family time is everything to me, 100 percent,” she says.
Though she could possibly purchase a space for her companies rather than renting in Rollinsford, Greer can’t see herself moving anytime soon.
“I love being in the mill, even if it costs a little bit more to be here,” she says. “Being so close to the water, right on the river … you get so much when you can take a moment to just look at it in the middle of your day, in the middle of all the craziness and running around. It re-energizes you.”
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