Over 50 years ago, Bernhard Brenner came to America as a young, inspired and talented knitting engineer from Europe. He had a singular vision: “To make the finest sweater that can be made.” He was familiar with the finest mills in Western Europe and realized that no knitting mill of that caliber existed in the United States. His vision was to create one. Amid the scenic bluffs of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, Mr. Brenner founded Knitcraft Corporation. He believed this beautiful countryside and the strong work ethic of its residents would be key to achieving his vision.
Like all true entrepreneurs, he started with his first machine in his basement. With borrowed money, charm, talent and long hours, he gradually accumulated a few more machines, a customer or two and his first employees.
By 1964 Brenner moved to his first dedicated manufacturing location, a small building in Winona, MN. He moved his 6 people and a few pieces of equipment to continue his singular objective: to make the finest garments in the world.
It wasn’t easy. While building the business, Mr. Brenner wore all the hats. He ran the machinery, designed, made the samples, ordered the supplies, repaired mistakes, contacted the customers and sold the garments. As he hired employees, he trained them on specific techniques of construction and quality knitting. Because his concepts were so unique, Mr. Brenner had to plot his own course right from the start. The St. Croix label was a new name in the market place, Mr. Brenner had to train all his customers, his suppliers, his employees and his backers to understand and believe in his philosophy.
Today, the building is gone and replaced with a 90,000 square foot modern manufacturing facility. Inside are 200 highly trained and dedicated craftspeople manufacturing the St. Croix garments by hand. These garments are recognized as the finest in the world. And Mr. Brenner is still in the thick of it—shaping designs, fixing machines, and seeking perfection through unparalleled craftsmanship. St. Croix and Mr. Brenner have become cornerstones of the men’s luxury sportswear industry, respected around the world for knowledge, commitment and integrity.
We are proud of our legacy and proud of the craftsmanship of our St. Croix garments. We’re proud to represent the best in quality and fashion. Mr. Brenner would be quick to tell you that it’s our people—their craft and their caring—that safeguard the heritage of St. Croix.
Experiences shape our lives. Sometimes those experiences are so impactful that they remain with us, and have a rippling effect on not only our own lives, but also the lives of others. What touched the life of Bernhard Brenner as a small boy growing up during WWII in Germany was the seed that made him who he is today.
At a very young age, Bernhard Brenner watched his community members hide and care for a neighbor’s disabled child during the war. He found that life is sometimes unfair and frightening for those with disabilities, and quickly learned that some individuals in our world need protecting. After this experience, he made a lifelong commitment to do just that.
After coming to the United States, Bernhard found a chance to put his commitment to work. In the early 1960’s, institutions in Minnesota began closing, causing communities to find ways to help and care for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. Mr. Brenner became involved in helping establish work programs within the community that would provide skills and care to those who most needed it.
As his own company grew, he was able to employ many individuals who found they could learn and maintain a skill level that would provide them with an income—which added self worth and self-esteem while promoting their independence. Understanding that a sense of community and caring is almost as important as the opportunity for employment, the company also provided annual donations that secured a Christmas gift for most of the disabled people in the community, sometimes being the only gift they received. This was done, not just one time, but on a continuous yearly basis.
That’s a life-experience ripple effect in full motion.
Mr. Brenner also learned at a very early age what freedom is all about. As a young boy, his hometown was liberated by the American soldiers and he personally felt the liberation from communism. As Bernhard moved to the United States and became a citizen, he also became eligible to serve his new country—doing so for two years with tremendous pride and respect.
This shaped another key aspect of philanthropy: the need to take care of our Veterans. Mr. Brenner has a high regard for military personnel and loves welcoming returning armed service members home. Being a US Veteran himself, he has a deep connection to the sacrifices and dedication of these men, women and their families.
Life experiences do shape lives!
All of these experiences came together in 1994 when Bernhard and his wife Colleen started the Knitcraft-St. Croix Foundation. Its mission was clearly shaped from their life experiences and the fundamental desire to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves. Their strong community support and history of Knitcraft’s giving was brought together to make an impact on other’s lives. The work of the Foundation is done quietly and consistently, from the heart—the way they had been doing it for many years.
Each year, the foundation makes a difference by the donation of St. Croix product and/or monetary funds to area agencies that provide disability services, assist children and youth services, offer scholarship and educational assistance, support day counseling and crisis organization, and advocate a variety of worthwhile community causes for those with mental and physical handicaps.
The semi-annual Charity Menswear Sale Event is held with family and friends to raise money for the Knitcraft-St. Croix Foundation. These events, along with memberships, are used to fulfill the mission of the Foundation—to touch the lives and make a difference for those who cannot help themselves.
For more information or to become a member, please contact:
Knitcraft/St. Croix Foundation