SEATTLE — The Mariners are making the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, which justifies some new merchandise.
Nobody knows the demand for jerseys better than Jerry Thornton. The former grocery store worker said it was in the late 1980’s when he followed his instincts and started manufacturing sports jerseys for amateur, collegiate and professional sports teams.
In 1992, he partnered with the Mariners and saw an immediate demand for the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
“When Ichiro showed up it blew both of those away,” Thornton said.
Julio Rodriguez is the current overwhelming request.
STT Sports Lettering Co is located in a modest SODO working space and is packed with boxes that are coming and going.
“Many people don’t realize that we make the jerseys for the players and for retail,” Thornton said.
The current demand for Mariners jerseys is through the roof, but Thornton's traditional approach to producing the authentic jerseys takes time and doesn’t come from a machine.
“We’ve certainly come a long way. Like, we now use a laser printer to cut out the letters so we can press them but the hand sewing part isn’t gonna go away,” Thornton said.
They hand stitch every jersey, one at a time, and it takes around 30 minutes per jersey.
Thornton said supply chain issues and labor shortages have made the last few years rather challenging for the handmade industry, but his decades of relationships with many notable teams have ensured their survival.
Some of his other clients include the Seahawks, Sounders, Storm, Thunderbirds, Silvertips, Kraken, UW and many more. Anyone wearing a stitched jersey to a game is probably wearing STT Sports Lettering.
Thornton said the Mariners success this season has created a massive thirst for jerseys and at the same time as many other teams are just kicking off their seasons and driving up demand.
“It’s unquestionably the busiest I’ve ever been,” Thornton said.
Fortunately, he has some trusted partners to lean on.
“My son and daughter both work here now and hopefully they can take this over when I get to put retired on the back of my jersey,” Thornton said.