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Family tree branches out, again

Charting new territory with its Pendleton Home collection — "growing a new branch on the tree," as president Mort Bishop III likes to put it — 138-year-old Pendleton Woolen Mills is once again evolving into a new business, as it has done twice before, expanding into rugged men's wear woolens in the early 20th century, and into women's career apparel during the 1940s.

But one thing will never change at the family-driven company, Bishop insists: a business model crafted of traditional, timeless American values, one that places just as much emphasis on family values and a moral culture as on the bottom line.

His words are carefully measured, and his message is thoughtful, almost as if he's trying to teach a lesson. Which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the company's — and the Bishop family's — almost century-old relationship with Native Americans and their culture, selling blankets and robes whose patterns often illustrate a tribal value.

Listen to him talk about the business. "The trunk of the tree, our heart and soul, is the blankets and our relationship with the Native American. And our branches are the women's wear and the men's wear. One of our challenges is to bring the uniqueness of our many businesses together."

What are the values that characterize Pendleton? Out pours a litany of straightforward, unabashedly American values that speak of frontier America. "The word kindred is important to us, the heirloom quality of our product. The longevity, as it is passed from one generation to the next. There's the dignity of the product — it's better made. It's heroic, in the larger-than-life feeling that goes with our outdoor product. We talk vintage — longevity in terms of strength and styling. It's honest; we offer real quality, true value. And we are an American company. Those are our values. And values, character, are central to the culture of this company."

You don't think so? Consider this. There are more than 75 Pendleton shops throughout the nation, selling Pendleton products. The company owns 53, "and we have a name-usage agreement with the operators of the other stores," said Bishop. So Pendleton licenses out its name?

"We don't believe in charging money for others to use our name. But we do insist that they adhere to certain standards, and that they not charge more for the product than we do in our own stores."

Still listing the hallmarks of the company he now runs on a day-to-day basis, the fifth generation of Bishops to do so, he continues. "Family is the key word for us. That's the core value. Another word we use is pioneer. Pendleton dates back to 1863, the second woolen mill in the Northwest. The risks that pioneers took, getting there, finding better ways to do things. We continue to challenge ourselves to think as modern-day pioneers.

"Central to this company, and to my family, is our relationship with the Native American. And that will never change. Whatever else we may do, whatever new business we may get into, we will never abandon the Native American. That relationship, and the values that it embodies, is special and abiding."

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