Before our playground was canvas and cotton, it was fur and feathers. In 1881, German immigrant Abraham Kemp settled in Philadelphia with his wife Amelia. There, Abraham founded a premier fur and feather distribution business. Neither the arrangement nor the location lasted long. By 1920, the company had moved to New York City, where it transformed into a drop cloth manufacturing company. The canvas sheets painters lay down to keep the floor clean while they work, drop cloths were an early sign of the company’s future focus on craft.
Abraham’s business wasn’t the only thing growing; his family was growing, too. It wasn’t long before his youngest, Dave, took an interest in the family business. Dave grew up alongside the company. By high school, he chose work over school. It turned out to be the perfect education. When Abraham died in 1923, it was Dave who took over the family business. He was only 25 years old.
Troops on Two Fronts
From his second floor loft in Lower Manhattan, Dave pushed the envelope in a way his father never had. He soon expanded the company’s scope from drop cloths to everything from tarpaulins, piano covers, and jukebox covers to tents, knapsacks, and haversacks. In 1931, he introduced the Yucca Pack, which became standard issue for Boy Scouts nationwide. Soon, everything with the Boy Scout label, from packs to tents, came out of his Singer sewing machines. While the Yucca Pack marked the beginning of a lasting partnership with the Boy Scouts, it also marked our entry into the world of gear craftsmanship.
Diamond Brand entered our name in 1941, when we officially became Diamond Brand Canvas Products. In the company’s early days, rolls of canvas were branded or stamped according to the quality of the material. A diamond indicated the highest quality canvas. Soon, the name came to symbolize quality everywhere, from the Boy Scouts to the military, with the start of WWII.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we jumped into the war effort along with the rest of the country, completing 144 government contracts. However, we managed to serve the troops overseas while still serving the troops at home. Diamond Brand repurposed damaged goods and surplus materials to still outfit the Boy Scouts. Jack Newton, manager of Fairforest Finishing Co. in South Carolina, helped us get the necessary canvas. This was the start of a key partnership, one that would bring Diamond Brand to our home in the heart of the Blue Ridge.
A Blue Ridge Home
Together, Dave and Jack bought a piece of land in Western North Carolina in 1942. Dave soon bought Jack’s share, turning it into Shoal Falls Farm, named for the twin waterfalls on the property. There, Dave’s 50 cows dined on molasses and beer, bathed regularly, and slept on fresh sawdust every night. Three years later, Dave planted another root in WNC. He bought a small, defunct hosiery mill, which he soon transformed into a thriving factory.
Tragedy struck when Dave died of a heart attack in 1966. His eldest, Bernie, wanted no part in taking over. The role of CEO fell instead to his youngest, Arnie. Unlike his older brother, who had worked in the factory since he was 13, Arnie had never showed any interest in the family business. He proved to be a steady yet innovative leader nonetheless.
By then, Diamond Brand had already made the jump to retail. The Diamond Brand Camping Center sold surplus and seconds from our factory nearby. This converted four-car garage was celebrated as “Western North Carolina’s First Outdoor Store.” Arnie was tasked will balancing the expanding retail and manufacturing divisions of the business.
In the 1960s, Diamond Brand began quietly manufacturing backpacks and tents for larger companies like R.E.I., The North Face, and L.L. Bean, among others. In the 1970s, we made the jump and began manufacturing packs and tents of our own. Known for their reliability, our early consumer products were met with mounting enthusiasm. William S. Coursey III of Summerville, SC wrote:
“My impression is that your products are designed for those who know the value of quality. They surely helped us enjoy the country without worrying about gear. We want you to know we think Diamond Brand produces practical, unique products of good quality. Keep up the good work.”
The introduction of a consumer line, however, didn’t mean sacrificing our work with the military. Throughout the 1980s, Diamond Brand began working internally to perfect a four-man tent for the U.S. Army. The design was based off a recreational model known as the Southern Star, but with a much heavier tent frame and wall fabric. A military-grade model known as the Soldier Crew Tent went into production in 1989. The innovation came none too soon.
Just two years later, the Persian Gulf War began, and Diamond Brand once again jumped into the war effort. The U.S. government soon contracted Diamond Brand to produce tents for U.S. Army tank crews. By the end of the war, our workers had manufactured over 8,000 tents.
In 2015, the retail and manufacturing divisions split, allowing each to focus on their own strengths. The retail division became Diamond Brand Outdoors, while the manufacturing division Diamond Brand Gear, as we stand today. Today, though the company’s name and ownership has changed, our mission remains the same: to manufacture American-made gear for the mountain lifestyle with the ultimate craftsmanship and care.