On the Job


Artistic Expressions

Stormy Kromer’s Gina Thorsen heeds twin passions for art and family

Jeanne Nagle | On the Job | May 2023

There’s an art to making a product as iconic as the Stormy Kromer cap. Just ask Gina Thorsen ’97, CEO of Jacquart Fabric Products, the current parent company of the fabled Upper Peninsula brand.

“Invention requires creativity,” Thorsen notes. “The very first Stormy Kromer cap was created by Ida Kromer to meet a need that her husband, George, had. Without her ingenuity, creativity and imagination, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Coincidentally, Thorsen (née Jacquart) wasn’t where she is today—namely, Ironwood, Michigan, which is her hometown and Jacquart Fabric Products’ base of operations--when the family business acquired Stormy Kromer in 2001. Instead, she had settled in Texas with her husband, Dave, and was forging her dream career in the performing arts.

As a child, Thorsen often spent Saturdays at the Jacquart store alongside her father, Bob. She fondly recalls moments such as operating the cash register with her younger sister, Kari (“KJ”), during a sidewalk sale, as well as interacting with customers and employees alike. Even so, a career within the family business was by no means a foregone conclusion. You see, young Gina’s sites were set elsewhere. 

Enthralled by any and all things artistic, she became immersed in whatever creative endeavors Ironwood and the surrounding environs had to offer, from appearing in community theater productions to studying ballet and performing as a musical instrumentalist and vocalist. “I was involved in everything!” she declares.

That arts bent also permeated her first turn at paid employment.  “My job during middle and high school was at a local art gallery,” she says, “where I not only worked in the retail aspect and the framing shop, but I also organized a full exhibition my senior year.”

When it came time for college, Thorsen chose the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where she majored in arts management, with a vocal music minor. As a student she found herself gravitating toward the Fine Arts Building on campus.

“There was always a group of music students gathered in the courtyard, and the practice rooms were utilized well into the night,” she recalls. “All of the performance ensembles--music, dance theater--were excellent, and visual artists’ work would randomly appear in the center of the courtyard.

“It was such a vibrant, welcoming place. It was like I found ‘my people.’”

From her first year at the university onward, she wasted no time jumping into the participation fray. She performed with several vocal and instrumental ensembles on campus, including playing bass and singing backup vocals for the student rock band PUSH--through which she met percussion major husband. She also worked at UAB/Centertainment as an “issues and ideas coordinator.” Her senior year was spent working an internship at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.

Thorsen’s drive and dedication helped make her a three-time recipient of the Kitty Saunders Sebold Scholarship. Created to honor its namesake alumna--a social worker dedicated to helping children a need--the Sebold scholarship is “given to a student who demonstrates high potential for becoming a leader in a chosen field or profession.” Receiving the award is an honor Thorsen did not take lightly.

“I think the legacy of the scholarship gave me somewhat a sense of duty, if that makes sense,” she says. “I felt a bit of a responsibility to live up to the award and the legacy that it was designed to honor.”

Shortly after graduation, she moved south with her then-fiancé, Dave, who had transferred to the University of North Texas to finish his degree. She landed a job with what was then known as Young Audiences of North Dallas, a chapter of the national nonprofit arts and education organization that brings artists and musicians to schools for performances and workshops. Her timing couldn’t have been better. About a year into Thorsen’s job as a residency coordinator, Young Audiences was tapped to manage a city-wide arts partnership designed to integrate the arts deeply into elementary school curriculum. “I had the opportunity to assist in the birth of the project,” she says.

Over the next 11 years, Thorsen moved up the ladder at Young Audiences, later redubbed Big Thought. She became senior director of programs and communications in 2004, tasked with shepherding several programs that had a combined budget of $2.5 million. Three years later, she was named vice president of research and program development at the organization, wherein she oversaw the multimillion dollar Dallas Arts Learning Initiative, now known as Thriving Minds.

At the height of her arts management success, Thorsen and her husband journeyed back to Ironwood for a little summer R&R. While in town she participated in a family business meeting where the main topic was the future of Jacquart Fabric Products, which at that time was seven years into the ownership and revitalization of Stormy Kromer. The combination of being back home and discussions concerning the family business had a profound effect on the couple.

“At this point, Dave and I had been in Dallas for 11 years,” says Thorsen, “and for the past few we had been daydreaming about getting back to the Midwest. On the plane ride home from that summer vacation, we almost simultaneously looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should move back.’ The rest, I guess, is history. By the following January, we had made the move.”

Upon her return, Thorsen joined Jacquart/Stormy Kromer as president, once again working alongside her CEO father, as well as her sister, who was then vice president of the company’s lucrative pet division. Each member of the family is also listed as business owner, including mom Denise, who through the years has served as Jacquart bookkeeper and creative consultant. 

Thorsen says many of the skill sets she had acquired while in Dallas transferred nicely to her new position within the family business.

“What I learned the hard way about consensus building, collaboration and leading groups of people to a similar goal were an excellent preparation for leading Jacquart Fabric Products and our 100 employees.”

In June of last year, Thorsen succeeded her father as CEO. (Bob remains as company chairman, and KJ currently hold the title director of purchasing.) The management team at Jacquart has big plans for the company, including expanding Stormy Kromer apparel lines and finding ever-more-creative ways to leverage internet sales, with the goal of bringing Stormy Kromer to a wider national audience of consumers. Initial targeted regions include New England, the Pacific Northwest and “the ranching west,” Thorsen says.

“We have ambitious goals, and a whole lot of belief in our company and brand,” she adds.

Her altered career path has in no way dissuaded Thorsen from indulging in her passion for the arts. On a personal level, she is an avid quilter and sewer. She also brings her previous work experience to bear while serving on the board of directors for Ironwood’s multidisciplinary Emberlight Arts Festival. “It’s great to put my arts management hat on again and be a part of building something world-class for our community,” she says. 

All told, Thorsen is happy to be back in Ironwood serving as a third-generation leader within the legacy business begun by her grandfather in 1958. Moreover, she seems grateful that she has been able to come to this point on her own time and in her own way.

“Having the opportunity to start my career in an entirely new part of the country, in a large metro area, in an industry I loved, gave me so much confidence in my strengths and abilities,” she says. “I was able to bring everything I learned, all those experiences, back with me to add to our business. I would not be the same leader at Jacquart Fabric Products if I did not have those outside experiences.

“I wouldn’t change my career path for the world.”