Thursday, July 19, 2018
Cape Cod Fishnet Industries main shop room, ca. 1950. Photo by Stan Lee, Graphic House, Inc., courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryCape Cod Fishnet Industries main shop room, ca. 1950. Photo by Stan Lee, Graphic House, Inc., courtesy of Schlesinger Library

When Ada Worthington moved with her husband and two young sons to Truro, Massachusetts, in 1933, she set about decorating her new house in a style that reflected her Cape Cod surroundings. One day while visiting her husband at his fish processing plant, Worthington was struck by the sight of a white, untreated piece of fishnet. Inspired, Worthington brought the fishnet home and hung it as curtains in her dining room.

Following on the success of her curtains, Worthington began experimenting with making other decorative items and clothing out of fishnet. Encouraged by her friend Elizabeth Waugh, Worthington began dying her fishnet by boiling the net and dye, then tossing the net into the ocean to set the dye before drying the net on the beach. Wanting to share her creations with others, Worthington began selling her fishnet products at the local women's exchange under the name Cape Cod Fishnet Industries.

Cape Cod Fishnet Industries post card. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryCape Cod Fishnet Industries post card. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Armed with samples of her products, which included turbans, snoods, belts, tablecloths, bags, and dolls, Worthington paid a visit to her friend, Vogue editor Marya Mannes. The visit proved fruitful and resulted in several of Worthington's products being featured in a Vogue photo shoot. Soon, Cape Cod Fishnet Industries was featured in several other fashion magazines and its products could be found in major department stores including Macy's, Lord & Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman. Worthington also sold her products in women's boutiques she owned in Truro and Hyannis, Massachusetts; New York City; Miami; and Sausalito, California.

While Worthington designed all of the Cape Cod Fishnet Industries products, she relied on a team of local Cape Cod women to bring her designs to life and help run the business. Laura Silva served as her bookkeeper, Gladys Francis was her head seamstress, and the sewing was performed by fishermen's wives who often brought projects home and completed them between housekeeping tasks. At the height of its popularity, the company employed over 40 people.

As it became more difficult to obtain the cotton fishnet used to make its products, Cape Code Fishnet Industries closed in the early 1980s. The records of the business, including correspondence, financial ledgers, advertising materials, and photographs, were preserved among Ada Worthington's papers by her daughter, Diana, and donated to the Schlesinger Library where they are available for research. Artifacts relating to the business, including the exterior sign from the Truro headquarters, can be found at the Truro Historical Society.

Cape Cod Fishnet Industries catalog, 1950. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryCape Cod Fishnet Industries catalog, 1950. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Author: 
Johanna Carll