BURRILLVILLE – Town Councilor Donald Fox has found success as a Burrillville business owner, keeping up in a competitive market with a product that has long shaped the Blackstone Valley: cashmere.
The town, he notes, also works like a business – just much slower.
And as Fox seeks his second term on the board in the upcoming election Nov. 6, he says he hopes to continue using his success in the private sector to work for Burrillville government.
“I’ve been able to take my experience and use it first-hand,” Fox said of his past four years on the council.
Fox is the president of Alashan Cashmere, a Broncos Highway-based business that imports and distributes fine men’s and women’s clothing. Alashan employs 14 local people, and more than half are Burrillville residents, along with part time freelance designers and sales reps across the country. The company sells their products to stores throughout the United States, taking part in fashion shows in New York, and buying materials from China and beyond.
“We own the rainbow,” Fox said, noting it’s a motto used by his sales reps. “We’re known across the country and in the cashmere world as someone who works in deep color.”
Fox first began his career in the business in 1993 when he landed a job as assistant manager at Woonsocket-based Forte Cashmere.
“We were still processing raw cashmere at the time,” he said.
A Cranston native, Fox had earned his MBA from Bryant College, focusing on Soviet and Eastern European studies. The plan, he says, was to work as either a spy for the National Security Agency – or an accountant. He studied at Leningrad State University before ultimately deciding against either idea.
Forte was breaking into the importing business at the time, and a Russian cartel was controlling Afghan and Mongolian cashmere. Fox’s education would provide an advantage, as he traveled to places like the Middle East to purchase materials.
“I didn’t know who the Taliban was,” he said. “I just knew they were carrying a lot of guns.”
Fox also helped to set up a processing plant in Mongolia for Forte.
The business closed in 2004 and he opened his own company the same year.
“We were in the basement of my house on Camp Dixie Road,” he said.
Alashan eventually moved to a space above Norfolk Power Equipment, and later, to Chapel Street.
In 2010, Fox made his first run for office, narrowly losing a race for House District 47 to Rep. Cale Keable. He tried again in 2012, losing by a similar margin, but the experience helped him to grow in an another direction.
While talking about what could be done in town to help with economic development, Fox was approached by a member of the Industrial Foundation of Burrillville. The organization had a vacant lot just beside Alashan’s former home, and could help Fox build a structure to spec, and apply for a tax stabilization program aimed at helping new businesses to expand.
“It made the deal more attractive,” Fox said. “We had cheaper opportunities to set up, but I believe we reap other benefits by keeping our business local.”
In 2014, he says he was ready to give politics a rest before he was persuaded to run for Town Council.
“In a way, I’m thankful I lost, because I found the council more fulfilling than I think I ever would have as a Republican in the statehouse,” he said.
On the council, Fox says he’s worked hard to maintain fiscal responsibility.
“It hasn’t been easy over the past few years,” he said, pointing to the challenge of financing a fight against the proposal to build a power plant. Town officials paid for millions in legal fees by signing a tax treaty with the energy developer. Fox said that many people suggested instead taking money from Burrillville’s capital improvement account, an idea he opposed.
“We still need to maintain our roads,” he said. “We still need to maintain our services.”
Fox says that Burrillville has benefitted over the past several years from strong financial management.
“We’re very fortunate to have a very low debt load,” he said. “Our bond rating under the current Republican council is one of the best in the state.”
Fox serves on the Board of Administration for the Assembly Theatre, and lists among his goals revitalization of the historic venue. He’s also been working on the Branch River Park project at Burrillville Middle School, and aims to see a the town develop a modern, multi-use, multi-sport field without impacting taxes.
A divorced father of three, Fox has named Alashan clothing lines after each of his children. His oldest graduated from Burrillville High School last year.
“I take pride in the fact that we have a textile company here in Burrillville,” he said. “If it wasn’t for textiles Burrillville wouldn’t be on the map the way it is today.”