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Hoodie Company Put U.S. Manufacturing In Style

Dec 8, 2012
Originally published on December 8, 2012 6:51 pm

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

We're talking about the small but significant trend called insourcing, manufacturing things here in the U.S. Earlier this year, Bayard Winthrop opened up a sweatshirt and hoodie business in San Francisco, and he called it American Giant. He's got 10 people in the front office and up to 150 workers in a factory where his entire line, soup to nuts, is made in America.

We read about him in an article in Slate this past week, which called his hoodie the best hoodie in the world. And two days after that article was published, they sold out of almost everything.

BAYARD WINTHROP: I believe as of this morning, we are almost entirely sold out of all sweatshirts that we make, which is saying something. We had a planning meeting about a week ago where we thought we were in great shape heading into the holiday season. So it was a pretty overwhelming response.

RAZ: What makes your sweatshirts different from other sweatshirts? I mean...

WINTHROP: Yeah. I mean, when you strip it down, for us, I think it really did start with a fabric and trying to make a heavyweight 100 percent cotton fabric that had a dry exterior hand, a soft internal hand. A lot of sweatshirts today are very baggy and very sloppy. We tried to do away with that, have them fit people correctly. A lot of these things, frankly, are the result of big and unwieldy distribution mechanisms, manufacturers trying to build a one-size-fits-all garment for people.

Trims and hardware are a big thing for us, I mean, our zippers and our grommets and our eaglets and our drawstrings and making sure that each one of those elements in the sweatshirt gets a lot of attention.

RAZ: So you are doing what, you know, what a lot of people in your industry would consider to be impossible. You are making clothing entirely in the U.S. and you're actually making money?

WINTHROP: Yeah. I think, you know, my whole career, there's always been kind of a belief that the distribution costs, the markup and margin that live between a consumer and the people that are actually making the clothes were sacrosanct - they couldn't be touched. And so we decided to leapfrog that a bit and say, we're going to do away with all the distribution costs.

RAZ: You're not going to have stores, basically.

WINTHROP: Yeah. By getting rid of stores, by getting rid of wholesale partners and saying we're going to get as close to the consumer, as close to the manufacturer as we possibly can and just ship directly to them. That was the unlock for us, and that gives us, you know, a lot more investment opportunity to put back into product and service.

RAZ: I mean, are you able to produce as much as, you know, I don't know, let's say, all of a sudden, you know, everybody in America wanted to order one from you. Could you produce on the scale of a Gap or, you know, one of these huge companies?

WINTHROP: It's a good question. You know, we - I think there's an awful lot of chatter in the media about the death of American manufacturing. I think we're finding almost exactly the opposite that the manufacturing facilities that have made it through the last 30 years, which no doubt have been difficult, have come out the far side stronger and more efficient with phenomenal people, talented people, efficient people.

And so the short answer is we feel really confident about our ability to scale. So I think we're not - it's something we keep an eye on, obviously, but we're feeling pretty optimistic about it.

RAZ: Have you gotten a hoodie onto Mark Zuckerberg?

(LAUGHTER)

WINTHROP: You know, we heard a rumor that he was wearing one of our hoodies. We have not actually - we talked about that in the office the other day about whether we should make sure to get one to his office, but we have not is the short answer.

RAZ: I wonder if he was the guy who bought all the hoodies, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

WINTHROP: (Unintelligible).

RAZ: Yeah. That's Bayard Winthrop, the founder of American Giant. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.