The Birth Of An American Giant—Basic Clothing Sold On The Web

Nothing is made in this country anymore. In terms of actual manufacturing, America is increasingly at a disadvantage. The logic of the global economy moves jobs overseas. Get used to it, we are told. Well, Bayard Winthrop thinks the conventional wisdom is wrong. He wants to bring manufacturing back to America, in the apparel industry, no less! His clothing startup, American Giant (gotta love the name), launches today.

American Giant is starting small, with a line of basic sweatshirts made in Brisbane, CA. American Giant doesn’t have any stores. It sells its sweatshirts only on the web, and soon will expand to other men’s basics such as T-shirts, polos, and button-downs. While the cost of materials and labor would be cheaper in Asia, a much bigger portion of the cost of a shirt is distribution.

By eliminating stores and going direct to consumer, American Giant can cut out a lot of the costs in the apparel industry and pass the savings onto consumers while still making better quality clothing. By controlling manufacturing, Winthrop also expects to be able to reduce his production cycles to 3 months or less instead of the 18 to 24-month cycles typical in the industry. By reducing cycle times, American Giant will be able to experiment more with styles and products and then increase production for the products which generate the most demand.

American Giant is a startup with 10 people and less than $5 million in funding, but the little giant is going after the Gap, J.Crew, and Old Navy. There is “no brand affinity” to those stores among men, argues Winthrop. “They don’t have a reason to live.”

How does he hope to compete? Simple: with better quality. “I feel like in the apparel sector the whole idea of quality has gone way,” says Winthrop, who has spent the past two decades in the apparel industry, most recently as CEO of Chrome, a chain of urban men’s clothing stores.

Winthrop wanted to make an “old-school navy sweatshirt” like the one his father used to wear that lasted 40 years, not the kind you buy at Old Navy. His first line of sweatshirts will be priced at a reasonable $59, but they are made with heavyweight cotton, double- and triple-needle stitching, thick ribbing at the waist, additional panels along the side for a better fit, and other construction details such as metal snaps designed in-house.

But can a Web-only clothing brand work? “Consumers are moving more online and spending more money online,” notes Winthrop. “Consumers’ expectations of value and quality are changing. The days of us walking into Macy’s and paying full retail for a shirt are basically going away.”

Watch the video above, in which Winthrop shows off his new sweatshirts and talks about his approach to American manufacturing.