But there is really no comparison between American Giant’s hoodie and the competition. It looks better and feels substantially more durable—Winthrop says it will last a lifetime. When you wear this hoodie, you’ll wonder why all other clothes aren’t made this well. And when you hear about how American Giant produced it, it’s hard not to conclude that one day, they all may be.
(Bayard) Winthrop had figured out a way to do what most people in the apparel industry consider impossible: He’s making clothes entirely in the United States, and he’s doing so at costs that aren’t prohibitive.
So what’s so great about this hoodie, anyway?
For starters, it appears to weigh more than two pounds. The fabric, which is 100% cotton, feels about three times thicker than most sweatshirts. And ribbed paneling along the shoulders and sides help create a tailored look, eliminating the boxy silhouette of most hoodies.
“This sweatshirt is seriously worth the wait, and awesome for the price, too. I’m considering ordering more to stock up for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure this one is ever going to wear out,” one reviewer wrote.
"The dirty secret of the apparel industry is that shirt that you bought at Nordstrom for $80 gets made for six or seven bucks," Winthrop says, reaching across the table to feel the thin fabric of my collar. "The rest of the margin is chewed up by a whole bunch of shit that I would argue the customer cares less and less about."
There’s a definite gloss of salesmanship to Winthrop’s "made in America" talk. It’d be easy to be cynical if not for this undeniable fact: American Giant delivers the goods.
But the internet hasn’t just served up a conventional marketing bump for American Giant. As (Bayard) Winthrop explains, the internet makes possible the kind of business he wants American Giant to be. If he’s right, it’s also the kind of business that could reboot U.S. manufacturing.
“When you pull the money out of the supply chain and the distribution chain and put it into the product, you actually end up with a better product that can please the customer at a comparable price,” (Randy) Komisar says. “The jobs that we’re reassembling in the United States are better paying jobs making stuff and being able to do that with a quality and satisfaction that garners respect.”
“When I framed the business, I wasn’t saying, ‘From the cotton in the ground to the finished product, this is going to be all American-made,’ ” (Bayard Winthrop) said. “It wasn’t some patriotic quest.”
Instead, he said, the road to Gaffney was all about protecting his bottom line.
That simple, if counterintuitive, example is changing both Gaffney and the American textile and apparel industries.
Turning out a noncommodity product is the only antidote to the economies of scale powering the modern retail behemoths.
The future will get increasingly bleak for companies that don’t have the scale of Amazon or the unique wares and agility of e-commerce startups.
The true opportunities for retail entrepreneurs—the so-called white space—lie in improving products people have long considered commodities. American Giant is doing this with the humble sweatshirt.
This explosive growth, which has allowed a niche start up company who sold sweatshirts off their website to grow to the point where they are taking on giants like the Gap and American Apparel within 4 years, has left the fast fashion industry scratching its head.
So what is this crazy, upside down new business model that American Giant has leveraged to such meteoric success? It’s actually a story that dates back to the dawn of casual wear in America, and the father of another iconic American basic, Levi Strauss, and his classic Levis 501 jeans.
It’s possible that Silicon Valley has rubbed off on AG. Like its tech firm neighbors, the brand approaches product development from a critical thought process: “What problems need fixing, and how can we make our products better than what’s currently on the market?”
The AG Pant, in other words, has a reason to exist — and it’s not to usher in some flashy new design. There’s real function at play here. And we would not be surprised to see these fly off shelves this winter.
“When the company was launched in 2012, it was based on the belief in the validity of U.S. manufacturing and the supply chain,” said Winthrop, an entrepreneur who has headed a number of manufacturing and consumer-products businesses, including accessories and apparel company Chrome Industries before opening American Giant. “The object was to create the next great American brand. The challenge was to strike the right balance between quality and price without deviating from our standard of only using U.S. production.”
Winthrop said it “was really gratifying to get that kind of response” to the sweatshirt.
“But it also represents the fact that we really want to create exceptional American-made products,” he continued. “I hope the T-shirt has the same response, but we leave that to others to decide."