Monday, March 11, 2013

Made In U.S.A.

Quality and local manufacture seem to have both gone the way of the dodo, but it's nice to see there are some people bucking the trend. I bookmarked this link a while ago: This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made. How American Giant created the best sweatshirt known to man (Slate). I was interested in the alternative business model - going for high-quality instead of cheap crud, and eliminate the middle man:
American Giant doesn’t maintain a storefront, and it doesn’t deal with middlemen. By selling garments directly from its factory via the Web, American Giant can avoid the distribution costs baked into most other clothes. American Giant’s basic sweatshirt sells for $59, while its full-zip hooded sweatshirt—i.e., the classic hoodie—goes for $79 (including shipping and free returns). That’s more than you’d pay for a basic hoodie at the Gap or American Apparel, but it’s comparable to hoodies from Levi’s, J. Crew, or Banana Republic.

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.
Well, it seems that the Slate article had quite an impact. Today on the BBC: American Giant: The problems of being an overnight success.
Established in the spring of 2012, American Giant makes sweatshirts and other items of clothing, all produced in the US from American cotton. Mr Winthrop envisioned a company where money saved from expensive retail operations - hiring salesclerks, covering rent etc - could instead be put into making better fitting, better crafted, more luxurious clothing.

Since it is an online-only retailer, customers cannot try on the clothing before buying. And reliant upon word-of-mouth marketing, Mr Winthrop estimated it would take two years for American Giant to really take off.

Then the online magazine Slate ran an article that named American Giant's hooded sweatshirt "the greatest hoodie ever made". It triggered half a million dollars of new orders in less than two days, clearing out American Giant's inventory.

Two weeks before Christmas, the company was the victim of sudden success, without the manpower or the materials to meet demand. "We talk about catastrophic failure. Catastrophic success is equally an issue," says Karl Stark, chief executive of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm that focuses on building and growing companies.
Maybe someone will make a reasonably-priced athletic shoe where your money doesn't go to pay some millionaire sports psychopath.  Maybe we can actually rethink planned obsolescence. I think I may buy one of those hoodies myself (there is apparently a wait) for the same reason I buy grass-fed beef and local farm produce - support the business models you wish to see proliferate with your dollars. Buy quality and make it last.

And here in The New York Times is Living With Less. A Lot Less. Several commenters pointed out that the idea of a wealthy and privileged person choosing to give up stuff is a lot different from the reality many people face in America. Still, I know plenty of people (at work mainly) who still believe that getting as much stuff as they can is their duty and birthright as North Americans. I remember one coworker who went to Sweden. I thought she might amend her right-wing opinions after seeing how socialism is hardly the hell they say it is. But what she commented on was how her husband's relatives (he apparently had some family over there) had to live in a small apartment in the city rather than a large suburban McMansion like they had.

UPDATE: It Would Be Great if Millionaires Would Not Lecture Us on ‘Living With Less’(Gawker). This made me laugh:
Aha! All it takes is a leisurely decade or so of world travel with "Olga, an Andorran beauty" to come to the conclusion that less is more. Make a note, average Americans. By jet-setting around the world with Olga after already becoming wealthy, Graham Hill found himself with more time and money. What is your excuse for not doing the same? Simply sell your house, get rid of your possessions, and take a few round-the-world excursions to get a good feel for the importance of experiences over possessions. Anyone can do it.

1 comment:

  1. The Times had closed the comments by the time this Pacific Northwesterner got to read Graham Hill's piece, so I'm going to foist my reactions on you, if you don't mind.

    My wife and I are currently eking out a retirement-age subsistence as an artist and independent software devloper (with a declining customer base), respectively. Hill's piece struck a chord as a really good idea for us.

    Instead, we are looking for a larger living space. Why? Because in order to downsize to Hill's degree, we would not be able to continue to do what we do, and would be relegated to sitting in our 400 sq. ft. in front of the TV subsisting on Social Security.

    There is no possible way that my wife's art studio and my servers, workstations, desks and file cabinets would fit in 400 sq. ft. It doesn't even fit in 1600 sq. ft. and give us some space to eat, sleep and watch a movie on the weekends.

    My point is, I do not believe for a minute that Graham Hill's work and his life fit into 400 sq. ft. either. Just where does he do the work of starting the umpteen companies that he allegedly launches? Does he not have an office? How about let's count the square footage of wherever he does his work? Let's also add the space for his server farm(s) and shelf space for his companies' records.

    I bet a lot of people, if you don't count the space in their home that they use for generating an income, would be able to consider themselves "downsized". I know I've downsized my living space in favor or work space for a long time, and I didn't even need to be a millionaire to do it.


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