By Synnove Vandal
American Giant has mass-produced everyday sportswear entirely in the U.S. since 2011.
According to Bayard Winthrop, chief executive and founder of American Giant, U.S. production is part of the company’s mission to:
Bring back ingenuity and optimism to towns that make things.
And the company’s been largely successful, relocating everything from ginned cotton production to cutting and sewing processes to the U.S.
But the one product Winthrop set out to make, the iconic, cozy flannel shirt, proved especially difficult.
Many U.S. brands carry flannel products but few, if any, make those products domestically.
This is because it’s been decades since flannel was made in America.
Brands manufacturing a product wholly in the U.S. must navigate domestic production limitations.
And many, like Winthrop, must decide between increased costs and production efforts, or the ease of outsourcing production abroad.
Why sourcing flannel production in the U.S. is so difficult
Shirting is more complicated than manufacturing a regular t-shirt or fleece. It’s a woven process, which typically requires more needlework.
And flannel is an especially complicated woven shirt. Each individual yarn is dyed to achieve the patterned look.
Then the yarn is put on a weaving machine for precise warping. The difficulty of warping and weaving increases with the complexity of a pattern.
Finally, the flannel goes through a finishing process, called napping, to achieve its characteristic softness.
When Winthrop began his mission to produce flannel, he had to find U.S. suppliers that could:
- Dye the yearn
- Weave the flannel
- Finish and nap the flannel
- Sew the fabric into shirts
Plus, each of these partners had to be willing to produce small volume test runs for his upstart business.
American Giant produced their coveted flannel in time for its first winter season.
While the company was able to fully assemble its flannel supply chain, it took many suppliers, several reworks and a rushed production timeline to meet the first deadline.
When asked if it was worth all this trouble for a shirt, Winthrop said:
We wanted to start an American-made business and build it to scale. The consistent narrative was, ‘You can’t do that, it’s all gone overseas’…This was the next chapter.
Maybe the extra trouble was worth it for Winthrop. But for many manufacturers, offshore production remains a competitive supply chain advantage.
Follow the link below for more on flannel production in the U.S.
The Annals of Flannel – Steven Kurutz, New York Times
Synnove Vandal is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in Asia for clients in the US, EU and Australia.