Bayard Winthrop, American Giant want to prove U.S. …

Bayard Winthrop, American Giant want to prove U.S. …

Nov 10, 2015

“Bayard Winthrop, American Giant want to prove U.S. manufacturing is alive and well”

By Krystal Peak, San Francisco Business Times

Within five minutes of meeting Bayard Winthrop, he was showing me how to properly put on wraps for boxing. It’s not everyday that a CEO gives me boxing tips.

Winthrop has spent a huge chunk of his career in the retail industry, most recently as the head of another San Francisco company, Chrome. But as he puts it, “I was so tired of cutting costs where it matters instead of all those places customers don’t care about.”

While it was a challenge to get him to talk about himself as a leader or an entrepreneur (he said the words “me”, “my” or “I” fewer times than any company founder I’ve ever interviewed), Winthrop was long on passion.

“Don’t ever feel bad for getting winded, exhausted, in a workout,” said Winthrop. “It is more important that you do your best every single time you are out there. Know then that your best will just keep getting better.”

While he was referring to boxing drills, he could have just as easily been talking about his company and its ethos to strive for better product and services in clothing than what is already out there.

Now his four-year-old startup, American Giant, is well into its mission of showing that manufacturing can be done right on U.S. soil at a price that won’t put a company into the red.

“What really hurt U.S. manufacturing wasn’t the actual cost of labor, it was flabby thinking from business people,” said Winthrop.

“The dirty secret about the apparel industry is that 80 percent of what you are paying for with that woven shirt you’re wearing has nothing to do with the fabric to making of that shirt,” he said. “For the last few decades, I have spent most of my time trying to save money in the 20 percent rather than other part and that has changed with American Giant. Cutting costs in the 20 percent looks like outsourcing to China, it means buying lesser quality material.”

Less than a year into building the company, American Giant was the subject of a Slate article that declared its men’s garment as “the greatest hoodie ever made.” The press generated $600,000 in hoodie sales in 36 hours.

In fact, the buzz became so great that the company fell victim to its own success and had to put customers on a waiting list that, at its peak, reached six months. Who waits six months for a hoodie?

Winthrop points to that period in American Giant’s history as a huge learning curve. Retail companies fear running out of inventory and a two-quarter lag is unheard of.

“We asked a lot of our customers, waiting to get their order,” said Winthrop. “But the biggest thing was transparency. We had to be honest and say we messed up and that we were learning on the fly. And our existing customers were really our biggest helpers then. They said ‘Be patient, they are worth it.’ ”

By May 2013 the wait list was shredded and now American Giant is moving full steam ahead with more products and a new vision of the apparel industry’s future.

American Giant is in a newly growing space of garments with a cause. Two other San Francisco clothing companies, Everlane and Marine Layer, are also rapidly gaining traction with a similar vision to give consumers clothes that are made more thoughtfully than their fast-fashion counterparts.

Everlane also decided to cut out the marketing and retail spaces to offer higher quality clothing – its motto says a lot: “Modern Basics. Radical Transparency.”

Many millennial consumers, driven by a sense of social responsibility, are searching for brands that do more than work to sell the cheapest product to as many consumers at the best price. In turn, that trend has created a space for companies like American Giant to sell an $89 hoodie or $30 V-neck T-shirt; its customers know those items didn’t cost $5 to make in a Chinese factory, and they’re happy to pay more.

“We are out here to not just provide a great product, which we strive to do every day — we want to keep doing our absolute best, then beat it next time,” said Winthrop. “Our mission is greater than that, we want to show that America can be that strong engine in the economy and that people would chose that over anything anywhere else.”

To read the full interview with Winthrop running in print, click here. 

Krystal Peak is the multimedia producer at the San Francisco Business Times.


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