American Giant Founder: How Do You Create The “Greatest Hoodie Ever Made?”

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American Giant is a clothing company that has been growing rapidly in the past two years. They first exploded in the press when a Slate article in December 2012 declared that their sweatshirt was “the greatest hoodie ever made.” Since then, their demand has sky-rocketed so much that according to Business Insider, there is now a wait-list of up to four months to get it. Even then, people still continue to place orders no matter how long the wait.

What’s so special about this sweatshirt you ask? Check out the introduction video below:

In order to fill the demand, the company has expanded to more factories in Los Angeles and rural North Carolina. They have even started dabbling in other things including t-shirts, sweatpants, and a women’s line, which have all been selling great according to CEO Bayard Winthrop in an interview with Slate.

Recently, we had the pleasure catching up with Bayard Winthrop via email. In this interview, we talk about how he started his business, creative marketing, and what aspiring clothing entrepreneurs need to do if they want to set themselves apart from everyone else.

Give us some background on yourself and when you decided to become an entrepreneur.

“I was born in Connecticut and started my career in New York. I moved to San Francisco about 20 years ago and started working in the apparel, accessory and footwear industries… and never left. During this time I realized there were major inefficiencies in the retail and apparel supply chain and became inspired to build a new kind of apparel company manufacturing top quality product here in the U.S. and sell them at prices that made sense.”

What was the first thing you did when you came up with your business idea? ?ow did you raise the initial funding for it?

“It was one of those moments that just seemed obvious: Get the customer as close to the manufacturer as possible and eliminate all other costs to pass on to them maximum value.  When you have that kind of clarity, it comes with conviction.  That helped in the initial funding process which we raised from an angel investor after we’d gotten the basic business set up and running (which I funded myself).”

According to a few sources, you have generated so much demand for your hoodies that you now need to wait months to get it, did you expect this much success?

“We instinctually knew there was an unmet demand among consumers for better apparel manufactured in the US, but we never anticipated the amount of growth and success we experienced out of the gates – and continue to be humbled by it. We’re out to build something special and we know we can only do that by continually exceeding our customers’ expectations and delivering on our promise.”

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Startups typically have a small budget when it comes to marketing. What creative ways have you come up with to market your brand based on your resources?

“Word of mouth marketing has proven to be very successful for us. Build an amazing product, sell it at a fair price, and stand for something your customers care about. That drives loyalty and excitement which for us translated into them wearing our product and referring friends and family back to the website to check us out. We’re lucky to live in an age of technology and connectedness that allows us to reach our consumers in ways that don’t require huge marketing budgets and a chain of brick and mortar stores.”

Are their any other reasons aside from “bringing back American manufacturing” that you choose to produce everything in the U.S.?

“For the last 40 years consumers that have wanted to buy American Made have been presented with a false choice: tolerate either poor quality or prices that are out of reach for the mainstream consumer.  We think this was a by-product of the problems of the apparel industry that had layers and layers of cost between manufacturer and consumer, forcing them to pay for things that had no bearing on the quality or the cost of the product they were purchasing.

From a manufacturing standpoint, sourcing and producing everything in our backyard allows us to be close to the product at every layer. That enables us to ensure the best quality, react quickly, stay lean and make more educated business decisions.”

How are you going to set yourselves apart from other competitors like American Apparel?

“Honor your customers, build world-class products, price them fairly, stand for something that is meaningful and durable.  I don’t think many apparel brands are doing that today.”

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What do you think aspiring entrepreneurs looking to launch a clothing brand need to know in order to find success in this business?

“It’s all about product and creating that scale based on consumer demand and not the reverse. Through the evolution of clothing companies and scale, product and quality has become further removed from the customer. It’s about closing that gap. We’ve hit a nerve with consumers and the apparel and retail industry is primed for a massive disruption over the course of the next five years.”

Tell us the most important lesson you’ve learned so far from your experience as an entrepreneur.

“Be competitive, believe in what you’re doing and be ready for a lot of work.  If you love what you’re doing, you won’t notice the long days.”

Lastly, tell us some exciting things coming to us from American Giant.

“We will continue with the same basic approach of building top quality garments that look great, fit well and last a lifetime. It’s a thoughtful and very deliberate approach to only launching new categories where we think we can do something really special in the space. This fall we released a line of sweatpants, and we think they’re the best in the world.”

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