Today we’re talking with Bron Heussenstamm of Alex Maine. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how Alex Maine came to be?
As for my experience, I grew up in my parents’ surf shop, Newport Surf & Sport, Huntington Surf & Sport. I used to be the kid who would grab peoples’ ankles under the clothes. It’s just been my entire life, you know?, I’ve always been in the clothing and retail sales (industry). So it’s something that I knew that I’d always want to get into.
I went to USC and I was an entrepreneurship major. I started a couple businesses, didn’t really go the way that I was hoping with the partnerships and whatnot. So I took a job at Sanuk, doing their PR for a year. They’ve just been acquired by UGG, so that’s a good step for them. I knew that I wanted to be in clothing. I knew that I had a network that I could take advantage of here in Hollywood as far as the exposure. Like, if we’re going to be wearing clothes, then we should be wearing our own. So, for me, how am I going to enter the market specifically in such a saturated business? I really wanted to differentiate myself. I got a job after USC in Beverly Hills where I wore a suit everyday, and before that I was sponsored by Ocean Pacific and wore some of the worst clothes imaginable. So I was like, “Wow, this suit is so comfortable to wear!” So when I got to Sanuk, it was no longer suits, it was jeans and I was kind of back to that action sports clothes. Not something I thought was comfortable. So I was like, why doesn’t anybody take my suit pants and put them in a jean cut so I’ll be fashionable and comfortable. I couldn’t find it. It didn’t exist. I thought, “maybe I have something here.” Growing up in the industry and seeing everybody outsourcing and being at Sanuk, where it’s all manufactured in China with lead times of about 18 months, and knowing that all those jobs are being outsourced. I know that you can make clothes here in America and that’s what I wanted to do.
I came up with Alex Maine. Alex means defender and Maine means homeland. It means defend the homeland. Buy American, create jobs, and make the most comfortable pants in the world.
Good mission you’ve got going.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
So what was the reception in the surf industry like, when the status quo is to look overseas to have their products made?
It was interesting. Some people thought I was calling them out. Which was never my intention. It was just giving the consumer an option. You know, when you walk into a store and 97% of all the clothes you see are made overseas, there really isn’t that option. There was a little bit of resistance at first, especially with prices. People are like, “Dude your prices. You have got to go to China.” But that’s just not what I’m trying to do here. I know that by cutting into other aspects of our business we can have a viable company with products manufactured in the United States. That comes from a lifetime of experience. Seeing that has made me excited. Because, you know, we want people to copy what AlexMaine is doing. We want them to make their clothes here, bring their manufacturing from overseas back here. It’s been great so far.
There’s a myth that it’s always cheaper to manufacture goods overseas, but that isn’t the case in every business is it?
The thing is that it’s really not that much cheaper. It’s the fact that you’re making, say, three million shirts a year and you can save $1.50, they say they’re saving 4.5Million bucks by going overseas. But that’s not what we want to do. I’d rather hope that AlexMaine sells 3 million shirts in one year and invest that back into the economy. For us, it’s what else can you do from a business aspect to alleviate that. For us, at this point, it’s not even an issue. I would gladly pay that extra little bit to be able to make them in the US because as far as skilled work force, the US is as good as anywhere. Trying to disprove that perception , for example, that ‘the best clothes are made in Italy.’ Why? Why are the best clothes made there? Are their hands different? Are they taking classes that aren’t available in the US? We can make the best clothes in the United States and I think we are.
How much of the AlexMaine line is made in America?
We wanted to see how far the ‘Made in America’ ladder can we go? Was it grown here? Was it spun here? Was it made into fabric here? Was it manufactured here? Those are all different processes in manufacturing our clothing. So for us, we try as hard as we can and sometimes we get to a point where we can’t and we want to bring that to peoples’ attention. We wanted to put a clothesline in our jeans, an old-school one, that looks like a doll, we found someone who would make them for us for like $3 each and overseas we could have got them for like 6 cents. There wasn’t actually a manufacturer of clothespins left in the United States. We went to a woodworker to get a quote. So it’s just bringing situations like that to light. The reason those things aren’t made here is because the factories and machinery used to make them have disappeared.
AlexMaine’s fabric is made here and our manufacturing is here. Everything from labels to buttons. We try to go as far down the American made ladder as we can. Everything for AlexMaine will be manufactured specifically in the United States.
The more companies that make their goods in the USA will only help the possibility for others to do so as well.
Like you said, people will call me and ask where we get our stuff made. We want them to know that this is a viable option. That clothing CAN be manufactured here in the United States. The bigger we get, the more jobs we can create. So it kind of is a snowball and hopefully public awareness grows. Hopefully more people can get behind this.
Where do you start looking for vendors and sourcing materials in a market that has virtually disappeared?
I hired a fantastic designer. Dan Mariner, and I needed somebody who had some experience with manufacturing in the United States. I also wanted somebody who was a pant expert because my specific focus was on pants. He was on my little league baseball team. I’ve known him my entire life. I knew that he was fantastic. So we talked and we had a really similar vision and we thought that this was the perfect marriage of business man and passionate designer. We’ve gone though a couple hiccups with a couple manufacturers, but the people who are out there, are great. We’ve made some friends, right away. To see them get excited about our mission has been fantastic. It’s hard. There are not 4,000 manufacturers of clothes. There are a couple. So we try to mix and match and find the one that works best for what we’re doing.
The bond between AlexMaine and domestic vendors has to be rewarding for both businesses, almost like you’re in this together. Do you feel that?
It’s a partnership. They can’t make money without us selling clothes. So they know that the clothes have to be good and right. It’s fantastic and we can go back to them and tell them how excited we are and the customers are excited about it. Because it’s really a relationship all the way down to the farmers. It’s something that we continue to strive for and that we love. We went to our manufacturers and told them that this is a partnership for life. And it’s something that we’re really excited about.
We’d like for AlexMaine to be seen as a leader in American Manufacturing. We’re waiving the flag around from the start. We’d like to of course, export our clothes, and reverse that trend of importing by continuing to export to other countries. And we want to be seen as a leader in fashion pants in the world. We want that to be a Made in America pant. Reverse the trend that the best pants come from ‘x’ country. Well we want the best clothes to be coming from the United States. That’s our goal.
How big of an asset is the ‘Made in America’ message to the AlexMaine brand?
I think it’s a huge asset because I think America’s been cool since 1776. So we really push that. Our store has 2 TVs that were assembled in the United States; the only electronics that are manufactured or assembled in the United States. Our couch is made in the United States. We have a TV in the window to play sports to the street. I love that being a part of the community. We love being a part of and ingrained in the American culture.
Asset number two is that our clothes are just so comfortable. We knew that we needed that because if we’re going to get people excited about manufacturing in the United States, we couldn’t just be ‘good enough.’ We needed to be great. So we went out and found fabrics that were amazing and did all of our own custom cuts just knowing that if we’re going to reverse that trend, then we’re going to have to be better right from the start. That’s what gets us super excited.
Our bags are manufactured in the US. Everything we do. We try to take it as far down the American Made ladder as we can.
What is the biggest factor that will allow AlexMaine to continue to manufacture its goods in the USA, and be successful?
To be great. You can’t just be even if you’re trying to sway perception. You have to be better. For us, some of the people that we have wearing our clothes, is fantastic and humbling. Because they can choose from anything. If you have product X and product Y and product X is cheaper, or product X is really familiar, if you’re going to replace that, then you’d better be good in order to get people into your product ‘Y’. And that’s the most fun for me is seeing people put them on and say, “These ARE the most comfortable pants.” I’m like, “thank you,” that’s an exciting message and then also knowing that every one of those pants are made here. The more of those we can get on people, the more jobs we can create. That’s going to be the continuing message.
Be great, Go America. And be comfortable in your clothes. There are more comfortable materials out there than denim for your legs. You weren’t just born into denim.
Thanks, Bron. I really appreciate your time and perspective. And thank you for what Alex Maine is doing, it has to start somewhere.
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