Tag: USA


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.


Go America.

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.


Now available at Nordstrom.

Today we are talking with the fine folks at Northern Grade, a pop-up market of American Made products.


Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and how Northern Grade came to be?

Well being based in Minnesota, we are surrounded by brands like Red Wing and Duluth Pack who represent the authentic heritage brands. We thought we should do something to celebrate them and promote their historical significance. We also saw a lot of men in this area who did not know where to shop for premium American brands.


How has Northern Grade evolved from when it started in 2009?

We have grown from an event that had about 600 people at the first one, to 3000 at our last.  We still have about 20 vendors. We like to keep things in scale with our venue, Architectural Antiques.


Has the Made Local/USA always been the sole purpose of the event?



What has the reception been on a local and national level.

We have seen a jump as of late in national support from the consumer, and interest from the print magazines.  We have definitely seen a jump in the website visits.


Why does Northern Grade find it crucial to network with, and provide exposure for, fellow American-made brands?

We feel it is vital to provide a place for the consumer to come and find these niche brands. Our fellow vendors are mostly based online, so this is a platform to help bring them faced-to-face with the consumer. Something they benefit from – mutually.


Any great success stories that have come from the Northern Grade experience?

We loved seeing Sanborn Canoe in the Vanity Fair Punch Hutton’s Gift Guide last month. Pretty cool! I don’t think that was because of NG but it is always a pleasure to see our friends get some good press.


Is there a sense of strength in numbers?

I’d say so yes.


Do the exhibitors benefit from being around each other as much as being in front of potential buyers and consumers?

Sure – we all learn from each other and of course that is how some really special collaborations are born.


According to your website, you have plans to expand to San Francisco, Nashville, Denver and Moscow. What is it about those markets that make them prime for an American-made ‘expo?’

San Francisco is definitely on for next year. We’re thinking April. Nashville is in the works for March possibly.  Moscow is a proving logistically challenging as we have to work on a different model for checkout etc. But we’ll try to make it happen. We work with some great people over there who have expressed interest in this. They have a massive network.


Any other top-secret or not-so-secret plans for Northern Grade coming up?



If you could give the 50 BUILT readers one reason they must attend a Northern Grade show, what would it be?

Well of course to meet the folks behind the brands. We enjoy meeting you and talking about what you like and don’t like etc. Lots of live music in the future. Always good food and drink… it’s just a good time. But it’s really important to have your support to keep this going.  hat is what it’s about.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Northern Grade’s vendors to succeed, what would it be?

Our pricing. Just like organic food – it used to be pretty high to buy an organic apple – but the more people demand it, and buy it, the more affordable it becomes. We need this to keep going to become more mainstream as far as prices go – our costs are extremely high to manufacture domestically.


Thank you so much for your time, and best of luck with your expansion plans!

HAAS is one of the world’s leading machine and tool manufacturers and is based in a 1,000,000 square foot factory in Southern California. THIS is manufacturing. Making the machines and tools that allow for the manufacturing industry to be possible. The quantity that HAAS churns out every year is astounding, and the quality is top notch. The machine shop pumps out over 2 million parts per year, each one undergoing strict inspection.

There is not any information about public factory tours.

Today we are talking with Jen Guarino, CEO of J.W. Hulme. J.W. Hulme has been making quality goods in Minnesota since 1905.


Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on how J.W. HULME Co. came to be, what has changed over the lastcentury, and your product offerings?

John William Hulme founded  J.W. Hulme Co.  in 1905 as a tent and awning maker. By 1917 Hulme was making tents for American soldiers fighting the Great War. After World War I, our company began to apply its fastidious approach of purposeful design and construction towardsproducing awnings for the homes of St. Paul’s elite. Such was the demand for Hulme’s hand craftsmanship that the company’s product offering grew over time to include leather and canvas sporting bags and accessories. Distinctive Hulme bags became a must-have for the serious outdoor sportsman. As J.W. Hulme flourished it concentrated solely on making bags, including private label bags for other prominent companies. In 2003 we did something extraordinary. We purposefully reduced its operations and stopped producing private label bags. We refocused all hands on quality over quantity. Instead of replacing workers with machines or shipping work overseas, we renewed and strengthened our commitment to making superior goods using premium quality and American craftsmanship. It paid off. Sales have grown four fold since 2009 and J.W. Hulme’s distinctive bags can be found at national retailers such as Barneys New York, Brooks Brothers, Allen Edmonds and Anthropologie. Today we employ 42 people; 24 of which are skilled artisans.

Can you put into the words the pride that J.W. HULME Co.’s employees and craftsmen have for the company they work for? How critical is it to have true American craftsman working on your products as opposed to relying on foreign factories?

Hulme’s iconic character and passion lives through its products. Every bag and accessory continues to be individually hand crafted by American artisans. Top grain leathers are all sourced from US tanneries andhand-cut by masters using steel dies. All hardware is solid brass. Threads are unbreakable. Zippers maneuver fluidly. Leather edges are hand-dyed. Linings are meticulously matched and hand-sewn. Designs include unexpected features such as key leashes and hidden pockets. Every detail is important and every piece is personally inspected. Our artisans take tremendous pride in their work. If you speak to anyone of them they will go on and on about how they do what they do in explicit detail; with real passion.


What kind of impact has J.W. HULME Co. had on its surrounding community for over a century?

Our artisans span two generations. Some master artisans have been with us 20+ years. They are passing down their expertise to our newest class of artisans that are in their early twenties. We have gone an extra step to ensure the trade stays alive by forming a group called The Makers Coalition. We have partnered with a local non-profit and tech college to begin an industrial sewing certificate program. It begins January 2013.

We believe manufacturing in the United States and are not looking to change that. The benefits are many:

•   We have much better control over quality of both material and craftsmanship

•   We can offer quicker lead times

•   We can be quicker to market with new products since design and manufacturing are under one roof

•   We can provide much better customer service on products made here

•   We provide good jobs

•   We are a source of pride for our community


Minnesota is home to so many iconic American companies who still manufacture their goods in the state and the USA. Is there a sense of community among fellow Minnesota businesses?

Absolutely! I started in the fashion business over 25 years ago. Never have I had the pleasure of being surrounded by such a collaborative support system. We are all each others fans and don’t see ourselves as competition but rather a group of proud companies doing great things.


How important is the Made in America process to your brand image? Do you market your products as Made in USA? Would J.W. HULME Co.’s authenticity and history be seriously compromised if you resorted to cheap foreign manufacturing?

I think being authentically made in the USA is at our core. It is in the products from the way we approach crafting each bag to the materials we use. By default it is what gives our products an independent American aesthetic. I just don’t think this is something you can make happen off-shore. The soul of the product would be missing. We aren’t doing this out of a patriotic philanthropic duty as much as  because we can and so should make our quality products here. The fact that it also makes us a job creating small business is the icing on the cake. The fact that we’ve become a guardian to preserve an American trade is the ice cream with the cake.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like J.W. HULME Co. to succeed, what would it be?

THREAT: Skilled labor. That’s why we are actively doing something about that with The Makers Coalition

ADVANTAGE: Being in better control of quality, speed to market, delivery and customer service.


Thank you so much Jen, another great American-made story. I really appreciate your time and perspective!

Today we are talking with Tony Patella of Tellason. Tellason is a premium denim company founded by Tony Patella & Pete Searson in San Francisco, CA.


What was the catalyst for starting Tellason?

Pete and I had been in the apparel industry for twenty years each in various forms — sales agents, sales directors and in my case, also as a partner in a San Francisco-based denim brand in the 1990s.  It really came down to our shared passion for denim and durable goods and our desire to do something of our own.

We are a two-person operation. We have interns on occasion, but all of the design, distribution, customer service and sales management is handled by the two of us.  Our studio is in Sausalito, California and the factory that makes our products is right across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The factory makes products for several other high-quality USA brands. They have been making garments in San Francisco for 28 years and I’ve known them since 1993.


With over 20 years of apparel industry experience before starting Tellason, what were some of the biggest lessons you learned, and applied, to starting your own company?

We both actually learned more of what not to do, than what to do from our previous experiences. Nutty egos taught us a lot!


In those years before starting Tellason, how had the landscape changed in terms of American manufacturing in the apparel industry?

My first job after college was with Converse as a sales representative and at that time, every pair of Chuck Taylors, One Stars and Jack Purcells were made in Lumberton, NC. During a sales meeting we made a visit to the factory and meeting the factory workers made a lasting impression on me. I quickly realized the importance of domestic manufacturing and how it built the middle class in this country. The ripple affect of off-shoring and factory closures is immense.


Why did you make it a point to manufacture your line in the USA, when it would be so easy to manufacture overseas?

It’s very important to us (and our customers worldwide) that our jeans are made in the USA and even more important that they’re made in San Francisco since it is the home of blue jeans, thanks to Levi Strauss that made and sold jeans to gold miners and John Sutter and John Marshall that discovered gold in northern California and thereby started the Gold Rush. Needless to say, American and particularly California history would be quite different had the Gold Rush not occurred. Certainly a city built on crazy hills (San Francisco) could not have happened without the wealth and audacity this extreme wealth created.


Are there any aspects of your product that has been difficult to source or produce in the USA? What would make that process easier?

It’s not that it is difficult to domestically source the components of our jeans (the denim, the pocketing, the thread, the buttons and rivets etc) it is that it is expensive — and high quality. That’s what it’s really about — yes, making a product in the USA is expensive, but in most cases, you get what you pay for with regard to durability and we always look at the cost per wear of things we buy. If something costs five times more than a cheap import, but lasts ten times longer (and is better all along the way), what is the better value? I’ve said it before, but most American consumers have placed a higher value on quantity over quality and price ever provenance. We believe it matters where items we buy are made and where the components of items come from.


The denim industry is full of history and iconic brands. How is Tellason carving out a spot in that industry, and how has the reception been to this point?

We are very focused. What makes us different than most brands is that we do not play in the fashion game — meaning we do produce seasonal collections that by their very nature are obsolete in 90 days. We make classic pants, shirts and jackets that ostensibly can be worn year around and when we get low on stock, we make more. Periodically, either based on personal inspiration or retailer/consumer comments, we will develop a new jeans fit or jacket and then it becomes part of our assortment. If sells well, we’ll keep on making it and if it sells slowly, we will let it run it’s course and move on.


Tellason works with the legendary Cone Mills’ White Oak plant. How much respect do have for, and what can be learned from, an establishment like Cone Mills that has found a way to remain relevant and coveted for over a century?

Our level of respect for Cone’s White Oak facility is tremendous. They have been making denim there since 1905 and have been a partner of Levi’s for over 100 years. We and our customers benefit from this long-term relationship.  Levi Strauss has worked with Cone closely to raise the bar of quality over the years and it’s not like they say “hey, we’re making Tellason’s denim now, let’s slack off”. The White Oak plant has this legendary reputation amongst “denim heads” worldwide and yet if you don’t support it by buying denim made there, it isn’t going to survive on reputation alone. In the 1990s it had 2000 employees, it now has 400. We’re doing our part by working with them to create our three exclusive denims – 12.5 oz, 14.75 oz and 16.5 oz.


What does the community and history of San Francisco bring to Tellason.

It’s huge.  As I’ve said, we’ve had customers, particularly in Japan, tell us they love the fact our jeans are made in the “ancestral” home of blue jeans. The history of the Gold Rush and how it impacted the USA and the world and built San Francisco is very fascinating. Blue jeans are part of that story.


Why is it so important for Tellason to market the fact that they are ‘American Made?’ What does that mean to you?

Made in America is obviously very important to us. I think many Americans have lost sight of the implications of buying crap often versus quality durable goods infrequently. Certainly, quality costs more, but I always come back to the cost per wear analysis. I also care about the people in these various locales that make our jeans (San Francisco), make our denim (North Carolina) and our pocketing (Tennessee) — they’ve become friends. After I left Converse in the mid-90s, Nike bought the brand and soon thereafter shuttered the North Carolina factory, moved all of the production to Asia and raised the prices! I often wonder what the woman I met at the factory that put the eyelets on the arch of the Chuck Taylors as they passed by her workstation did after she lost her job due to the closure. She was a really nice lady and had done the same job for 26 years! It’s not like she could go out and get another similar job. The factory closure affected more than just her individually, the newspaper headline “1500 people lose their jobs as Converse closes plant” doesn’t tell the whole story. The impact is felt by her family. By her community. By the local company that made the eyelets that she attached to the Chuck Taylors for 26 years. And that supplier’s families and their community and so on.


What does the ‘American-Made’ message send to the consumer and do you see it influencing their decision when making a purchase?

I see the American-Made message, in its own way, becoming a nice movement in the industry — particularly on the menswear side. Some say it’s a trend, but in my opinion, it’s a movement because once you buy a great pair of Red Wings or Alden boots, its not like you go “backwards” and buy lower quality boots the next time. You’ve been rewarded with great performance, comfort and the knowledge that you’re supporting American workers.  It’s always struck me as odd that “Made in America”, until recently and still in many ways, has meant more to Japanese consumers than Americans! Our friend and the maestro of the great blog “A Continuous Lean”, Michael Williams, has one of my favorite quotes regarding Made in America and really crystallizes everything in one statement — “I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t make anything”. Brilliant.


How do you get that message across to the consumer?

We’ve said from day one that we will let our product and our distribution be our marketing. Savvy consumers know that anyone with the required amount of money can buy an advertisement, but that only great products can be found on the shelves of the worlds’s best shops. That said, we do as much as we can to communicate with the end-user as much as possible be that via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. We also participate in “pop up events” a couple of times per year, including the grand daddy of them all, the Pop Up Flea in New York City (November 30 – December 2, 2012) which gives us an opportunity to not only meet other small, USA producers of products, but also engage directly with the consumer, that in a sea of choices, picks your product or least is curious about it. They deserve our utmost respect and we really enjoy telling our story to them.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like  Tellason to succeed, what would it be?

The greatest threat is that people will continue to buy cheap products produced elsewhere and not understand (or care about) the importance of supporting stores, denim factory workers, shoemakers and other local industries that actually put people to work in their communities. People should buy less, but buy better. Better costs more upfront, but over the life of the item, it costs less and is better! The advantages are myriad. Obviously the above mentioned worker/industrial implications are of utmost importance, but for us, the proximity to where our products are made is paramount. I’m in the factory four days a week. I can’t imagine designing something, approving a prototype, sending the production order to China and then not seeing it again for five months after it makes a three week boat trip from Asia. We care too much about our products, the people who make them and the suppliers of our components to play that game.


Thank you so much, Tony! Such a great vision and perspective. Really appreciate your time.


The above video is from Tribute | SF ‘s vimeo stream.


Today’s product review is on Field Notes. If you ever find yourself in need of a pocket sized memo-book, look no further. Co-produced by Coudal and Draplin, these are well designed and useful for any human, young or old, tall or small.

Field Notes are made with quality materials, printed in the USA, and have an assortment of colors/themes that sets the mood for every occasion; and if there isn’t an occasion make one up and buy them anyways. So far I’ve ‘tested’ the State Fair series, National Crop series, the recent baseball series and several standard issue kraft brown gems.

Memo-book comes in the options of Plain, Ruled or Grid, white paper, and all have a sturdy card stock cover. The interior 48 pages are thick enough to write in pen, without it bleeding through and the grid lines are visible but not overbearing. The insides of the covers are full of general knowledge as it relates to each theme. Put it this way, if your friend calls you as a lifeline on the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and asks you the state bird of Idaho, you’ll be glad that you own the entire collection of Field Notes. Lifesavers.

If you’re a super scribe, you can sign up for a subscription to keep the goods coming in the mail, or just check in as needed. They have you covered for your writing utensils as well, so no excuses.

A pocket sized book that packs a lot of info and memories; and best of all, made in the USA.

Be sure to stop by to watch some of their Films. Lots of great background info and rants on the inspiration for the Field Notes concept.

Today we are talking with James Murray, Executive Director of Product Development and Design at Simon Pearce. Simon Pearce is an American glass and pottery company from the state of Vermont.


Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourself/your role and the history of Simon Pearce?

My background is building products with glassmakers and ceramic companies, many of them in Europe. I worked with factories throughout Italy, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic & Slovakia where the same traditions in craft are upheld by family owned businesses. With 11 years at Macy’s/Federated, and 5 years with Bed, Bath & Beyond, working in tabletop, and a variety of home categories, I witnessed the decline of business with these European factories and just over 2 years ago, looked into how I could dedicate design efforts to promoting manufacturing in America. I was familiar with Simon Pearce, (as my wife is from Vermont) and contacted them and they were interested. I was hired 2 years ago.


Simon Pearce is more than just a product line. There seems to be a real sense of craft and pride not only with the products, but the industry in which you make your goods. Tell us about the glass and pottery industry and how the outlook and attitude has changed over the last 30 years since Simon Pearce began.

Looking back, 40+ years ago, Simon’s heritage comes from an emerging contingent that wanted to pursue the handmade in England, there was a feeling of disappointment with what mass-production was putting on the market. It seemed to lack the human touch that products you live with everyday should have. Simon admired glasses from a time when they were handmade and went to learn about glassmaking. Simon’s father was a potter, and Simon’s brother Stephen does pottery currently in Ireland. The premise that got Simon started in the business, is what continues today: we are an antidote to mass-production and mass-consumerism.


Would that sense of community that Simon Pearce and the industry has be possible if the products were outsourced and just warehoused in the states?

There is a sense of community in Vermont, where the population is so small, people seek each other, and join forces to share ideas, and form an ecology of commerce – especially in the handmade sector. We have relationships with many other folks making things and feature some of them in our own retail stores and on our website.


How crucial and influential has Vermont been to Simon Pearce, and vice-versa?

Vermont is a very unique state, it’s very picturesque wherever you go. You can’t help paying attention to your surroundings in this state and the elements, the mountains, streams, woods all have an impact on you creatively.


A company like Simon Pearce stakes so much of its brand equity on quality and craftsmanship. What have you found to be the greatest attribute of Simon Pearce’s goods?

If you distill our products; there is a underlying high quality of sand we use for raw material that comes from Sweden; also as we build our products we typically use a liberal amount of material; we don’t skimp and we make sure everything is at its full potential. We don’t shrink designs to cut cost. In the glass there is a hallmark characteristic of action or life – it’s not dead, or machined looking. These are some of our best attributes that you won’t find in others.


What benefits do you find having manufacturing domestically as opposed to thousands of miles away overseas?

We like building things in America; there is something great about being able to walk a few steps to our facility and talk with the potter making hand thrown prototypes, or glassblower experimenting with the best technique to create a form, rather than sending the designs overseas, and waiting a few months for the ideas to be realized. I used to have to fly to Europe or Asia to sit down with a production engineer, now I go have coffee with Jan, our production engineer, anytime. The ingenuity we employ, creating and using the proper tools to make our products is also an advantage to us. We receive immediate feedback by manufacturing here and that allows us to keep finding new efficiencies, as we develop new designs.


Is there a sense of pride having skilled craftsmen produce and manufacture your pieces instead of outsourcing that work to unknown workers?

We do take pride in the work we do, and apply the same tenacity and rigor to every endevour and function in the company.


Is there any step of the process that has proven to be more difficult than others when staying “American Made?”

Creating stemware, is the one category that is under increasing pressure. A significant amount of handwork goes into the product, that makes each piece have a high cost compared to what the customer might find out in the market. But, if the customer witnesses the skill and virtuosity that goes into each piece they will understand the price. As a result we are using more video to expose our process to those who can’t visit our locations in Vermont or Maryland.

How important is the Made in America process to your brand image? Do you market your products as Made in USA?

We use ‘Handmade in America’ on our products, but also build a story in our collateral that is about transparency of process. We want our customer to be engaged in the skills our artisans have, and how we transform the raw materials into something remarkable. For this reason all of our manufacturing facilities are open to the public. This allows a deeper connection between the maker and the end-user.


Do you feel your fulfilling some sense of duty by finding ways to produce your goods in the USA, since the vast majority of the glass & pottery industry has been outsourced over the last couple decades?

Producing in the USA actually is a point of differentiation. I think customers make choices about where to buy what they want. They can choose us, and feel great about it, because they know we are made here in the USA, where they can trust a high level of quality and craftsmanship.


Cheaply made foreign products has saturated the market and forced American companies to manufacture their goods overseas to compete. How does your product respond to those threats?

We have an awareness of the competitive landscape and benchmark our products against what is out there. We visit trade shows regularly and take into account how our competitors are being presented in the market. Even with that, we try to stay within the realm of possibility and develop distinctive designs that we know can’t be found everywhere. Our point of view, and the character we put into our products comes from the unique company culture that Simon has created. Additionally, we need to continue to develop the relationship with customers that appreciate what we stand for, and ‘why’ we do what we do.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Simon Pearce to succeed, what would it be?

By making products here in the USA, we can ensure everyday that we are holding the product and to highest standards, and build proprietary designs, that are done in concert with production. By having a tightly knit group working cross-functionally on new products, we believe this is a sustainable advantage.

A threat for us is seeing designs like ours being made overseas at a fraction of the cost.


Thank you James and all the workers and craftsmen at Simon Pearce!

Today’s interview is with Dave Schiff, partner & chief creative officer of Made Movement, a two part initiative for promoting American-made.


Can you give 50 built readers some background on yourselves and the events that lead up to starting made?

Scott, john and i were all running large departments at crispin porter and bogusky. Scott was director of digital, john was director of design, and i was executive creative director. Scott was one of the guys who invented nike plus. John helped turn around dominos. I launched coke zero. We loved our jobs and we were generously compensated, but something was missing. We needed a mission.


What was the catalyst for starting made?

The catalyst was actually a single statistic: if americans buy just 1 percent more stuff made in america, it will create 200,000 jobs. For three guys who’ve spent their entire careers convincing people to buy things, this was irresistible.


What’s an overview of Made as a company, employees, facilities etc?

We are two companies in one. The first ever advertising agency that only works on brands making products in the usa, and the first ever flash sale site that only sells us-made goods.  6 months ago we were 3 people in a coffee shop with a power strip so we could all sit at the same table with our computers. Today we are 26 people in a small office on pearl street. We’ve almost outgrown our first official headquarters, but we’re moving into a bigger space this spring.


What kind of impact are you hoping to make with made?

We know we aren’t going to save america. But if we could contribute somehow, and create even a few american jobs along the way, we’d be extremely happy with that. We’ve even had conversations with clients about performance bonuses based on new hires. It’s what means the most to us, and the most unequivocal sign that we’ve actually helped a brand.


What has the reception been thus far to your agency and the collection?

The reception has been amazing, and we are truly humbled. Clients want us to work on their business, brands want us to stock their products, and maybe the best sign that we’re doing something right is that people want to work here, badly. We have people who left higher paying jobs and offers, and now they’re sharing cars and sleeping on each other’s couches, just because they wanted to work here. They held hands, just as john scott and i did, and jumped off a financial cliff. We don’t take that lightly, and as we succeed, we want them all to share in that success.


What kind of relationships have you formed with the american made companies you feature and represent?

The relationship between ourselves and our clients and vendors is less business to business, and more like a bunch of co-conspirators. There is shared philosophical dna, shared passion, and shared urgency.  That stuff knocks down the usual walls or layers or filters, and you end up getting stuff done. None of us are in this for a hobby. We all have something riding on it, and if you live in america, you’ve got something riding on it, too.


How does a company go about working with made? What is your criteria for choosing companies you feature in the made collection?

They can contact us through our site and we always respond. Our criteria is, is america better off for the fact that the product or brand exists?  Does it create jobs? Does it represent the highest quality? Would we ourselves want to own it?


Do they have to be 100% made in usa?

At the very least, it has to be assembled here.  Of course it’s better when all the source material is made in the usa, too, but the point is not to exclude as many brands as possible, it’s to include as many as possible.  If you’re doing anything in america, we’re interested.  Because maybe one day, you’ll do even more.


One questions 50 built asks all of its interviewees, is whether or not they market themselves as being american made. Being in the marketing business, and starting an american made focused agency, it’s obvious you hold that message to be valuable. Why at this point in our culture does made find it so beneficial to be loud about the fact that one’s goods are made in the usa?

Because made in america means way more than it used to.  It used to mean, pay more for something that sucks because it’s the right thing to do. That’s a pretty horrible proposition. Today, it’s something entirely different: get the best product in the world, and in doing so, generate jobs, support fair labor practices, ensure epa regulations are followed, and minimize carbon footprint.


What does that message send to the consumer and does it influence their decision when making a purchase?

It is beginning to influence their decision more and more, because it’s personal for most of them now.  Organic succeeded because it’s personal. No one wants to poison themselves, so people from all walks of life began paying more attention to what they eat. The economy is the same way. Everyone’s house is worth less. Everyone knows someone out of work. So when they have a choice between a us-made product and one from overseas, they’re starting to buy the domestic one. Because they realize it can start to make a difference in their own quaity of life.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in america, and allowing companies like the ones made represents to succeed, what would it be?

Consumers have mind-boggling power. They create change at speeds that government and more traditional types of reform can’t touch. So the biggest single factor in the success or failure of the movement will be consumers out there, asking for us-made products.  Checking out labels, asking retailers what’s made here, and demanding things like a us-made smartphone, or tv. If enough people do this, things will change very, very fast. In fact they already are.


Perfect, thank you so much Dave and the rest of the Made crew, it’s great to have your perspective and experiences on 50 BUILT!


Here’s a video that gives the rundown on the Made Collection.


Today’s interview is with Dave Schiff, partner & chief creative officer of Made Movement, a two part initiative for promoting American-made.
Today’s interview is with Tim Andis, founder and CEO of Liberty Bottleworks based in Yakima, Washington. Liberty Bottles are the only metal bottles made in the USA.


Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourself and the events that lead up to starting Liberty Bottleworks?

The catalyst for starting Liberty Bottleworks was REI. I had been selling another brand of water bottles to REI and they asked me to find a domestic supplier. They were tired of foreign suppliers who couldn’t fulfill reorders based on trends in the current season and the excessive freight costs and delays from overseas shipments. I thought, okay, I’ll go find one, but to my surprise nothing existed. Long story short and a lot of hard work later, I decided to build a factory in the US to help customers like REI have a domestic supplier who was flexible and cared about their business while keeping costs down and supply lines quick and responsive.

Liberty Bottleworks is located in WA state in the Yakima Valley, mostly known for agriculture; apples, wine, hops and such. However, it’s a great place for light industrial manufacturing. Good technical schools, small flexible business friendly local government, reasonably priced facilities and a great community of people. We have 32 full time employees ranging from chemists to graphic designers to machinists and programmers. About a ¼ of our staff have served or are currently reservists in the US Armed Forces. I wouldn’t recommend breaking into our building. We have a state of the art zero waste manufacturing facility. It’s 35,000 sq ft and we don’t produce solid waste, air waste or water waste, all by design. We use recycled aluminum for our bottles and everything we use is recyclable. It’s a great place to work. I tell the folks when they start “Take your job seriously, but not yourself.” We spend a lot of time together and it feels more like an extended family. Everything has a name from the shipping tables, “mama bear, papa bear and baby bear” to the staff, I’m the head bottle washer. Main idea is: work hard, take care of each other and have fun. Even though we make the best water bottle in the world, it’s not about the water bottle, it’s about being American Made and providing jobs for our community.


Liberty Bottleworks is the only metal water bottle company made in the USA, and you use state of the art processes and machinery that are only available in your factory. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes the process of manufacturing a Liberty Bottle special?

Every machine in our facility was made in the USA. We figure there were a couple hundred folks working for six months in different small businesses across the country making and delivering our machinery while we built the factory. That’s what we call the ripple effect. Spending our money in ways that makes a difference with our neighbors and towns across America. We also source all of our materials domestically. Our recycled aluminum for the bottles comes from a vertically integrated mill in Wisconsin. Our locking ring is cast from recycled aluminum in Colorado. What’s really fun is our machinery technology. Our body maker is the same machine that makes hellfire missiles and self-destructive naval sonar buoys. Our bottles are seriously tough and precision made. However, what people notice the most is our graphics. We decided to go to the bleeding edge of technology and use a patented digital process for decorating our bottles. It allows us to print without a seam on the bottles in super high resolution and the graphics have texture. We can print ink so you can feel the laces on a baseball or the bark of a tree; even braille so that the blind can read a message on our bottles. The art department has a lot of fun being creative!


Having everything from the recycled aluminum, the bottle tops, to the machinery that makes the bottles, all made in the USA, shows Liberty’s commitment to ‘Made in America.’ Why is that commitment so important to Liberty Bottles as a company?

Being “Made in America” is fundamental to our company. I named it Liberty and created the logo in a 50’s automobile font to remind people of our rich American heritage of manufacturing products in the US that are not only designed with craftsmanship in mind, but that can make our grandparents proud. My grandfather worked with his hands and was a welder by trade. He built homes and worked the land. He earned every buck in his pocket and kept every promise he made. That’s who built this great country and that’s who we aspire to be like. I tell people all the time, “it’s not about the silly water bottle, it’s about what it represents.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best water bottle ever made, but even so, it’s not about the water bottle.


How much of the brand identity is derived from that ‘American Made’ message? Has that changed over the years?

Keep in mind, we only built the factory in 2010 and have been delivering bottles for only about 20 months now. In that time, we’ve delivered about a quarter million bottles into the marketplace and folks seem to love turning that bottle over and seeing “made in the USA”. We’ve learned a lot and we’ve made mistakes, but like my grandfather, we make it right and we take care of people. I don’t know how many plastic bottles we’ve helped avoid going into the landfill and I’m not certain how many folks have benefited from our blem bottles being donated to well programs and disaster relief. What I do know is we are committed to making a difference in our community and in the world and we’re just starting to see the impact.


Would Liberty Bottleworks be able to manufacture their bottles and still remain who they are as a company if that manufacturing was taking place overseas?

We wouldn’t be Liberty Bottleworks if we weren’t made in the US. It’s fundamental to our flexibility, customer service, quick response time, custom art and quality. We’re using technology that was designed and developed here in America with employees who care deeply about producing the best water bottle possible in a zero waste sustainable manufacturing facility. The coolest thing is inviting people to see how our bottles are made. They can walk right in and see our facility and watch the bottles being produced. Complete transparency with our customers and you can’t do that with your factory overseas.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Liberty Bottleworks to succeed, what would it be?

Don’t accept the status quo. People told me it would take 2 years to build my factory. I didn’t know any better, so I built it in six months. Sure, I did my homework and it was the toughest thing I’d ever done, but I did it. I also surrounded myself with a bunch of people who are smarter than me and I got lots of help. Just because nobody’s done it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We’ve proven that time and time again. What’s been great is how supportive our community is. They want us to succeed and other local businesses have helped us as well. We’ve become a real source of pride for our valley and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. To know that your community loves you and supports you is truly amazing and deeply satisfying.


Awesome, thank you so much, Tim!


Trying to find your dog a toy that’s made in the USA isn’t easy, but there are options. Kong doesn’t make all of their toys in the USA, but one that is, is their Classic toy.

For the last 30 years the classic Kong has been among the first toys purchased for a new dog or puppy. It’s offered in 6 different sizes and densities. With a size and softness for every dog, it makes the perfect entertainment toy, chew toy and you can stuff it with treats to keep your pup busy for hours.

We have two Kongs for our dog that have last over 1.5 years so far, without major signs of wear. She tore through her puppy Kongs once her adult teeth came in, but it was obviously time to to upgrade to the harder rubber anyways. It’s her go to toy to play fetch or tug, and it was our favorite to keep her occupied as a puppy.

The pet toy and food market is overwhelmingly made in China, so it’s refreshing to find products like the Kong Classic toy that are still made in the USA. It seems like rubber toys and chew toys have the highest chance of being made domestically. Any type of stuffed animal or textile base toy seems to have been relegated overseas.

(Also pictured above is a Made In USA Nylabone and Made in USA Doctors Foster & Smith large dog bed)

From Kong’s site: “Our founder, Joe Markham, loved his retired police dog, Fritz, but did not love his destructive chewing habits. Where other dogs might have chewed your shoes or favorite purse, Fritz loved to crunch on rocks, sticks and other harmful items. Fritz’s teeth were wearing down and his need for stimulation and play was not being met, and Joe was frustrated.

One day, while working on a VW Bus, Joe began throwing out car parts to Fritz to lure him away from those rocks. Fritz was immediately taken with a rubber suspension part and dropped it in Joe’s lap to play. The erratic bounce and toughness of the rubber inspired Joe.

We’ve been making KONGs from our own proprietary, pet-safe, built-to-chew rubber ever since. Dogs love KONG. The way it bounces keeps them engaged and ready to play. It has a soft mouth feel for a satisfying chew and, of course, it’s super durable. Owners love KONG too; they can stuff it, throw it, leave it out in the yard — KONG keeps coming back for more.”

Today’s interview is with one of the founders from We Are Runts (WAAR), Michael Quinones. Michael and Matt Davis started WAAR as a mission to bring Made in the USA to market with influences pulled from the surf, skate and motorcycle culture. They have dedicated themselves to bringing an affordable, 100% USA made, product to the consumer.


Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and how WAAR came to be?

Matt Davis & I both have worked in the action sports and contemporary apparel market for about a decade now. All the brands that we have been apart of were developed and manufactured overseas with the intent on being more or less volume driven. We saw the issues of developing and producing overseas as startup companies. The constant ‘bait and switch’ that would happen with production, poor quality, and generally zero accountability for the issues at hand (granted, larger brands probably have no issues with overseas manufacturing and development). WAAR came to be after a pretty rocky year with two other brands we had been apart of having some differences in direction and distribution. We eventually were able to look into the business’ we were employed by and didn’t agree with the practices in play. We were the guys beating our heads against the wall working 80 hours, but with no ownership, the “Runts” of the brand so to say. We decided at that point to rely on each other, rather than work for others and set out with WAAR. We choose to take a route less traveled, something that neither him nor I had much experience with; a 100% Made In the USA brand with strong branding and solid aesthetics. We were aware of some domestically manufactured collections that used US labor, but we really wanted to try and do 100% of everything here, from rivets and collar fusing to fabrics and of course labor, but at a price that is more competitive than other domestic competitors. To retail a US Made collection at high retail prices would of been a bit easier (still with tons of obstacles and hardships), but we are really really trying to keep cost as low as possible to have a brand that the consumer could be stoked on wearing while supporting our US economy.


Can you give an idea how you went about sourcing vendors and materials in the USA?

We’ve spent a TON of time on the internet sourcing fabrics. That has been by far the largest obstacle to overcome. There are a ton of jobbers out there that store overseas fabric, but we are looking for US milled goods. We have for sure had to be creative and diligent in our sourcing, and really relying on wash and dye treatments. Fabric is very expensive to mill here and do custom weaves, so we have relied on revolving goods that are always available and have been smart with design and washes to make them relevant. It was a a challenge at first to shift gears and design this way, but now it has become quite efficient. We are working with a few manufacturing agencies and have developed great relationships with them.


What has been WAAR’s initial experience with dealing with American Factories? How has it differed from past foreign factory experiences?

It’s been amazing to go to our contractors at every step and sit with them to trouble shoot. I think there is new life being breathed into these guys and they can feel an upswing in their business. They are all very willing to help, hustle, and work to bring quality in manufacturing back to the states. You can tell that they want to help and see you succeed, because that interim means that they do. With working overseas, there was never that feeling. You, as a start up, were always disposable to a trading company or factory. If they messed up on production and you didn’t want to accept it cause they made a mistake, 9 times out of 10 they would tell you to ‘f’ yourself, which ultimately could put you BK. You always had to make the choice to ship poor product for the sake of not eating the loss, or not shipping and losing that vendor. If you rejected that product and continued to work with that vendor, suddenly pricing was extremely expensive the next development season. Like I have been saying, no accountability, and even worse no way to enforce accountability. It is great to be able to work as a team with these US contractors. We really feel like we are in this together. They want to troubleshoot, they want to produce, and all they know is quality.


How has this process been for WAAR emotionally?

For Matt and I, we are proud. I like telling people that we are 100% Made In America and I can’t wait for them to see the quality, and hopefully the price.


How important is the Made in America process to your brand image? Do you like to wear that fact on your sleeve?

Made in America is our brand image. 20 years ago, brands existed to unite the consumer around ‘skate’ or ‘surf’. That is no longer enough. There are already a lot of brands that exist and do skate/surf beautifully. I think that consumer becomes a little jaded when the new introduction of a brand like that comes to market. We want to unite the consumer around buying US Made product. We want to treat US Made as that same rebellious ideal that skate and surf was 20 years ago to the consumer. I think it will be accepted very well, we just really need to focus on our pricing.


How much of your product line is Made in the USA?

Our product line is 100% Made in America. We don’t manufacturer or use anything that isn’t from the US.
Are there products that you would like to offer, but cannot due to lack of manufacturing in the USA?
There are some synthetic fabrics that we would like to use that would make tech items easier to develop, but those fabrics are far and few.


If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like WAAR to succeed, what would it be?

The greatest threat is the extinction of the fabric mills in this country. For example, Woolrich Mills is the only fabric mill we have found that manufactures yarn dyed plaid flannels. They are very expensive per yard, but the only guys in the game. If they close up shop, then we have no more yard dyed plaid flannel. These mills closing their doors is ultimately what would really hurt us. Labor for sewing and dying is readily available, and actually very competitive.

The best part of keeping things made in the US is how far that dollar spent on the product actually goes. When you buy something that is 100% Made in the US all of that money spent is going directly back into our economy. It is paying the wages for sewers, cutters, pattern makers, etc that in turn is that money to go to the grocery store and pay their taxes. It stays here. When you buy overseas product the money is gone. Below is a great article I read that really made me understand the importance of what we are doing:

“If you take that $250 and use it to buy uniforms from Mexico or China, there is no return to the treasury for that purchase. If you take the $250 and buy uniforms made in Ohio or North Carolina out of U.S. components — when you take into account wages and income taxes paid by the workers, profit made, and the corporate income tax paid by the U.S. companies involved — conservatively, there is a $43.63 return (in the form of taxes) on the $250 purchase. If it’s a Chinese-made uniform, we get nothing; the money goes offshore and there’s no return to the U.S. economy or treasury.”

Also, the benefit to the overall U.S. economy “due to workers being gainfully employed” must be considered, said Tantillo. “They aren’t depending on, or leaning on, the federal social safety net. They aren’t recipients of welfare, unemployment benefits or trade adjustment assistance. Instead they’re paying taxes, paying mortgages, paying for health care. There is an enormous, positive ripple effect through the buy America provisions. It’s so dramatic it isn’t even a close call.”


Not to get to economics guy on you, but you can see that benefit. We don’t expect to have every brand throw their arms up and make product domestically. We understand that price slashing product helps families with greater needs put clothes on their back, and it most definitely has a relevance. It’s that the scale has shifted so terribly to overseas that our economy is suffering because of it on an apparel level, and many other manufacturing levels at that. Imagine the upswing if just one of the brand giants brought 25% of their apparel manufacturing back to the US. It would be nuts.


Thanks to Mike and Matt, we have some more great insight and inspiring words. Go take a look at WAAR.


Vapur is a water ‘anti-bottle’ company located in Westlake Village, California. They are on a mission to educate the consumer and support the movement away from bottled water. They have statistics on their website, and they donate/fundraise for Drop of Hope & the Anti-Bottle Project, all in the name of good, clean, water.

Their product is unique in that it is flexible, reusable, eco-friendly and made in the USA. These ‘anti-bottles’ are also freezable, dishwasher-safe and BPA-free. They offer three different anti-bottles: Reflex, Runaway & Element. Today we’re reviewing the .7L/ 23 oz Element. What an awesome product. It really provides a stylish and easy-to-use container for your favorite thirst quencher. The .7L Element retails for $11.99. This is truly a steal for such a functional, USA-made product.

When it’s full, the container stands on its own, no awkward tipping or any sign of being unstable. When it’s empty, it can be rolled up and tucked inside the carabineer at the top for small, compact storage, or just store it flat. When you’re drinking out of the Element, the water comes out easily. The top is awesome for easy drinkability or pouring. The carabineer also makes it easy for the ‘anti-bottle’ to hang off your backpack, or bag for easy access.

The possibilities are endless for the uses of this product. Hiking, school, backpacking, walking the dog, water at work, errand running… you name it! Nice work Vapur!


This week’s wallpaper highlights an overall picture of manufacturing in the USA and the positive factors our American workers can offer. Available in 4 different sizes for your computer or iphone. Free to download.

Also available as a poster for purchase in the shop.