Today we are talking with Mark Paigen, owner and designer at Osmium, a high-quality clothing company based in Massachusetts.
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and the events that lead up to starting Osmium and the catalyst for doing so?
A few years ago, I sold Chaco, the outdoor footwear company that I had built over a 20 year period. Chaco had been a true labor of love and I wanted to take some time, chill and discover what would come next. Six months later, I sailed from Massachusetts to the Caribbean via Bermuda. I wanted to live aboard, explore the islands and enjoy some serious down time. There are a ton of islands down there, each a bit different from the last and plenty of opportunity for exploration and fun. Many months later however, I found myself craving more than another white sand beach, kiteboard session and rum punch. Island time is seductive to some, but I found myself ready to reengage my brain and wanting work that involved building something for the future.
I returned to the US and focused my attention on clothing, the kind of clothing that I wanted but could not find. Good fit, great fabrics, styling and designs that stood out in a quiet way. Garments that worked well together, were handsome and enduring, and featured a blend of urban and rustic styling. Clothes that were made here in the US and sold at reasonable prices.
Osmium took shape and launched online in April of 2012. It is an intense and humbling experience to start again from scratch. Like the first time around, my desire is to grow organically, without outside investment. We look forward to our one year anniversary and are incredibly happy for all the support we have received so far.
We are located just north of Boston in a beautiful, historic building in the central square of Stoneham. We are a bootstrap operation, small and very lean with offices and inventory/shipping in the same modest space. Boston has provided a wonderful array of seasoned professionals that help us create compelling garments. We work locally with pattern makers, sample makers, graders and a small cut and sew factory to produce much of what we sell. Some items are sourced in factories in Chicago, Indiana and LA. Each of our vendors works hard to maintain their competitive position as a domestic supplier and we do our best to leverage their skills into compelling product.
We believe that Osmium must sell on direct product attributes – fit, style, quality – and that made in USA is a bonus to the consumer, not a primary reason to buy. I believe that this must be the sequence. It is incumbent on domestic manufacturers to deliver value to their consumers and the “made in the USA” cache will only go so far.
Who are the people behind the manufacturing of Osmium’s garments?
Dealing with local suppliers is the best. My previous business manufactured in the US for 18 years before succumbing to offshore production. While I have met great people in many parts of the world, I prefer to find great vendors closer to home. I have worked with factories in Mexico, Europe, China and the USA and I while the food in Italy is hard to beat, manufacturing here in the US is the way to go. I am configuring Osmium to be able to maintain domestic production forever. Developing strong relationships with (domestic) vendors builds strength in an organization and much can be learned from our suppliers. It’s great to be a stone’s throw from our primary factory and I am there often, sweating the details, trading ideas, lending support.
Many of Osmium’s components are from all over the world, “buttons from Italy, shirting from Japan, virgin Merino wool from the Andes” Do you look to the USA to source any of your materials?
I certainly have my biases when it comes to importing raw materials. I would prefer to have everything made here in the US, but so much of the needle trade’s infrastructure has moved offshore that it would be impossible to source all materials here at this time. This area of New England was once home to huge textile mills employing tens of thousands of workers; now many of the mill buildings have been transformed into condos. Fabric production has vanished from this area and until it comes back, we will get our raw materials from a variety of suppliers and countries.
There is something about Japanese shirting fabrics that really appeals to me. Many of them feel very “American” to me; and are reminiscent of heritage fabrics from the past. Certainly the striped shirting found in our Machinist, Luthier and Sawbones shirts harken back to traditional American textiles and our Jeweler shirting has an almost handspun feeling to it. It is a handmade quality that somehow comes through, even in fabrics that are obviously made on high tech looms. Perhaps that is a good model for the future – efficient production of materials with depth and character.
Why is it so important for Osmium to market the fact that they are ‘American Made?’ What does that mean to you?
First and foremost we want to highlight the look feel and fit of Osmium apparel. That is our primary message and the most compelling reason for people to purchase our clothing. Made in the USA comes a close second. We want people to know that everything we sell is made in the US but more than that we want people to think about their local economies and what it means to buy local. What are the relationships that are enhanced by purchasing goods made closer to home? How will these small (and not so small) decisions ripple through our lives, creating jobs and prosperity? What connections have we lost as we have evolved into consumers that get our blueberries from South America and our drinking water from Fiji? How do we gracefully bring these habits back around to a more local perspective? These are important questions to think about and act upon.
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 Osmium to succeed, what would it be?
I think that the greatest threat to stronger domestic production is the consumer’s “need” to buy often and cheaply. Chasing trends and buying cheap imported stuff that will wear out or get tossed for next month’s style is not sustainable or ultimately rewarding. “Look twice and spend once” makes more sense. Cultural habits don’t change overnight, but every small change builds upon itself.
Thank you so much for your time, Mark! Check out Osmium’s collection.