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American Giant Makes Salvaged Hoodies Sexy

The hoodie maker tackles waste in the clothing industry head on with its limited-edition Salvage collection, launching today.

If you happen to be a hoodie connoisseur, chances are you’re familiar with American Giant–the three-year-old startup that specializes in this quintessentially American garment.

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American Giant hooded sweatshirts don’t stand out for being particularly trendy; they come in a range of solid colors and simple designs. But they have garnered a fierce and loyal following, particularly in the tech community, where the hoodie is the closest thing entrepreneurs and coders have to a uniform. Farhad Manjoo, writing in Slate, once described American Giant’s version as the greatest hoodie ever made.

Part of the brand’s attraction is its commitment to maintaining high-quality standards while keeping prices reasonable. Men’s hoodies cost between $59 and $89, which puts them on par with sweatshirts from stores like J.Crew and Banana Republic. But in contrast with its competitors, American Giant guarantees that every aspect of their garments–from the cotton to the stitching–is made in the U.S. Most of its production takes place in three factories in North Carolina; it does not have any brick and mortar stores, but sells all products from its website in an effort to keep costs low.

“We’re trying to bring phenomenal quality and artisanal craftsmanship to a mass audience,” says Bayard Winthrop, American Giant’s founder and CEO. “We want to bring these clothes to consumers in St. Louis as well as in Brooklyn.”

But to keep quality high, large quantities of American Giant clothes get chucked aside because of small manufacturing defects. Garments get thrown into what is known as a “B-stock” pile when there are issues with stitching, small tears, or oil stains from sewing machines. These kinds of defects are common throughout the clothing industry. “It’s the dirty underbelly of the apparel industry,” Winthrop says. “This tends to be compounded in overseas manufacturing where there is less oversight over what is happening at the factory.”

In high-end brands, these clothes are often discarded altogether while lower-end brands simply pass these defects on to the consumer. American Giant, for its part, has been donating clothes with minor defects to charities such as the Special Olympics.

However, eight months ago, there was a growing sentiment among American Giant workers that these garments were worth saving and giving back to consumers.

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So today, the company is launching Salvage, a line of hoodies that have been plucked out of the B-stock pile then carefully repaired, washed extensively so that they are significantly softer than the classic hoodie, and finally silk-screened with “American Made” on them. Winthrop believes that the repair work and the heavy-duty washing works particularly well on the hoodie–American Giant’s bread and butter–because it is a heavy, substantial garment; the same treatment would not work with, say, a T-shirt.

The new line is currently only available in men’s sizes and in navy and phantom grey colors, but the company is hoping to introduce a women’s Salvage line soon. (The hoodies cost $89, which is the same price as the classic version, but requires considerably more work and personalization to create.)

“The customer is getting a unique garment that has a lot of hand repair work on it,” Winthrop says. “But this is also in service of driving efficiency in manufacturing and helping to liberate a lot of high-quality product.”

While this limited-edition collection is a savvy way for American Giant to make money from previously unusable stock, Winthrop is also keen to use the Salvage collection to draw attention to the waste involved in clothing manufacturing and develop innovative ways to make the process more efficient.

“The apparel industry as a whole is broken because waste has become an accepted part of the business,” Winthrop says. “This comes when brands have to drive very high product margins because they know that they are going to throw away a lot of product. This Salvage line is about intentionally having that conversation.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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