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American Giant Is Ready To Think Outside The Hoodie

Famous for its high-quality hoodies, the brand is expanding with dresses, pants, and jackets. Can it convince American consumers to buy U.S.-made gear?

American Giant Is Ready To Think Outside The Hoodie

When Bayard Winthrop launched American Giant in 2012, he wanted to do much more than create a well-made sweatshirt: He had aspirations to reinvent the apparel supply chain in the United States. Over the last five years, he’s largely accomplished his goal. The brand currently sells thousands of U.S.-made garments every week, generating tens of millions in revenue every year. But until now, American Giant has been associated with its designed-to-last-a-lifetime hoodies, which were famously described by Slate as the best in the world.

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Eva Pullano [Photo: courtesy of American Giant]
Now the brand is expanding its product line, particularly in the women’s category. Today, it launches a range of dresses made from its high-quality cotton T-shirt material, priced between $48.50 and $69, as well as a new pair of pants that costs $69. Over the last few months, it has also launched a coach’s jacket, an anorak, and women’s leggings.

These products are helping to transform American Giant from a niche purveyor of high-quality basics to a full-fledged lifestyle brand. Through its marketing campaigns, it is crafting an identity as a clothing supplier to creatives and entrepreneurs who like their fashion a little edgy. To launch these dresses, the brand did a photoshoot called “Dress Like a Badass” with women drawn from its core audience including Jenny Aborn, a tattooed surfer and skater; Ashley Holt, a baker; London Kaye, a street artist; and Eva Pullano, a dancer.

Each of these products was designed with an excruciating attention to detail. I got some insight into this process earlier this year, as it was designing a pair of pants. When American Giant considers launching a new product, it first does a market analysis, scrutinizing the most popular items currently available at other brands and looking at ways to improve them. It creates a prototype, which it sends to testers around the country who try the product for a few days, then they provide very specific feedback. (I included details like, “I wore the pants for two days, and the knees got saggy” and, “The seam in the middle shows through T-shirts.”) Then, it iterates and sends out new prototypes for feedback.

American Giant now works with six factories in North Carolina, South Carolina, California, and Pennsylvania, and it has ownership stakes in a couple of them. By having control over the supply chain–coupled with a direct-to-consumer business model–the company has been able to pay American workers fair wages, while charging fair prices. “The emphasis here is on fair,” Winthrop told me earlier this year. “We’re not competing with the $5 sweatshirts at Walmart. We’re creating a premium product and not inflating the cost.”

At Walmart, you can buy a crewneck sweater for $4.85 that is likely made in China or Bangladesh. At American Giant, a comparable design costs $69, but it is made from a custom developed heavyweight fleece that is designed to last a lifetime. While his products are not cheap, Winthrop is hoping to gently convince American consumers to think about clothing as long-term investments rather than disposable items.

Schanel Bakkouche [Photo: courtesy of American Giant]
The brand has been expanding. It has 40 full-time employees in San Francisco, including a new CMO, Beth Gumm, who previously ran marketing at Levi’s, and a new chief product officer, Robin Rice, who has spent time at Gap, Williams Sonoma, and Serena & Lily. It employs hundreds of others indirectly through its network of factories.

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To other brands making products here in the U.S. this growth is encouraging. A few months ago, I spoke with Sasha Koehn and Erik Schnakenberg, the founders of Buck Mason, a four-year-old menswear brand that makes all of its products in the Los Angeles garment district. “It shows that you can get real scale by making things in the U.S.,” Schnakenberg says. “There are lots of emerging fashion brands like ours trying to build our businesses, and it’s good to see that you can make it as an American-made brand.”

About the author

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

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