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Jake Bronstein wants to make the Flint and Tinder brand of men’s underwear an American icon.
A former marketing consultant who has worked in developing ideas and concepts for consumer product and beverage companies, Bronstein says he got into the men’s underwear business because he couldn’t find upscale underwear for himself that’s made in America.
In April, he partnered with Kickstarter.com, an online funding platform for creative projects, and has since raised $291,493 from 5,578 backers. In less than 30 days, the brand presold orders for 25,000 units. “That’s a huge array of sku’s for a start-up,” said Bronstein. Styles of domestically sourced Supima cotton retail for $18 a pair and include a classic brief, a trunk-length boxer-brief, a longer boxer-brief and a boxer. In addition to black and white, colors include red, navy, sky blue and green. The underwear, which will begin selling to the public next week on Flintandtinder.com, is manufactured by a family-owned company in Orwigsburg, Pa. As a bonus, for every 1,000 pairs that are sold each month, another job will be added to the assembly line.
Here, a chat with Bronstein on creating a Made in the USA start-up.
WWD: How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Jake Bronstein: I never set out to be an entrepreneur really.…I’m just a guy who likes making things and creating experiences.…I’ve never started a business to make money, it’s always been about making something I want, like Buckyballs desk toys. It just so happens that oftentimes, the stuff people love is the stuff I make for myself.…I just wanted the best men’s underwear I could find, something masculine without being overly metro. Something well made enough to do battle with my dryer and come out on top, but luxurious enough that I felt good when I put it on, like with a new suit. Something classic, yet fun and smart. It’s a very tall order, but that’s why I was looking at what’s on shelves as closely as I was when I realized 99 percent of it was coming from China, Thailand, Indonesia. So on top of all of that, I started thinking I want it made in America, too.
WWD: How did you come up with the Flint and Tinder name?
J.B.: The name came from the only meeting I had with a venture capital specialist prior to the Kickstarter launch. I’d told the guy I wanted to reignite American manufacturing through better-made products. He said the “only way to reignite American manufacturing is with a flint and tinder.” I don’t think he wanted to work with me, but the name stuck, so I consider that meeting a huge success. I crowdsourced the logo, sketched the packaging on a napkin and handed it to a designer to implement.
WWD: Is this your first venture with Kickstarter?
J.B.: It is. I think without being able to get the kind of validation that it allows — preselling product based on a vision before even committing to production — I would have been too scared to really do this. What’s happened, though, is really amazing, and exactly the opposite of a standard fashion start-up situation. Instead of raising money to develop a line, talk to retailers and find out if the interest is there, the market raised its hand in a big way and said it desperately wanted this product. Then, the financiers beyond the Kickstarter backers came and asked what it would take to make this venture succeed.
WWD: Did you do market research?
J.B.: None. I asked myself what do I want from my underwear and what do I want made in America to mean for people who’ve never thought much about it beyond a sort of rah-rah patriotism that has the potential to come and go. The answer was clear: luxuriously rugged yet refined. I wrote that and “Redefining what it means to be made in America” as my mantra on the first page of a brand new notebook and never looked back.
WWD: How complicated is it to make men’s underwear?
J.B.: Flint and Tinder interacted directly with 5,500 of our very first customers. They spoke and we listened.…We obsess over the details and try to make sure that even our trim and findings are American made. All is lost without good grading and fit and reliable superhigh-quality fabric engineering. So we’re working all angles really hard.…Because of the video, I think the American public met American garment manufacturing head-on in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. And it sold a lot of product. But with Flint and Tinder, they’re a part of the story, and you can tell. There’s a pride of ownership growing around this product and a care going into it at all levels that I think the end customer is going to be able to feel that.
WWD: Was it difficult to find an up-and-running factory in the U.S.?
J.B.: I was actually looking for factories for another idea I had when I found the factory in Pennsylvania, Fessler USA. It’s a place that makes some of the highest-quality, most-luxurious T-shirts on earth for department stores and other brands. A few years back, they made a huge investment in themselves and moved into a bigger building, 120,000 square feet. They put a giant solar array on the roof, became vertically integrated and brought in advanced cutting systems with the hope of doubling or tripling output. The plan was to scale from 300 to 600 employees. By the time I met them, with the economy the way it is, they were down to less than 100 employees.…They have the skill and the bandwidth to scale with me in a way most factories couldn’t. Because of their situation, they were in a place where they were willing to experiment.