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Like many blogs, A Continuous Lean began on a whim.
This story first appeared in the April 5, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
While at home for the holidays in Cleveland, Michael Williams launched the blog four years ago out of a combination of boredom and bad weather. “Everything out there was too macho or too runway-shot focused,” said Williams. “I wanted something in between.”
He wanted to focus on old companies that were “fighting the good fight,” the kinds of companies, based in the U.S., that are making things a certain way. “I went to old brands in history and found what inspired me. What I like about men’s wear is it’s linear and it’s all based on something,” said Williams. “The trenchcoat was used in World War I in the trenches.” Williams was inspired by the old stories he discovered and decided to meet with the brands and tell their stories. “I used to work in marketing and p.r. for clothing brands,” he said, adding his experience made it easier to market the site and reach out to the right people.
A turning point for the site, Williams said, was the creation of The American List. It points to the brands that make their goods in America. His aim is to make it easier to find and buy goods made domestically. And it’s not just sweaters and suits. These are companies that sell bicycle bags, cheeseburger cookers and computer cases made from wood. “I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t know how to make anything,” he said. To date, the list has been retweeted over 630 times.
Still, only about 20 percent of the site is about style. “I don’t think people walk around all day thinking about what kind of suit they are going to buy or their closet or their shoes,” he said. “So ACL is about history and style and different types of things.” Williams has never had an editorial agenda, noting the content has grown organically based on what he thinks people are interested in. Right now, ACL has stories posted about Audemars Piguet, a piece on British Naval officer Robert Falcon Scott’s mission to the South Pole, a look at the Alfred Dunhill store in Shanghai and spring clothing from Taylor Supply.
Since the blog launched four years ago, it has been a journey of self discovery for Williams. He said that growing up in Ohio, with a father that wore sweatshirts every day, he didn’t learn much about style as a kid. “To learn the difference between a peak and notch lapel,” he said. “It’s that kind of thing that you can read more about on the site. It’s not all about service but it’s a gateway to build a foundation to be a well dressed guy. It was embarrassing to work in this industry and not have this basis of knowledge.”
He’s come a long way. Now he’s working with brands such as Steven Alan and Gant to design and sell clothing. “I wanted a very specific shirt and I would cross paths with Steven Alan almost every day one winter. At one point, we talked and said ‘We should make something.’” Williams convinced him to make a single-needle shirt with a flat pocket and it was sold on ACL. Later, he worked with Gant and their co-labeled product sold out in one hour on Williams’ site. “This has taught me so much about being a merchant,” Williams said. “It took Steven to sort of take a chance. At the time, we thought, ‘Who would buy this off a blog?’ We’ve come a long way.”