American Giant was born out of fundamental changes in the apparel industry and society, from the decline in American manufacturing and distrust in institutions to the rise of social media and e-commerce.
Bayard Winthrop, founder and chief executive officer of American Giant, said he took these issues and created a concept and brand, and “we’ve been lucky enough to have been pretty successful the last four years.”
Winthrop said, “There was a changing consumer dynamic that, in a complicated and noisy environment, made it difficult for a brand to stand out.”
Consumers, especially the younger generation, were “increasingly rejecting the status quo,” he said, noting this included religion, government, Wall Street and the media.
“Consumers were saying that if things were going to change, they were going to be the source of that change,” Winthrop said. “There was a digital revolution that was happening, at a time that they had this incredible level of control in the palms of their hands, to be able to research brands and delve deep on what brands were saying about themselves and find information and publish what they found.”
He was struck that the brands that were seeming to do well were the ones that were “articulating what they were, what their value system was. Consumers were saying it was resonating with them [and] were voting with their dollars and support.”
They were also delivering great product, he added.
At the same time, there was a “national sense of malaise in the American spirit and pride” and the industry had almost given up on U.S. manufacturing.
“We had lost the ability to make a sweatshirt in North Carolina that was of the highest quality, that was accessible to a mainstream consumer, and that bothered me,” he said. “It made me feel that it was a business challenge that should be solvable.”’
This coincided with the emergence of e-commerce as a transactional method without as much investment in distribution and marketing required.
“I thought there was an opportunity to reorganize the economics and launch a new kind of brand,” Winthrop said. “We could do something about recapturing that American ability and American spirit.”
American Giant started with a commitment to an entirely U.S.-based supply chain of cotton-based knits sold directly to the consumer.
Officially headquartered in San Francisco, American Giant manufactures and sources its fabric and materials in the Carolinas, notably Carolina Cotton Works in Gaffney, N.C., and Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, N.C.
The company has also invested in three cut-and-sew factories in Raleigh, N.C., and the company works closely with the cotton supply chains, including farmers, ginners and yarn spinners.
“I was obsessed with the sweatshirt as an iconic American silhouette that had lost value from a brand standpoint,” he said.
The line began with two men’s sweatshirts — including one that was dubbed the “Greatest Sweatshirt” ever on social media — and has grown to include women’s an array of other products.
“We’ve been chasing demand ever since,” he added. “I’m optimistic about the future of American Giant and new and existing brands that have the courage and conviction to listen to their customers and earn their trust.”