Flint and Tinder: A Case Study in American-Made Underwear
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New York City's Flint and Tinder has brought meaning back to "made in the USA" in a technical menswear category: premium undergarments.
"Underwear hasn't been made in high volume in this country for the better part of my lifetime," says founder and CEO Jake Bronstein. In April 2012 he launched a Kickstarter campaign that became the platform's best-funded fashion initiative, with more than 5,500 backers pledging nearly $300,000 (on an initial goal of just $30,000). Since then, growth has been "astronomical"--more than $2 million in revenue within a year of operation. (This includes another successful Kickstarter campaign to produce the company's "10-Year Hoodie," which comes with a decade of free mending.) Even more noteworthy: Bronstein wants to take manufacturing in-house. "We're in the process of building our own factories, building our own supply chain from the ground up," he says. "The first factory should come online in the winter, and that'll be the start of it."
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How does one build up an American-made brand? According to Bronstein, there are three key steps.
Pick the right product and principles. Bronstein didn't have a background in apparel, but he recognized an overlooked category and an opportunity to revitalize the cut-and-sew industry. Launching a Kickstarter campaign that focused on this message helped him tap into the made-in-the-USA zeitgeist and find thousands of customers.
Do good business. "Made in America is a selling point only if everything else is completely even," Bronstein says. Any investor eventually will want to take manufacturing to Asia to make twice as much money--unless the company can figure out how to provide better returns stateside. For instance, Flint and Tinder is experimenting with "just in time" inventory and on-demand manufacturing, dying whites into different colors as orders come in so there is 10 times less inventory to carry. Customers should also perceive the added value: The 10-year guarantee on sweatshirts works because they can easily ship product back to a domestic factory.
Blaze a trail. Bronstein asserts that building his own factories is the only way to succeed in making a real difference. "It really has to come from outside tradition," he says. "The big players can't move in the other direction of making their own factories because they would just cut their margins to nothing." In other words, as usual, it's up to startups to make things happen.