When Bayard Winthrop founded American Giant, which makes perhaps the best sweatshirt we have laid eyes and hands on, he had a very specific mission.
As the former CEO of Chrome bags and with a handful of other start-ups under his belt, ranging from real estate to high-tech, he knew how to drive down cost, outsource production and maximize return. And, in starting a made in the USA clothing line built around classic everyday staples, he chose to ignore all of that profit maximizing experience. Really, no kidding.
For someone genuinely fascinated by how companies operate, mission and vision philosophies, economic strategy, marketing and brand development, and the business of style (as is yours truly), Bayard is a great interview.
Perhaps his philosophy was best summed up when he pointed out that he had no interest in making a $300 pair of American jeans for a heritage brand-focused customer. It didn’t excite him. But, making the best possible crew neck sweatshirt and retail it for $59, now that was a challenge!
He and his team, based out of San Fransisco, are fixated on “the best.” The best fit, the best design, the best materials, and the best construction. They have recreated the sweatshirt of James Dean and Steve McQueen – the one that you stole from your big brother back in 1975 and never gave back.
More than just the product, obviously important in any retail endeavor, they also want to create the best customer service experience. From ordering to packaging, Bayard wants you to love American Giant. As an internet-based retailer, that’s vital. Have they achieved this rather lofty goal? We think so.
Remember the old-fashioned, heavy duty sweats that seemed to last forever? The well-made sweatshirt that felt sturdy and tough but also soft and comfortable? They nailed it. The good news is that they plan to roll out some other product soon. Next in line; t-shirts.
The American Giant team sent along a hoodie and button cardigan (who knew that was so cool?) for our review and not only are they now default loafing-about wear, they are a sort of inspiration. The design and construction are both excellent and well thought-out. Trim, yes. But faux-retro “heritage fit” – often code for “skinny teen fit” – no. American Giant sweats are meant to be on the lightly fitted side so that you are comfortable, but not ballooning. The XL is perfect for an average sized 5’10” editor-in-chief, and the details are many. A pieced design that allows for movement and flexibility, just enough body length to stay in place when reaching or stretching, thick ribbing at the waist and sleeves, and rock solid construction to age well.
They have not simply fallen into the whole heritage schtick, they have honored a classic wardrobe item that in many ways is a cypher of American casual style. What did Rocky Balboa wear for his run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 72 steps? Tough, reliable, and all American grey sweats.
That is the essence of a sweatshirt – crew neck, hoodie, cardigan; put it on and get something done. Build a boat, run some errands, plan your future, or grab a beer and sit in the back yard. A good sweatshirt works with anything. Washing the car with jeans, your favorite Pink Floyd t-shirt, Vineyard Vines ball cap, and some old docksiders? Perfect. Khakis, loafers, and an ancient LL Bean hunting coat on a chilly afternoon. Looks fine.
You can also put it on, curl up in bed sick as a dog, and conduct and interview with American Giant’s CEO. Wore that thing for two days.