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Made In North Carolina: The American Giant "Hoodie"

Manufacturing, Textiles, Cotton, American Giant
Leoneda Inge

Part of President Donald Trump’s appeal is his pledge to bring jobs back to America. There’s a San Francisco apparel manufacturer who has tried his luck both ways – manufacturing abroad and in the US. Today, American Giant has found success in making sure every inch of its casual line of clothing is made in America. And that means it's also made in the Carolinas.

The head of American Giant, Bayard Winthrop, loves rubbing his hands across the fabric at Carolina Cotton Works in Gaffney, South Carolina. This heavy cotton cloth for his line of hoodies and sweat pants has just been washed and dried and ready to head to the cutters and sewers.

“Maritime Blue,"said Winthrop. "See it’s a really, really dark, dark blue. Feel this, feel this.”

Winthrop has headed several business ventures. Those products were made mostly overseas in China. Today he zig-zags back and forth between North and South Carolina to make sure all of his American Giant line of clothing – from the cotton to the yarn to the dying and sewing – are made in the US. This has allowed Winthrop to have a more “hands on” approach to his apparel business, where he can pay attention to the smallest detail.

“I think we have taken maybe a different approach to new product, and that we have a pretty narrow, pretty focused line," Winthrop said.

So the company that was started in 2011, is focused on casual, cotton clothes, in solid colors, sold only online, with a lifetime guarantee.

“And so each one of the pieces that we put out into the market, it’s almost like letting go of a child," said Winthrop.

American Giant seems to have embraced the re-birth of the made in America movement at the right time.

Trevor Little is an apparel technology management expert at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles. He has seen success come from the model American Giant is using.

“American Giant is really smart because they’re looking at the whole cost and then being able to make smaller quantities and deliver it quickly to the consumer," said Little.

Still, Little said the marketplace is very competitive, because most of our apparel is made overseas.

“Amazon has now got its own line of products to compete with brands that are already on Amazon," said Little. "And so the competition, the business competition side is dynamic, is always changing, whatever that customer wants.”

And American Giant is hoping shoppers continue to have a taste for its $89 Classic Full Zip men’s hoodie.

Manufacturing, Cotton, Textiles, American Giant
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC
Many of the women at Eagle Sportswear use modern standing sewing machines while making American Giant apparel.

Meanwhile, dozens of women on sewing machines pack the Eagle Sportswear manufacturing plant in Middlesex, a small town in eastern North Carolina. They’re making American Giant hoodies and more. Manufacturing in the U.S. hasn’t only been good for American Giant, it’s been good for companies like Eagle Sportswear. 

The workforce has almost doubled since it started sewing American Giant apparel – from 98 to nearly 200 workers.

Brian Morrell is the General Manager at Eagle Sportswear. Morrell said he didn’t want to make the American Giant line at first – too much needle work. He eventually changed his mind and continues to improve on how much time it takes to make the product.

“We’ve increased efficiencies and changed some engineering and we’re down below the 43 minute area," said Morrell. "It’s still a lot of time when you’re looking at your regular hoodie that you buy at a store.”

And that’s the U.S. manufacturing dilemma – being able to make the best product in the least amount of time for an ever-changing consumer.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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