State of AmericaStory by
Justin LintagPhotographs by
Made in the U.S. of A. In the middle of the 20th century, the phrase carried such value to the garment industry. Factories for workwear and sportswear arose and America became renowned on a global level for their superior quality in manufacturing. Today in 2018, this phrase has taken on altered meanings. Competitive overseas production has accelerated, especially in the last decade. Its high efficiency, high output has afforded it near dominance over North American counterparts. And although in many aspects, a tag reading ‘Made in the USA’ still holds formidable weight for uncompromised craft and workmanship, it is not vastly incomparable to the modern advancements of the manufacturing world at large. In recent years, more than a handful of longstanding institutions in the US have had to close their doors, because of an inability to rival overseas imports and advancements from either a labor or technological standpoint.
So what does that mean for a new millennium of designers operating from within American borders? When resources become scarce, it takes another level of ingenuity to navigate the business of fashion, all the while nursing your own creative output. We enlist our stable of New York based designers to help us define what making in USA means today and how they have also embraced a new globalism. Emily Bode, Robert Childs, Peter Jurado, Al Verik, Daniel Dugoff and Eunice Lee are a select group of independents that call the United States their own, and have founded their respective clothing labels on American soil. New York alone is a sample size for the country at large and a microcosm of the broader industry.
We reached out to each of them to quench our curiosities south of the border. We dive into current philosophies, process, stateside advantages and disadvantages and the idiosyncrasies that are unique to each brand along the way.
Bode (boe - dee) by Emily Adams Bode has become a leader of the New (York) renaissance, on the strength of four noteworthy presentations of her antiquated approaches to men’s clothing. She comes with a collector's mentality, "drawn to hand work, craft and labors of love". This interest is applied to a philosophy based on treating reclaimed textiles like beautiful usable artifacts, and what I’ve come to coin as international Americana. Together with fellow partners-in-crime, furniture LLC Green River Project, Bode has begun to collaborate on interior objects and continues to craft the set designs for her seasonal shows.
Part of your process entails stockpiling tangible inspiration from antique clothing, textiles, objects. What purpose did these found items have for you before ever upstarting the brand and reinterpreting them by design? The stories told through craft and the sense of the hand, the individual maker, is what drew me to antique textiles. I enjoyed collecting them, learning about the historical techniques, and using them for inspiration before I ever used them to make clothing. I collected antique and handmade toys as a child and throughout my teens. My doll beds were circa 1800s and so were the quilts that adorned them. The idea that each piece was carefully crafted by hand with an intended purpose and passed on and loved for generations made me want to revisit that way of making things. My favorite pieces are that which came with a documented story, like a photograph or an article of the original owner. I love creating a brand that works to share similar experiences while giving many textiles a new life and use.
From your perspective, why is the hand tailoring aspect so important to the way you design and present your collections? Bode garments are one of a kind or made in very small runs, so I am able to embrace the craft of hand sewing and hand tailoring for each piece. When you are creating unique garments made from fabrics (some over 150 years old), hand work only makes sense. It complements the origins of the fabric and keeps with the tradition of how we have historically made textiles and clothing. To me, hand tailoring, sewing, and mending, is not only noticeable, but also functional and appreciated. It’s that attention to detail that makes the pieces so special. I am always shocked by the carelessness and the amount of waste that many companies have due to their design process and production…such as bad fit, or bins of wasted buttons. When you are more intentional with each design, down to the hand sewn waistband or an individual button, the end garment reflects that in itself with fit and feel. Because I am inspired by the way people shop and curate individual items in their life and wardrobe, I want to make garments that stand alone as strong pieces that draw in a particular person.
Do you feel there is ever a shortage of both tangible and intangible inspiration within New York? New York offers so much inspiration by way of picture collections, personal storytelling, and exhibitions. However, sourcing the fabrics themselves is more difficult within the city. I tend to find most of my fabrics along the east coast while traveling to escape the city and visit family or friends. When I travel elsewhere in the states I try to take a day for sourcing on any trip. I also work with dealers I have met throughout this process who know what sort of textiles I am looking for during a particular season. I love sourcing and hearing the stories of the origins of the textiles from whoever most recently came across them.
“Bode speaks to creating and strengthening a recognizable space in the menswear [...] market that appreciates the historical, intentional, and unique.”
India has been a breeding ground for you, where you are developing your own textiles. What was it about India that enticed you to expand your search there? I originally met with an older couple who moved to the states to help Indian factories become more accessible to smaller American designers. They were willing to do smaller runs of hand dyed cottons and quilting than many American factories. By working in India with their expert handwork, I can begin to expand the collection by offering limited edition capsules and not just one of a kind pieces.
How has growing up in Atlanta shaped the way you look at design, if it has? In Atlanta I was exposed to southern traditions and sensibilities within a metropolitan city. I am inspired by the ease and class of southern dressing alongside craft. My menswear silhouettes are classic and clean, but the fabrication speaks to women-centric traditions of mending, quilting, embroidery, and appliqué.
Working for bigger American fashion companies versus an independent boutique - are there certain philosophies or lessons you’ve been able to take away from each to guide your vision with Bode? From bigger fashion houses, down to the many boutique environments I have been in, I learned that the most important thing you can do as a brand is to continuously ask yourself what is the sense of it all, the essence. It is about understanding the conversation you are having with your brand and the consumer about contemporary attitudes on fashion and aesthetics. And really, what matters to you and your customer. Bode speaks to creating and strengthening a recognizable space in the menswear or overall consumer market that appreciates the historical, intentional, and unique.
Can you name one particular advantage and possible disadvantage about operating and being based in New York City? In New York you are surrounded by people who want to succeed in their profession and craft. So, you are constantly working to be your best self and create your best product. You also have access and insight to almost every industry and every culture. But New York gets overwhelming at times and really makes you contemplate on what you're willing to sacrifice for the city. Space is the main disadvantage for me right now as I am trying to grow as a brand.
The notion of utility is maybe not the initial reaction you get from the brand but it’s something that you cite as integral to it. I have always believed in making wearable garments. My fabrications can be fragile depending on the wearer and age of the textile, but they are made to be worn. I create garments as objects and pieces that someone can utilize to strengthen their own aesthetic understanding and assist in how they want to curate their lifestyle and wardrobe. I aim to offer pieces that allow customers to reflect on the way they dress and why they are drawn to certain elements seen within my clothing. Because of the way I have seen people get excited about some of my individual garments, I tend to believe it is similar to the way they fall in love with any object they collect for their home that they believe represents them.
One New York name that has emerged from the fray goes by the eponymous label Childs, founded by Robert Childs, a tenured alum of both Thom Browne and Adam Kimmel. He is appropriating classical menswear shapes to create a new vision for ways to dress the 21st century man. Robert remains driven by forward thinking textiles and pushing the envelope for what is to be considered conventional garment design today.
The idea of insularity guides your design process - could you expand on that notion? I like to start the design process just exploring from my memory. In that way it is very insular – it’s just me, my random thoughts about the past or present or future and somewhere in that I start to think of or imagine an archetype. That’s the foundation – the archetype, and it’s very personal or I guess idiosyncratic because it comes from within and it’s what that figure represents to me. From there I start sketching and developing the ideas and categories for the collection before going into further outside research.
In what ways does New York continue to attract you, is it a place that provides enough inspiration/resources for the way you design? I think there’s something attractive about any place you live. But like any place you live, it’s nice to leave sometimes, it helps to gain some perspective. But New York’s home. The energy and pace here is exactly what I like, and that, to me is inspiring.
Tailoring and textiles are at the core of Childs - when did you develop your eye for these things and was having a namesake label always a part of the plan? Growing up I always had a very visual and physical approach to learning. My mother is an artist and my father was a builder. That rubbed off on me, I think. There’s something about a process that’s tactile. Something immersive. Touching the thing you’re doing, getting your hands dirty, rather than just reading or studying. Tailoring and garment construction is like that – tactile. It’s all about the smallest details and refinement and that was always really attractive to me.
Since what I want to do with CHILDS, and what I’m attracted to, isn’t overly flashy or logo driven, the quality is really in the details and the fit. A lot of that comes down to the tailoring and fabric choices.
“There’s something quiet about CHILDS, something that should feel unassuming but also strong and sturdy and hopefully have some substance - that will be something I will continually take time to develop.”
With such a formidable tenure in New York (Thom Browne/Adam Kimmel/OC) - what have been the greatest lessons from each experience that have helped to form Childs? I think the thing about both Thom and Adam, is that they don’t compromise. There’s a clear vision with both, and it’s obviously very personal. That stuck with me. To remain true to what you want to do.
Handling production in New York enables you to remain hands-on from start to finish. By the same token, what challenges are posed by manufacturing in the USA and is it possible to develop an infrastructure that rivals overseas? I use the US less so for production, except for a few categories, and more for development. The immediacy matters – being able to work directly with and talk to pattern makers and sample makers, rather than just sending a sketch out and hoping for the best. Most of the collection after that is made in Japan and Italy. It’s a matter of quality and expertise, not really politics or anything like that, just personal preference and relationships. I’ve developed a language and trust level with the factories I work with, so I like to stick with them.
Ultimately, what part of yourself do you want to share with the world through Childs? It’s hard to say – the truth is there isn’t much separation or division – the entirety of the brand is me, and just about everything I am is the brand. There’s something quiet about CHILDS, something that should feel unassuming but also strong and sturdy and hopefully have some substance - that will be something I will continually take time to develop. I hope that gets expressed – the work, or process of building and refining something.
How does an independent label today keep a balance of present and future, as in holding people’s attention in the moment and beyond that? If what I am doing speaks to people then that's really great and I hope I can keep create interesting things and ideas that more and more people find stimulating, or relevant, or I guess just wearable. It feels like people are so caught up with trend, or using trend as a way to get somewhere quickly. I would rather make something that wouldn’t look dated in a year or two. Something you want to keep wearing no matter what might be cool or fashionable at any given moment.
In the spirit of of a good Neighbour, can you name a fellow emerging New Yorker who you believe deserves some attention? Kozaburo Akasaka. He started his line, Kozaburo, around the same time as myself. He was actually my assistant when I was at Thom Browne and we became and have remained good friends. But the dude is a true talent, he makes some incredible stuff, so watch out for him.
The clothing designed by paa (Peter and Al) is a clear throwback to the golden age of American manufacturing. The tandem designs with simple restraints, looking at the minutiae of things. While the task at hand has always been to produce essential sportswear to the highest degree capable. Since launching the brand in 2013 out of Sweetu Patel’s Bond street shop, C'H'C'M' in New York, Peter and Al have sought out likeminded retailers to act as symbiotic extensions to their sportswear collections.
C’H’C’M’ was the first to introduce paa into the marketplace, can you speak to how your relationship with Sweetu came about? We have been fans of C’H’C’M’ dating back to when the shop was online only, prior to paa’s inception. When Sweetu opened up the brick and mortar shop on Bond Street we would frequent the space, as we still do, to say hello and see what’s new. When we were ready to talk about paa, he was fully supportive. Sweetu has been a mentor for many as he creates a welcoming and open environment that continues to be a launchpad for people starting out. We introduced paa at C’H’C’M’ with three caps back in early 2013 and since then Sweetu has been so much a part of our growth.
What does the support of an independent store mean to a brand like paa? It means a lot. To have support from a kindred spirit who can be that extension to a brand and connect with people is special.
Can you recall the point when you both decided it was time to begin working on paa together and why? It was at some point in October 2012. We shared a common interest in a number of things and felt we could work well together. We both were craving a creative outlet that embodied those commonalities. Clothing seemed to be the common thread within our other interests. We started with headwear which we are both passionate about; it taps into a sense of childhood nostalgia. From the beginning, we envisioned a full collection but had to start somewhere.
In what ways does New York continue to attract you? Being immersed in a densely populated hub where we have the ability to observe many walks of life greatly impacts the way we approach paa.
“There is an honesty about how this community can walk the streets presenting themselves in different ways. To be a part of that energy keeps us going.”
You’ve since spread your reach to regions like Tokyo, do you romanticize about Japan the same way they do about American sportswear? We have a lot of love for Japan. Last October we did a pop-up in Shibuya which was a big milestone for paa. Being immersed in the day-to-day culture, the people and their patience and curiosities resonated with us. We still talk about the trip’s profound impact on our lives.
How would you describe the dynamic working as a duo? It really is a true partnership. We both contribute to all areas of the business. Everything we do is a learning process and we feel it’s important that each of us are involved every step of the way.
paa represents classic sportswear with simple silhouettes, and integrity in construction. What else is core to your philosophy? To have fun and remain true to ourselves and our customers. We’re in this for the long haul and want to enjoy what we do for years to come.
In the spirit of of a good Neighbour, can you name a fellow emerging New Yorker who you believe deserves some attention? Our good friend Louis Joachim, who brought us together way back in 2010. He has one foot in artist management, another in real estate and probably another in something we’re not privy to yet. We’re forever grateful for his friendship and his continued guidance.
Daniel comes from an education in architectural studies. Since beginning DDugoff, he has strategically transferred this large scale thinking to a more tangible format in clothing. After 8 seasons, Dugoff has navigated a terrain mostly as a one man band, from ideation to marketing and handling production stateside and overseas. Daniel details his process with us.
The incubator program has proven beneficial to a number of independent labels over the years, what have been the greatest benefits for DDUGOFF so far? Has it allowed you to create and experiment with more freedom?
Beyond the instantly increased visibility that comes with being a part of the CFDA Incubator, the greatest benefit has been access to mentorship. Designing clothes is one thing, but running a business is another. Being able to sit down and have serious conversations with fashion industry leaders across all divisions of the business (operations, merchandising, wholesale, direct to consumer, production, press, and on and on) is incredible. Having a question about best practices or creative solutions and being able to talk directly to heads of departments at major brands is so helpful.
It has definitely been an adjustment entering the program and having smart people offering their opinions about what my next steps might be. I’ve made strategic changes going into the Fall/Winter 2017 collection. I’ve changed some production partners to adjust the end price point and I’ve focused in on the products I’m offering. The core tenants of the brand are the same: easy to wear clothes that don’t take themselves too seriously for guys who want to dress well and look like themselves.
You often use textiles that are developed overseas, and then manufactured in the US - do you find greater capabilities for fabric innovation in places like Japan and Portugal as opposed to stateside? The fabric that comes out of the US is quite limited – cotton knits and cotton denim are the biggest industries, and the variety available is tiny compared to what’s available out of Japan, Portugal and Italy (not to mention China and India). When I think about production, I am constantly trying to minimize the movement of material – most raw cotton comes from China and India; merino comes from Australia and cashmere comes from northern China and Mongolia; the best synthetics (nylons and rayons) come from Japan and China. So far I’ve produced DDUGOFF in the US because I think it’s important to be a part of this economy and be close to the production to monitor quality, but as I am thinking about producing outside of the US the decisions are driven by moving production to where the fabric is coming from. Portugal does amazing things with cotton fabric production, so why not sew the cotton pieces there? If China has the most advanced yarn and knitting vendors, it makes sense to work there. The fewer transitions there are between countries, the more I can control the end price and provide the best possible quality.
Coming from an architectural background, to what degree is designing a garment similar to that of a building? An object versus structure, do your past learnings inform how you design? All of it starts with sketches and detailed drawings explaining an idea. The drawings become measurements, and you work with a team to execute the drawing into something physical, based on the potential and limitations of the materials you’re working with. And in the end, you have something that people can go inside of. Architecture and fashion are so similar. Of course, there are huge differences, mainly in terms of timeline and scale, but in the end they’re both exciting design and logistical projects.
“What’s most important for me is that DDUGOFF lets guys look like themselves. There’s a delicate balance for each piece: having it stand out and having it fall away.”
Can you elaborate on your particular design process and how a collection goes from start to finish? I start each season doing image research in tandem with fabric research. I have a folder on my computer where I save found pictures, and at the beginning of each season I sort through those and pull out the ones that feel most relevant. Then I try to categorize them into a few groups. Usually some deal more with texture, or color, or a print idea, or a mood for the collection.
At the same time, I’m doing fabric research – looking at way more fabric than I could ever use in a single collection to narrow down the textures and colors of the new collection.
Once there are some ideas about direction for the collection and the fabrics I want to use, I design the bodies. For DDUGOFF, it is important to me that from season to season the styles stay consistent. I want the fit and details to be recognizable and easy, so I don’t make wildly new pieces each season. Rather, there are refinements and sometimes new styles to fill gaps. The variety in the collection comes from the fabrics and colors, not the individual fits. I’ll make prototypes of new styles, or see fit adjustments from existing styles, and then send the patterns and fabrics to the factories to make the final samples.
Once the samples come back from the various factories, I get to see everything together for the first time. Sometimes a fabric that felt amazing in a swatch won’t feel the same as a shirt, or a print is successful in one color and not in another. Right before I shoot the lookbook and bring the collection to buyers, I have a chance to edit and make the collection as tight of a story as possible.
In what ways does New York continue to attract you, is it a place that provides enough resources for the way you design? I really love being in New York. It isn’t an easy city to live in, but the food and the art and people make it worth it. Quite often, at the end of the day when I feel especially beaten down by the city (it’s so cold! Or, it’s so hot! Or, it smells so bad! Or, it’s so expensive!), I’ll see something so beautiful or eat something so delicious or have an incredible interaction with someone, and then it feels so worth it to live here. It is difficult to put into words why some places feel like home and other places feel good to visit and other places don’t, but I know every time I leave New York I miss it, and every time I return I feel a huge sense of relief when I see the Manhattan skyline. Relief that I’m back here in this place where the people around me are working so hard on the projects they believe in.
Do you feel immediate international reach is beneficial for the growth of the brand? International accounts are incredibly important for DDUGOFF. Retail-wise, New York is an important but incredibly small microcosm. Having key accounts across the US, in Canada, in Europe, and across Asia is crucial for growing DDUGOFF. Especially when I’m working with small boutiques in each city, it’s important to work with key shops in as many cities as possible to build brand awareness.
What does DDUGOFF provide for the 21st century man - besides an ideology of beautiful, wearable garments? What’s most important for me is that DDUGOFF lets guys look like themselves. There’s a delicate balance for each piece: having it stand out and having it fall away. The fabrics must look and feel beautiful. The styles must fit perfectly. And there needs to be a lightness (a sense of humor or a sense of not taking things too seriously) that makes the clothes fun to wear.
In the spirit of a good Neighbour, can you name a fellow emerging New Yorker who you believe deserves some attention? I really believe in what Charlie Morris is doing at Fanmail. His dedication to sustainable textiles and New York City manufacturing is inspiring, and he has an incredible sense of color. I also love what Maximum Henry is doing with vegetable tanned leathers out of Brooklyn.
Notorious in the Nolita neighbourhood. Unis is an example of longevity, a prominent fixture for men’s wear with a brand ambition that remains down to earth and classically cool. Owner-operator Eunice lends some insight into her decade-long experience surviving the throngs of fashion. She has just recently founded the Downtown Independent Business Alliance, a new nonprofit with a mission to protect, maintain, and serve the small businesses that define downtown New York.
To me, longevity is one of the words that defines Unis. In retrospect, did you imagine yourself to be in the place you are now as a brand, store & designer? When I started, I had grander ideas of what I thought I was supposed to be. I think everyone dreams bigger when you start out. I’m generally happy with my business, but it’s definitely been challenging.
Do you see Unis continuing on this path of perfecting the classics or are you exploring other ways to design? Yes. Always. I learned after a lot of trial and error - simple is the key to my success.
The trajectory of men’s wear is in hyperdrive, how do you keep Unis’s focus on slower-paced, methodical and minimal design? It’s hard to get out of my own skin. My own personal style is pretty classic - so I have to keep things authentic to me and the brand. When there’s a big trend happening, I take a step back and think about how I feel about a particular trend and go with my gut feeling. Most times I just do what I like. What I think looks good on a guy.
In this industry, it can be a necessary evil to continuously keep tabs on the ebb and flow of brands. How do you see it? I keep tabs - sort of. When something catches my eye - I’ll make note of it. I ask myself is…What do my customers want to wear? And if I’m into a proportion like our one pleat Davis pant – How can I get my customer to convert into a new proportion? Mind you, we introduced the Davis 5 years ago.
“I work really hard to build every piece I produce - to be the best thing I can be proud of […] I kill myself to win the trust - one customer at a time.”
As a native New Yorker what continues to attract you about the city, and is it a place that continues to provide inspiration/resources for the way you design? Lately the city has been boring. Snoresville. Corporateville. But there is still a tiny pocket left. Big brands don't attract the right consumers. They also take up real estate and that kills community. I want more independent brands to come in to be my neighbors. Rents are so high it makes it impossible for someone young and creative to open up a store in NYC these days.
Can you name one particular advantage and possible disadvantage about operating and being based in New York City? This is where I’m from. I think that all my references and taste level is because I’m from here, so that’s the biggest advantage. There is a bigger community of designers here than anywhere else in the country.
After 17 years as a label, how has the quintessential Unis customer evolved over the years? Every once in a while we get customers from my first year in biz. That guy has grown up with me and the brand. Over the last 17 years - I’ve also grown up. When I first started if you look at the brand then – you can see how young my point of view was. I have an incredible customer base. The UNIS customer cares about quality and integrity. He is sophisticated and street smart. He knows what’s up and has his finger on the pulse of all things cultural.
The Gio became such an icon, a single item perfected from fabric to construction to fit and ultimately pricepoint. Are you looking to design that next iconic object or is it more about developing a complete and well-rounded collection? I’m not thinking of the next Gio. I work really hard to build every piece I produce - to be the best thing I can be proud of. But I would love to be the go-to person for men’s pants! I kill myself to win the trust - one customer at a time.
In the spirit of of a good Neighbour, can you name a fellow emerging New Yorker who you believe deserves some attention? Marisa Competello. She’s really an artist in disguise as a florist. Her work is gorgeous. Mac Huelster is an amazing men’s stylist I love working with.