The CEO and founder of American Giant started out on a quest to bring flannel production back to the United States. And he did so with the help of Cotswold Industries.
Winthrop wanted to make a hardy flannel shirt for his company that made its name by selling products manufactured in America. However, nearly everyone he spoke to said flannel production had vanished from the U.S. The only option available to him was faux-flannel fabric with a printed-on pattern, instead of true yarn-dyed woven flannel.
The idea didn’t sit well with Winthrop.
“Do we want to develop products that we are proud of? That aren’t just, you know, what we’ve always done but trying to do it cheaper,” Winthrop told the New York Times in a recent article. “You get tired of always playing defense. Let’s play some offense.”
Then, Winthrop found Cotswold Industries, a textile manufacturer that has been in business since 1954. He set up a meeting with Cotswold CEO, James McKinnon, the third in family line that has run Cotswold since its inception.
McKinnon’s company had seen the heyday of American textile manufacturing and then watched it disappear over three generations. However, like Winthrop, Cotswold and McKinnon remained committed to reviving manufacturing in the United States.
Today, Cotswold Industries is a worldwide company with locations in Hong Kong and Shanghai and across the country. With factories in Georgia and South Carolina, Cotswold remains a manufacturing force in an industry that has largely outsourced production.
In short, McKinnon was just the man Winthrop needed to meet.
With McKinnon’s help, Winthrop saw a path to manufacture yarn-dyed flannel for American Giant in the lower 48 but, in order to do so, he needed to create an entire supply chain from scratch. Cotswold’s experience in doing just that proved to be invaluable for Winthrop.
American Giant created the designs for its flannel, using six colors of yarn in three patterns according to the Times report, and came to an agreement with Cotswold Industries to weave the yarn at its mill in Central, South Carolina. Winthrop’s quest ended with a new partnership and a top-selling American-made flannel shirt that hit shelves in time for Christmas in 2018.
Sourcing Journal spoke with McKinnon about his experience with American Giant and the importance of manufacturing stateside.
SJ: What were some of the challenges you faced in sourcing flannel?
James McKinnon: Remaking a broken supply chain proved challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. We have seasoned veterans all throughout our industry just yearning for the chance to build great products domestically.
SJ: Are there advantages in bringing back the production of fabrics, like flannel, to America?
JM: Absolutely. Not only is it healthy for our economy to produce locally, but from a sustainability standpoint, the less transport distance required to construct that product, means less of a carbon footprint that product produces, and therefore the more planet-friendly that product becomes.
SJ: Were there any special motivations, on the side of the factory, regarding the making of flannel in the U.S.?
JM: It was the passion and commitment of American Giant (AG) management and its CEO Bayard Winthrop. AG’s desire to make apparel domestically is infectious—and as a third-generation USA based family manufacturing business, we wanted to do everything in our power to make AG’s vision a reality.