The first of our blog series "Made in NYC" - what #MadeinNYC and #runLocal means. (Read Part 2 & Part 3)
Garment manufacturing & our factory:
Possibly you’ve read a little about the OnlyAtoms founder, and our background in clothing manufacturing. Yes, we’re aware it’s a long story, but at OnlyAtoms, we’re quite passionate about what we do…and very passionate about running, fitness and what we wear! We’ve been wanting to tell more about making clothes, and what “locally made” (#MadeinNYC; #runLocal) really means to us.
We’ve traveled around the world, and worked with suppliers and factories in China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Peru, Central America and USA. We've always wanted to tell others what it's like. Luckily consumers are learning and caring more about this, thanks to brands like Everlane (#knowyourfactories and radical transparency).
above: fabrics inside our factory
First, some secrets. Okay, they're not really secrets, but a little something about clothing brands and manufacturing:
- The big brands make a lot of money. Last year, Nike made $30B (B...BILLION) in revenue. Asics made $2B. Last reported, Oiselle was on track to do $10M. (We're rooting for Oiselle to kick more mass-market butt! Hey, we think the more “smaller guys” who disrupt the big guys, the more opportunity it is for the rest of us. We like to think some people are getting sick of mass and are waking up to better alternatives).
- These big brands often charge much more than they really need to for products. All that marketing is very expensive. Shareholders need to stay happy.
- These brands do not own the factories, or fabric mills and trim suppliers. When you go to a factory in China, you see clothes for The Gap in the same factory as J. Crew, Levi's, and so on. When you talk with your fabric suppliers, they’ll tell you who else they sell their fabrics too. We actually use many of the same suppliers as the “other brands”!
- Not all "sweatshops" overseas are all bad. We’ve been to some great factories providing good work. And we'd like to think someone is happy to have the work, pay and benefits. Some companies chose to source in factories who hold higher standards and enforce positive working conditions more than some others. (We always liked this documentary)
- A driving factor in the "bad" sweatshops is the demand by consumers for "super cheap" products. Then the company pushes the factory for rock bottom prices. Which means the factory needs to cut costs to make profits, which can lead to unfavorable working conditions. Not to mention poor quality goods, crappy fabrics and cheap sewing!
- Factories in the USA aren't so vastly different than ones overseas. Except in the USA, our work and health codes, labor laws, wage laws, etc, far superior to those in foreign countries, especially third-world countries. Many US workers are also unionized, providing more benefits.
- We feel better producing our products just a short distance run away from our factory (about 3 miles from our office!), and providing a living for other humans in our diverse community.
We spent years finding the best factory for our running gear production. Actually, it was very serendipitous (like much of what goes on here at OnlyAtoms). We had worked for many years with a different factory, owned by the wife of our current factory owner. We loved the wife and her factory, but she had a small operation and we didn’t think she’d want to make athletic clothes, since she mostly made high-end designer dresses. We also knew we probably couldn’t afford her prices anyway. And, we needed special machinery to do sew our anti-chafing flat seams – many NYC factories don’t have this capability.
So, we walked into a different factory we had never worked with before, and serendipitously ran into one of the workers from our factory in the hallway. We hugged and started talking, told her about making OnlyAtoms running clothes, and she said “oh, I now work at her husband’s factory up the street. It’s bigger and they have all kinds of machinery.” We had no idea there was a “husband with a bigger factory”! When we went to his factory, we instantly knew they were the perfect production partner – not only are they like family, but his factory sews top-quality garments and produces other goods for other amazing brands like ours, including a super cool NYC-based bike clothing brand, and some other well-known fashion brands (how we wish we could name names).
We visit our factory a few times a week, have a great relationship with the owner and many of the workers. We know about their families, talk about their weekends, sometimes have afternoon snacks together and bring them holiday gifts. We love them, and hope to keep growing with them for many years.
above: inside a large garment factory we visited in China.
below: a sewer in the OnlyAtoms factory, working on the waistband of our Shorts