The Quality on Your Back

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Industrial Engineer-Volume 45 Number 11

American Giant, the San Francisco-based hooded sweatshirt maker was founded by Winthrop in February 2012. Winthrop believes that manufacturing, like many industries, has gone through cycle after cycle of success, failure and reinvention over decades. As other big companies had given up the ‘American-made’ products and stuck in an outdated business model, which meant they could never, in a fundamental way, take advantage of changing customer patterns and going direct to brands, American Giant was founded with his simple, straightforward and manageable plan to make durable hoodies and sweatshirts produced entirely in America and sell them exclusively through the company’s website.

In December 2012, the online publication Slate posted an article about Winthrop’s young new venture. The publication’s tech writer wrote that Winthrop had made a bold claim about the quality of an American Giant hoddie. Soon, the claim was found online in a headline as bold as the statement itself: “This is the greatest hoodie ever made.” The Slate article spread like a wildfire on the internet. Almost overnight, the entire surplus inventory had been sold.

Since the shot of adrenaline from press, word-of-mouth marketing and the internet, American Giant has expanded its nationwide supply chain. Demand for its hoodies, sweatshirts and T-shirts continue to rise. But Winthrop insists that none of the company’s success could be achieved without devotion to continuous improvement in its quality manufacturing design. His team constantly chatters about the Toyota Production System, the model that not only makes dependable automobiles but is an industry standard for quality and continuous improvement. Winthrop hired a former industrial engineer from Apple to direct American Giant’s product development.

Success created new challenges. When demand suddenly spiked, it so overwhelmed one factory that it had to pause production, even as orders flooded in. Feverishly restocking supply and hiring a wave of new sewers risked compromising the company’s rigorous control standard, particularly since sewing expertise is not as common as it was 40 years ago.

At the end of the day, Winthrop said he wants American Giant customers to have a product that resonates and achieves longevity, just like his first pair jeans, and he’s willing to risk his company’s brand on the promise of quality. The company offers and unconditional warranty, binding the producer-consumer relationship into a seemingly personal promise.