The COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal for manufacturers because of shortages and shutdowns that have stymied their overseas suppliers.
But that’s not what is happening at 1620 Workwear, a North Shore apparel maker, because it only sells all-American made products.
The brainchild of cofounders Ted De Innocentis and Josh Walker, 1620 Workwear just moved into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Amesbury, three times the size of its previous home in Newburyport. The reason? De Innocentis and Walker are simply trying to keep up with demand for their made-in-the-USA clothing. They won’t publicly disclose revenue figures, but say the seven-person company’s annual sales tripled in 2020, and are on track to double this year.
While rivals ran into supply chain issues during the pandemic, De Innocentis and Walker simply stepped up their pace of production.
“It’s very difficult to get goods out of Asia right now,” Walker said. “It’s probably going to be into late 2022 before overseas supply chains get back up and running [fully]. We’re not going to miss a beat. We’re accelerating through it.”
De Innocentis and Walker are both apparel industry veterans, and got to know each other while working in the ski and snowboard industry in the mid-2000s. (Walker most recently worked for sports helmet company Bern Unlimited, while De Innocentis had previously been working at a clothing factory in China.) The two friends bucked conventional wisdom in 2016 when they launched the 1620 Workwear business, with an express goal of only selling American-made clothes. They say they’ve kept true to that made-in-America pledge at 1620 — named after the year the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock — primarily by sourcing from textile plants in Massachusetts and North Carolina.
They sell high-end clothes for skilled laborers — plumbers, painters, electricians, welders, carpenters, and the like. Think hoodies for $138, pairs of double-knee utility pants for $174, and a pair of all-Massachusetts-made pants for $198. Their thesis: Many workers will pay a premium for shirts and pants that are far more durable and ergonomic than cheaper, foreign-made counterparts, in part because they’ll save money on clothes in the long run.
“The customers’ buying habits are really starting to change,” Walker said. “They want a longer lasting product. They want something that’s more sustainable. They’re willing to pay more for it . . . You can’t fake it with this guy. You can’t release anything that’s not going to be tough enough.”
De Innocentis said the surge in construction, particularly in home remodeling, since the pandemic began has also helped buoy sales.
“We’re making a better product and that’s starting to resonate after three or four years in the marketplace,” he said. “Word of mouth is picking up.”
The clothes are designed in-house and sold directly to consumers, primarily through 1620′s website. That way the company keeps more of the money from each sale than they would through brick-and-mortar stores, though De Innocentis and Walker do sometimes talk with retailers about picking up their brand. They have some angel investors, but together the two partners retain a controlling share of the company. Next up: developing a line of workwear for women (all the styles are still only made for men today), and expanding into fire retardant clothing.
“It takes courage as an entrepreneur to believe in American-made,” Walker said. “Every single one of our competitors is offshoring. What we’re doing is more difficult but we’re finding success because we worked hard to find it.”
Mary Reardon, vice president of sales and marketing at the Tweave textile factory in Fall River, said it’s been encouraging to watch 1620 Workwear grow so quickly. “They do a great job on marketing and getting the word out about their products,” she said.
Tweave, a division of Gehring-Tricot, has been supplying stretchable fabric for De Innocentis and Walker since 1620′s inception. (Tweave has a variety of other customers, perhaps most notably a National Football League uniform and apparel contract with Nike.) Reardon said she’s noticing more apparel companies approaching her 50-person plant for help with “onshoring” work because of the overseas supply disruptions.
“We’ve had a lot of new people reach out to us,” Reardon said. “People that were building their product overseas and sourcing overseas are now looking at the options to make their supply chain easier and more reliable.”
It’s not just the apparel industry.
Supply chains are being rethought in nearly every facet of manufacturing. AccuRounds chief executive Michael Tamasi, said he is hearing of examples in medical devices, robotics, semiconductors, aerospace, and oil and gas. The COVID-19 disruptions have prompted many manufacturers to see the advantages to 1620 Workwear’s approach, especially as labor costs rise in Asia, diminishing the cost benefits of making things there.
“Add in the supply chain disruptions, and in many cases it’s actually less expensive to make [something] in this country,” said Tamasi, whose company operates a precision machining plant in Avon. “Companies can’t afford to be cut off. More companies . . . are concentrating their supply chain stateside to mitigate their risk.”