How to Build a Timeless Fashion Brand

You’ve made vows, exchanged rings and committed to manufacturing in the United States. Mazel tov! Still, there’s a learning curve ahead: how do you maximize the longevity of your product without it getting stale, and how do you sustain your working relationships along the way? The resurgence of Made in America is an opportunity to rethink not just each step in the production process, but the shelf-life of your wares. For the team here at Lazlo, local production is at the core of an innovative and sustainable approach to apparel manufacturing. Here’s what we’ve learned:

Build relationships. The garment industry in the US is a lot like Detroit right now; much smaller than it used to be but filled with passionate people. Get to know everyone from suppliers to sewers and bond over a shared commitment to quality local manufacturing. We were able to get organic Supima® cotton because a mill owner in LA shared our values and was willing to use his network to make connections that I was unable to. If you’re looking to build similar relationships in California, you can access factories here.

Focus on lasting classics. The best of American design is about looking good rather than looking trendy—but timeless doesn’t mean boring. Take risks and innovate, but consider whether your designs will hold up as long as your high-quality product.

Design a sustainable lifecycle. As designers, we are responsible for the entire lifecycle of the products we release. This is an opportunity to strengthen our story, not something to hide. Everything we make will use energy and have an impact on the environment; know where your materials are coming from, build your product to last and consider what happens down the road.

Sustainable manufacturing also means designing products that will be as appealing years down the road as they are today—and then constructing those products to last that long. For example, to extend the lifespan of our products, we’re also offering to hand-dye stained or faded white shirts in indigo. By offering quality products and additional services, we’re also able to back our Heirloom Tee with a lifetime guarantee.

Compete on quality, not price. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to undersell manufacturers that exploit workers in developing countries – nor should you want to! Understanding your costs and then building in proper margins is the only way stay financially sustainable. A meaningful brand narrative and shared values has a big impact on what people are willing to pay.

We recognize that our core values of sustainability and social impact are most meaningful when combined with a product we are just as passionate about. In the pursuit of the perfect white t-shirt; we’ve developed a custom fabric using the best organic cotton available, tested dozens of fits and obsessed over every detail to ensure that quality is the first priority.

Tell your own story. As consumers, we are looking for alternatives to the faceless brands that dominate the market, so give us a reason to get excited about supporting you. Don’t worry about anyone else; own your decision to manufacture locally and share the values and hard work that made it happen.

Our story, for example? We’re setting up shop in Detroit, the heart of American manufacturing. Building on a belief that everyone deserves a second chance, we’re partnering with the state to hire incarcerated men who were trained to sew in prison. To ensure our employees can support themselves and their families, Lazlo has committed to starting with a minimum wage of $15/hr.

[First published on Maker's Row]

Christian Birky