While Alden continues to make some of the finest shoes in the world, and Red Wing is the standard bearer when it comes to rugged American made footwear, the market for American made sporty shoes has been extremely limited. New Balance has of course been the foremost producer of American sneakers for some time, and upstarts like Victory have definitely created a lot of excitement with its small-batch-no-logo approach, but no one has really come along and put an American spin on all of the super-clean stitch-down sneakers that have been coming out of Italy. That is, up until this summer when our old friends at Rancourt & Co. up in Lewiston, Maine launched these two classic American sneakers called the Court Classics. Made from full-grain cowhide leather, these simple sneakers were at least two years in the making with Rancourt taking note of the void in the market for this type of footwear. It seems the inspiration was equal parts want and need. “We developed the court classic because we felt that a simple yet traditional high quality leather sneaker at an affordable price was missing from the US market.” And the results are impressive.
The hometown factory is the Victor. This is a big one.
Rarely does a brand come along that hits every single note perfectly. The guys behind Noble Denim recently launched an exciting new venture called Victor, which goes way beyond just making clothes. What Victor is doing is looking to help save a factory, revitalize a town, and if successful, bring back American garment manufacturing in the Southeast. It’s more than just a noble (punny, I know) undertaking, it’s also simply great product.
Knowing the people from Noble denim as I do, I can say that they consistently impress me with their creativity, kindness and the level in which they execute. They are an altruistic bunch operating in a world where seemingly anyone can found a brand with their “perfectly curated” Instagram account and feel as if they are changing the world. But Chris, Abby, Christman and Sam have pushed forward designing and producing some truly excellent product at a fair price. They are at the same time also helping to save jobs and an entire factory town. And it’s more than just good marketing, they have the manufacturing and design chops to back it all up.
Not since the 1960′s have there been this many American based shirt brands. And yet, despite the variety of labels attached to them, never have so many shirts looked exactly alike.
We don’t mean to be overly critical, we do understand that there are only so many mills a shirt company can buy from, only so many different color combinations they can choose from, only so many ways they can reconfigure a plaid or a paisley or a polka dot. And of course, any company attempting to create clothing in America deserves our support. We just wish more companies would approach their design like Gitman Vintage does.
Victory Sportswear might just be the most important new sneaker brand out there, but there’s actually nothing new about them. We had never heard of Victory until we spotted them at this year’s Capsule trade show, but we were immediately taken by the brand’s suede and mesh trainers which look like a cross between something Carl Lewis might’ve worn at the ’84 Olympics and a pair of sneakers you might find at an orthopedic store.
Truthfully though, it wasn’t the look of the shoes that got us excited, but rather the fact that they were made in America. The only other brand making shoes in America right now is New Balance, and just like them, Victory produces their sneakers in New England (NB in Maine, Victory in Massachusetts). In fact, Victory has made its entire collection in its Massachusetts factory since the company was founded in 1980′s. The question is, where has it been this whole time? And how are we not surprised that it was Daiki and the Engineered Garments team that has unearthed them for our collective pleasure.
A few months back while visiting San Francisco I met up with Tellason founders Tony Patella and Pete Searson. I’ve known those guys since 2009 when I first interviewed them for ACL and over the course of a few years we’ve become friends. As Tony and Pete are good guys who know a lot about what’s going on, I do my best to connect with them whenever I visit the Bay Area. When we met up for breakfast we spoke about Oakland amongst other things, and I told Pete and Tony how I have been hearing a lot about the city and how I was keen to check it out. They suggested a few places that they thought were interesting and I made a plan to spend the day out in the East Bay. We finished up our coffee and right before I was about to depart Pete mentioned a new shop out in his hometown of Mill Valley. “Oh yeah, you’re going to love this place.” Pete said. After checking things out in Oakland for most of the day I headed for my last stop of the day in Marin. And that’s the story of how I discovered something new in Mill Valley and how I came to love the Guideboat Company.
Inspired by a childhood in the Adirondacks, Stephen Gordon founded Guideboat Co. to be an amazing collection of well-made and long lasting things loosely organized around collection of boats and a nautical theme. The beautiful new store occupies a historic old saw mill which helped give this affluent North Bay town it’s name. It’s the perfect use for the long mothballed site that many in Mill Valley had worried would not be preserved. While it could certainly be considered off the beaten path for a flagship store, Guideboat is an enthralling retail showcase for this ambitious new endeavor. Though this isn’t the first retail launch for Gordon. Way back in 1979 he founded another little company you may know called Restoration Hardware. Guideboat’s other founder Chad Hurley is also no stranger to success himself, having co-founded YouTube. After spending a few hours in the shop in Mill Valley, I’d say these serial entrepreneurs are on to something.
I tend to believe that you can’t fully know a person until you meet their friends. The company we choose to keep says a lot, often more than we ever can individually, about who we are as people. On a still, late July evening I found myself considering this as I glanced around Nepenthes, Engineered Garments pseudo-flagship store in Manhattan’s Garment District. The store, despite it’s out of the way location, was teeming with people. A cheery swirl of English and Japanese chatter overpowered the shop’s post-punk soundtrack as pockets of friends conversed beside the racks.
Standing on the second story loft looking down at the gleeful guests below, I realized that this was what has made Engineered Garments such a crucial brand, not only for menswear in America at large, but for me as an individual. The event was organized to celebrate the debut of Engineered Garments Spring/Summer ’15 collection, and fifteen years after the brand’s founding, people of all backgrounds, of all styles, of all occupations, were still gleefully gravitating toward the brand.
This week, we hit the streets (with Drones-in-hand thanks to our crack director Kellen Dengler) to give you a taste of what to expect from this weekend’s Pop Up Flea here in NYC. We visited with a handful of local friends and PUF vendors to see the awesomeness that they have planned for this weekend’s event. Be sure to come by the Met Pavilion to #ShopSmall this weekend to experience PUF in its full seventy-plus vendor glory.
125 West 18th Street (nr. 6th Ave)
New York City
Friday, Dec 12th: 3pm to 8pm
Saturday, Dec 13th: 11am to 7pm
Sunday, Dec 14th: 12pm to 6pm
Free Entry. Open to the public.