The first factory tour I posted on ACL was Rocco Ciccarelli’s suit factory in Queens. Previous to that, my friend took me to a tie factory in Manhattan but that predates ACL and it was never posted. Watching the ties being made was my first foray into the spectator sport of apparel manufacturing. This week – with a trip to the Hamilton Shirts factory in Houston – I finally completed the trifecta of menswear staples: suits, shirts and ties.
I first met the brother and sister behind Hamilton Shirts, Kelly and David Hamilton, about a year ago at an event at Barneys in New York. You couldn’t help but to appreciate their laid back approach and kind demeanor; not to mention their beautifully made shirts. Running a shirt factory in the United States is a fairly rare thing at this point – which means that running a shirt making business in Houston is an even more remarkable feat. While at the factory Kelly, David and I spoke about the challenges and benefits of doing your own manufacturing. They spoke to the many positive aspects, including flexibility and quality control, plus the difficulties of finding skilled seamstresses and suppliers.
The fact that you can see the factory that is ultimately going to make your shirts is something special that not many companies can boast. When you sit at the table and choose from a seemingly endless array of options (everything from the size and placement of your button holes, to dizzying amounts of fabric and other choices) you look out to a backdrop of workers cutting fabric, sewing, ironing and making patterns. It is an experience that, while not inexpensive, is memorable and in my opinion, valuable in today’s through away consumer culture.
The head pattern maker Stephanie (who can be seen more in the second set of images), spends her day making up to fifteen different bespoke patterns by hand. These patterns are all kept in manila envelopes (along with a unique client history envelope detailing all of the customer’s preferences and order history) that occupy a growing portion of a room off the main factory. It is pretty awesome to see all of the envelops and think about the thousands of shirts and crazy custom shirts that some of them hold.
Once the pattern is made, or retrieved from the archive, the fabric is hand cut by one of the cutters. Unlike other factories I have been to, the cutting at Hamilton is done with a hand knife, not a saw or laser. Once the components are all cut, the fabric is bundled and placed in a colored bin (with certain colors signaling a higher priority that will be made faster) that will move throughout the factory going from each specialist to another, with the shirt coming together one piece at a time. Being as every shirt is different, the sewers have to be even that much more skilled to adjust to the changing configuration of the sewing machines and pay close attention to the customer’s preferences. While a rushed shirt can make its way through the whole production process in a day, typically the cycle takes about five days. Good things definitely come to those who wait.
Visit Hamilton Shirts