Revisting Unionmade San Francisco

While out in San Francisco this past week, I stopped into Unionmade to see what the guys have been up to since I first profiled them on ACL two years ago. First of all, the SF store has grown considerably with a recent addition of the space next door, which in its former life was a dry cleaning shop. The addition more than doubles the selling space and houses a little book area, tons of Alden shoes and the shop’s new Indigo collection. On top of all of the happenings at the original shop, Unionmade is also about to open a new outpost at the Marin Country Mart, which will be the third store for the burgeoning Americana-loving outfitter.

It really is a remarkable thing what Todd Barket and the guys at Unionmade have done. The selection rivals any store in the world, corporately owned or private. In fact, there’s actually a rumor going around that Unionmade is owned by a certain preppy-cum-rugged East Coast retailer. A rumor that Todd says is totally untrue. In my mind that hearsay is easily dismissible because there’s no way a big company like that could actually get out of their own way long enough to make something as good as Unionmade actually see the light of day.

When I talk to friends and clients in the business the opinion on Unionmade is almost universal: Unionmade sells a lot of product. I’ve heard it from a host of different brands. Visiting the shop and seeing the selection and careful merchandising, it’s no wonder that stuff is flying out the door. It’s a funny thing too, because the “heritage” obit is in the paper everyday. Heritage is a sneaky little bastard like that, all refusing to die and everything. Refusing to allow the growing segment of young creatives who view themselves as “real” blue collar dudes to stop being so pissed off because a bunch of “hipsters” co-opted their shit.

It’s my view that “heritage” is going to morph into some other shit for awhile until everyone forgets / thinks they are on something new. It’s my feeling that “heritage” is to the aughts as preppy was to the eighties. Especially in the way that preppy was extremely popular at a point, but then also something that never really went away. That’s my prediction about “heritage,” that it may wane, but it won’t disappear completely.

After I left Unionmade I walked a few blocks down to Delfina to have dinner with Tony Patella and Pete Searson from Tellason. These same topics came up at dinner and eventually the conversation shifted to domestic manufacturing, The Tellason guys had some interesting thoughts on the subject. “Made in USA is a movement, not a trend.” Tony said while we ate and debated the fate of the style that made schlubby guys from Cleveland into authors of quasi-popular (and quasi-interesting) websites.

I think Tony is on to something because “heritage” seems to be wrapped up in a larger shift in the way guys think about style and what they are buying. It’s an appreciation of the old companies that have survived over time by making good shit. It’s a return to people actually wanting something that can last more than 30 seconds from when you get it home. It’s a complex and debatable issue (and one that I’m not going to be able to truly break down here), but I really think that the “heritage” thing is (for better or worse) here for the foreseeable future.

Who knows, one day we might even see Mr. Schlossman (a man who in his past life dedicated many columns of the internet to “heritage”) wearing some double monk Bean Boots and a waxed canvas cut away, thereby allowing “heritage” to live on…

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Comments on “Revisting Unionmade San Francisco

    Smith & Ratliff on November 7, 2011 9:15 PM:

    Such a great store.

    Ryan on November 7, 2011 9:23 PM:

    Great shop. Nice choice with Delfina.

    I always did find it somewhat strange that Unionmade carried pieces from J Crew.

    John Lugg on November 7, 2011 9:54 PM:

    LAS callout: quasi-appropriate?

    andrew on November 7, 2011 9:55 PM:

    Great write up. I’ve been to the LA outpost a few times but haven’t made it to SF yet. Looking forward to making that happen in the near future.

    Also wanted to say that the “heritage” debate is pretty funny to me as I come from a place where it’s just the way people have been dressing for nearly a century. I like to compare it to people saying going green is a trend. It’s a movement, an expansion upon what is already a way of life for many people in non urban areas. Bottom line, them city slickers is buying the rural lifestyle!

    Michael Williams on November 7, 2011 10:25 PM:

    I’m not calling out LAS. Just making a point and I’m sure he doesn’t give a shit anyway.

    Julian on November 7, 2011 10:32 PM:

    l think you nailed it…the “heritage” trend was the first wave of a bigger movement that isn’t going to disappear. Once you see something you can’t “un-see” it, and a lot of people are seeing crafted, quality product for the first time.

    Whether it comes from an old company like Red Wing or a new company like Tellason isn’t what’s important. It’s the approach that matters. The trend toward archival styles may fade, but the appreciation for crafted, considered product wont.

    John Lugg on November 7, 2011 10:40 PM:

    Him not giving a shit is probably spot-on. While “Made-In-the-USA” has made itself under the value, “buy less, buy better” can the same be said for Anglo-Italian tailoring? I’m not sure we know yet because Anglo-Italian tailoring is a lot less clear about its values than “Made-In-the USA”.

    It should also be mentioned that Unionmade has one of the most recognizable and attractive webstores around.

    Andrea on November 7, 2011 11:07 PM:

    Well *that’s* serendipitous; I just placed a small order with Unionmade on Saturday morning. Who can resist a real indigo bandana?

    Will on November 7, 2011 11:10 PM:

    Just about every morning I go to the Unionmade website early in my browsing to see if any new products are in. More often than not, there is indeed new (great) stuff to see!

    Travis on November 7, 2011 11:37 PM:

    Spent some time in UnionMade a while back. Todd was completely welcoming and awesome to talk to. Selection was amazing and I ended up with some great items. A nice sun-bleached red sweatshirt and a waxed Stormy Kromer hat. If anyone out there is near a UnionMade..go

    Alex Frankel on November 8, 2011 12:41 AM:

    Dang that’s a cool but very strange collection of shoes. Also the Tivoli Audio radios in one of the photos look perfectly at home on that shelf.

    Daniel on November 8, 2011 1:22 AM:

    Who makes those green rain boots seen in the 2nd photo [1st interior shot]? I don’t see anything like them on the website. Thanks!

    MR on November 8, 2011 3:39 AM:

    …nice photos ; even if they aren’t from your 5D MkII .

    L.A.S on November 8, 2011 3:49 AM:

    Past life or current, I still wear Bean boots when it rains.

    Don’t the brands we love, regardless of country of origin and regardless of the stylistic set they claim, possess “heritage”? Isn’t that part of the reason that makes them special?

    Love ya, Michael.

    L.A.S on November 8, 2011 3:50 AM:

    Also, you still owe me your Bean boot post from, like, 3 years ago.

    JRS on November 8, 2011 7:11 AM:

    It would be a horrible idea for me to visit this store. Horrible.

    Ramalhoni on November 8, 2011 7:14 AM:

    I also think that Heritage is here to stay. People are tired of faceless brands and poor quality products. I like to know who made what I’m wearing and I sleep a little easier at night thinking that I’m helping people that are doing a beautiful job, building premium products and teaching the next generations of craftsman how things are supposed to be done. How to cut a fabric, how to sew a shoe… etc..
    Because I’m such a firm believer in this, this week I’m joining the craftsman who do my ramalhoni|Shoes, and I’m learning how to cut the leather, wrap the molds and sew them!…
    This way, when someone asks me how my shoes are done, I won’t be repeating something that someone told me, I will actually have done it … and that makes the difference…
    Cheers for the great post.. as usual..

    Robert on November 8, 2011 9:03 AM:

    “Unionmade”….does that include the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indian unions?

    Danny on November 8, 2011 9:24 AM:

    Luckily, I live about a mile from Unionmade. Unluckily, I don’t have the funds to go crazy in there like I wish I could. However, I have picked up a few choice items from them (Tellason denim, Hill-Side pocket squares), and I have my eyes on a few additional pieces.

    Also, I can vouch for the friendliness of the people there. They are genuinely interested in the products they carry, and they offer guidance without ever being pushy.

    Great stuff.

    JTS on November 8, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Thanks for this write up, Michael. I do think that Tony is right – “Made in the USA” is a movement. Also, why does Heritage (necessarily) = Blue collar? Shouldn’t traditional white collar brands like Alden, Gitman Bros and Southwick considered “Heritage” as well?

    JTS on November 8, 2011 11:25 AM:

    Oh. And I hope you visited Tartine while you were on 18th Street.

    chad saville on November 8, 2011 11:50 AM:

    those are beautiful products. do they have a location near Brooklyn, or distribute this way?

    Reigs on November 8, 2011 11:53 AM:

    JTS I agree with you – Heritage shouldn’t have to, and indeed doesn’t always mean blue collar. Here in the UK Heritage usually means the opposite, as in brands like Barbour – traditionally upper class hunting and shooting apparel which I’m pleased to say have been, along with others such as Loake, adopted by people who just want a well made product and aren’t all inbred toffs with country mansions.
    I wish Tellason & Raleigh denim weren’t so damned expensive to get over here though – £290 for a pair of Nash indigo, wtf?

    jj on November 8, 2011 12:56 PM:

    80 bucks for a hankie???? No union man could take this seriously.

    jiheison on November 8, 2011 2:25 PM:


    The rubber boots are SeeVees, if I am not mistaken.

    I check Unionmade’s site just about every day to see what has been added. That said, if the goods at Unionmade Goods are not union made, isn’t that a textbook case of turning a heritage into a brand?

    Davis on November 8, 2011 3:15 PM:

    I hope their new endeavor in Marin works out. I live up in Sonoma, so this will be easier to get to than schlepping into the city. Still, kind of scratching my head as to why they would open up shop in Marin. Working retail in the county for 10 years, the people who can afford to shop at Unionmade are either more inclined to look sloppy in a North Face/REI/Patagonia fleece and dad jeans or by euro brands to try and look more “youthful”.

    However, good luck Unionmade.

    mark on November 8, 2011 4:43 PM:

    i’ll take one of everything from their website, please

    steven on November 8, 2011 7:49 PM:

    ACL led me to Unionmade just when it opened a few years ago, and I visit Todd and the store whenever I’m in SF to see my family- including just last weekend. True story, every item in the place is to die for ( Oh lottery, hear my call!) There are certainly many American made goods there, but also solid product from Canada, Denmark, Britain, etc. Let’s not confuse “Made in USA” with a more universal purity of design and quality of make- this country doesn’t have an exclusive on quality, far from it. I also believe that the movement towards heritage is just a first (second, third?) step towards consumers reconnecting with primary materials, manufacturing processes, craftsmanship, and being part of a community of commerce they can feel aligned with. Big up to Todd and the Union, and as always, props to that shlubby guy from Cleveland!

    Joshua on November 9, 2011 7:17 PM:

    This is an interesting post.

    I find the comments as interesting to read as the o.p. from Michael. Living down in Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco, a small town of 56K people, w/a university full of wannabe hippies, & is a bedroom community for Silicon Valley who are notorious for dressing schlubby but driving hot cars, & aging old hippies, I can relate to the comments from ‘Davis’ @ 3:15 p.m.

    Most people in Santa Cruz dress the same as people in Boulder, Co. regardless if they have money or not. This town is the “have’s” & the “have nots”, but they both dress practically the same. Hard to tell who is who. I have often reasoned that if people here devoted 1/2 their monthly dope & marijuana budget to making themselves appear a little better, they could easily afford to do so, thus I don’t think one needs to be “rich” to wear a Filson jacket or a Barbour raincoat. It’s just good shit that lasts.

    I think there’s a generation of folks out there that don’t know & probably don’t care, although I think that is changing or evolving.

    I am taking an art history class in American Art, and the professor is doing mini lectures on American heritage products, particularly clothing such as Red Wing, Texas jeans (which I had never heard of…), Pendleton Woolen Mills, Filson, and Alden in Massachusetts. It was greatly inspiring, but 18-22 year olds are a pretty tough audience when they come to school mostly dressed in hoodies and sweat pants.

    RP on November 10, 2011 11:09 AM:

    Yes, this is a great shop, and the hype keeps rolling.

    Would love to know the percentage of stock that is made by union labor. I’m putting it at under 5%. Think about that long enough and the shop’s name goes from weird to possibly ironic to insulting.

    jiheison on November 10, 2011 2:09 PM:


    In Santa Cruz a lot of that dope money presumably goes to support local growers and is spent within the community, as opposed to Barbour jackets which may benefit a couple high-end local boutiques who source their “good shit” overseas.

    Those old hippies are much more the heritage of Santa Cruz than British country gear.

    allen on November 11, 2011 12:45 PM:

    If the name of the store was “Very Little If Any Actually Union Made” I might actually buy something there. But since the name is a lie and an insult: fuck them.

    There are 15 million union members in the US, and this store is telling each and every one of them that their hard work and union membership is just a marketing gimmick.

    Joshua on November 11, 2011 7:59 PM:

    Hey Allen,

    I was thinking about what you’ve said. I understand your sentiments completely, but maybe, …just a thought experiment here okay? The store is trying to offer the very best, and when the bigger picture improves in the American landscape, the products that are offered in the store(s), will improve.

    I guess what I’m saying is lets not entirely put blame on the shoulders of the store owner because of the name.

    We should be fair, there is a LOT to like about that store. The Alden’s look pretty groovy i gotta say, and I would be proud to own anything from that place.

    Gary on November 13, 2011 11:46 PM:

    i really am interested in union-made, high quality clothing where I know and can verify the workers have been paid a fair wage to do good work. Sure, the items would be more expensive up-front than at Target, but presumably a higher quality item would mean I’d buy fewer replacements and it’d work out cheaper in the long run.

    It’d be awesome if something like that existed. Is there a website or something that looks for and highlights such things?

    Rhon on November 14, 2011 8:18 PM:

    Pic 2 looks like my dream walk-in closet. Great stuff man.

    coldaslife on November 15, 2011 4:08 AM:

    we get it. i get it.
    but at the end of the day.
    it’s just clothes.
    like pants. and shirts.
    and next year it will be something else.
    and the year after.
    and this website could not exist.
    but another one will.
    we could all just have one shirt. and a pant.
    but then some asshole would just grow his hair.

    Andy on November 15, 2011 12:58 PM:

    I’m into the “heritage” look and it is more commonly available now thanks to larger brands imitating the success of smaller stores like Unionmade. Anyone familiar with the store knows that its leadership came from the corporate world of San Francisco Fashion, and that the two circles co-mingle regularly. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the success of this offshoot created space in the larger SF Fashion brands (Gap, Levis, Old Navy, etc) for this type of “look.”

    But, I don’t think that the presence of this look in larger fashion worlds is necessarily indicative of it being “here to stay.”

    Primarily, although the “heritage” look seems infallible and constant, the brands themselves have changed over the years and have adapted to trends. Many of the brands had to “bring back” old models that were discontinued because they had fallen out of popularity and were no longer selling sufficient quantities to justify continued production. Did Red Wing always sell the “Classic Chukka,” or is the contemporary version an updated version of a discontinued model? Was the current model in its current form available 15 years ago? Companies update models to follow current trends. Slim model pants are now universally accepted as legitimate, and are not derided as gay or otherwise deviant or weird. My point is, although Filson’s will continue to exist during the next “trend” of fashion, my guess is that JCrew no longer “collaborate” on so many projects with them, and the universality of the look will diminish.

    I think that the “heritage” look is based, in part, on our current economic condition, and will subside if/when we come out of this recession and again enjoy a period of high growth. If you look at the fashion tends of the earlier oughts – does anyone remember Electroclash and the fervor over White Belts? – they were flashy, edgy, urban and youth driven. Who wants to do cocaine to relabeled techno music in a loft in Brooklyn? Sounds fantastic, sounds ironic (?), but doesn’t sound like the material for a heritage fashion look book.

    The heritage looks spends a lot of time digging up old models and old archives of similar looks to justify its place in the “history” of fashion, but that “history” is deeply selective. Here is a photograph of a rock climber wearing a Shetland sweater, ergo, this recent model Shetland sweater is something that has enduring value and despite tough economic times it is a smart decision to purchase this because it demonstrates your ability to be fashionable and to understand the value of durable goods. I don’t think its any less good looking for this reason, but I think calling something “heritage” plays at people’s insecurities over spending money on consumable goods instead of saving money. It provides a reason to purchase a certain type of look and provides a feeling of protection against larger forces of economic and social uncertainty.

    For those reasons I think that “heritage” as it is now, in which a full range of large fashion corporations revive and refine old models and a full range of small businesses use “craftsman style” small production facilities to create new interpretations of old models, will not continue once the recession is over. Once the recession is over, credit and cash will become more available, and as was the case in the early 90s and the early 00s, everyday fashion will again return to glamor, youth infatuation and the ostentatious display of wealth through loud colors and harder-edged designs.

    However, because “heritage” is a market and because that market is defined by the thousands of people who have a vested interest in it continuing, it will continue to exist. A few years ago there was a movement for Hip-Hop icons to create fashion labels. Those labels demonstrated some success, but did not capture an overwhelming portion of the market. Did they roll over and die? No, they continue to exist and people continue to buy them, but just not in the same numbers. In the most base of terms, “heritage” will be a look, just like preppy or punk or gangster or hippie or yuppie or frumpy burning man person is.

    I think the thing that the “heritage” market has demonstrated, however, is that the structure of fashion media and the structure of the fashion industry has changed, and the consequences of those changes are two major unknowns when projecting future trends.

    The internet has become much more pervasive in the last 10 years. Believe it or not, when I started college in 2000 most of my peers did not have cell phones or laptops. People were still using Myspace, and Tumblr was still seven years away from being invented. Today, many people consume media on their personal phones. Graphic content (images) is available all the time and everywhere, meaning that there is a demand for more fashion blogs and more commentary and more discussion, and, of course, more stores. The pervasiveness of information today also means that more people are educated on the variety of fabrics of pocketsquares and why that is “important.” The consumer is more educated, and his demands are more refined.

    One of the consequences of the downturn in the economy is that many people were laid off from large firms. Those people moved into freelance positions, or created smaller boutique firms doing essentially what they did for the larger parent company. Although my knowledge is second hand, my understanding is that Unionmade is an example of this larger trend. My guess is that many of the successful small fashion brands are the result of similar events. Simultaneously, production has become a lot cheaper and minimum orders are now lower. Large firms are no longer taking up the entire production capacity of a given textile factory, so those factories are willing to talk to and produce for small companies with limited runs.

    Given the overall social and economic trends of the last 15 years I think its silly to say “heritage” is here to stay. But the things that have allowed heritage to exist and succeed, especially the division of the larger fashion industry into many smaller companies, the increase in consumer awareness of esoteric selling points and the decease in the minimum order of production are here to stay, and undoubtedly will lead to interesting and surprising new creations.

    As for the “Made in America” “trend vs. movement” discussion – that seems more complicated.

    In summary, nice post, thanks for continuing the conversation. Nice store, would be cooler if they designed more of their own material instead of just selling things that are available elsewhere. Also, the uniformity of the Unionmade look just seems kind of soul-less to me – like living in a William-Sonoma catalog spread as opposed to actually living in a house. I think I would like the store more if it actually had its own personality – instead it just feels like the most concise summation of the most derivative position possible. on November 15, 2011 8:56 PM:

    @Davis – Unionmade is opening in Marin bc they are here in LA at the Brentwood Country Mart (which is under the same ownership as what will be their new store in Marin.)

    Great article/debate Michael. I’m with you.

    coldaslife on November 16, 2011 1:05 AM:

    oh man, that dude needs his own blog. or a job. not sure. or maybe a more interesting job where he doesn’t have the time to write essays on someone else’s blog. and it was about clothes.

    Mikey on November 17, 2011 2:08 PM:

    There’s a nice op-ed on a blog that summed this all up really well in my eyes.
    I think ACL, Union Made and the guys at Tellason would agree – and even Andy. It’s not a trend but a shift/movement.

    Randy on November 22, 2011 11:05 AM:

    As an old hippie, I say, “Right On”, Allen. Unionmade. Right. I was suspicious, but wanted to give them a look, and guess what? That’s right, Unionmade is a name that was probably focus-grouped,and the group said it would give us consumers a nice warm fuzzy at this particular time in America, and voila, “Unionmade”.

    That website is leaving my Made in USA bookmarks. Ricky ticky.

    And Andy, all I can say is, “Whew.”

    craig on November 24, 2011 7:54 AM:

    can you pls pick up and move to boston.

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