American-made runs deep at Williamsburg Garment Company (WGC). When the brand launched it’s first Made in the USA style in 2013 – the Hope Street Jean – the response was so positive that the company moved all of its operations from China back to the United States. The one-man operation, run by company president and designer Maurice Malone, has attracted a loyal following for its simple, high-quality jeans at prices much lower than luxury brands of comparable quality, a fact he’s unapologetic about.
“A lot of competitors and even some retailers don’t like what we’re doing, but I’m not concerned with them,” said Malone, who believes in Made in the USA so much that he traded in his BMW for a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Rivet recently got the chance to speak with Malone, who didn’t hold back when it came to blasting other denim companies on everything from price to size.
RIVET: Tell us a little bit about WGC for those who might not be familiar.
Malone: WGC is based in Brooklyn, New York and operates as a one-man company. Our mission – quite simply, is to rival America’s largest and oldest denim brands which now produce overseas, by producing and marketing competitively priced, top quality, Made in the USA products in a wide range of sizes. I truly believe someday we will be the most desired American denim brand on the planet. That’s not to say we want to be the biggest, because we have no intentions to be like the other big American brands producing mostly overseas in low labor cost countries and selling inferior products at mass volume discount retailers which specialize in selling imported and cheap products. As a one-man company our goal is to revolutionize the denim market by leveraging our years of experience, creative expertise, streamlined supply chain, low overhead and technology to deliver the very best jeans in the market at any price level.
RIVET: How are WGC jeans different from other jeans on the market?
Malone: What makes WGC different can be broken down into quality, price, and American-made. Ninety percent of the fabrics we use are American made by Cone Mills denim with the balance from top Japanese denim producers, so we’re using the same top quality fabrics as many higher priced competitors who price their jeans at $200-plus. Another difference is we use the best possible sewing techniques at every seam. After covering all the bases in quality and construction, we still manage to keep our denim retail prices between the ranges of $124 to $164. That’s because we keep overhead low and don’t build large profit margins into our prices to cover wasteful spending in operations and habits.
RIVET: Many people love WGC for its simple aesthetic. Could you tell us more about it?
Malone: We make an aesthetically clean looking jean, void of outer labels, decorative stitches and waistband patches. Our unique coin pocket which works well on both genders, inside American Flag inspired printed pocket bags and attention to quality details are the main branding aspect of our jeans. To me, waistband patches are eye sores, only having the purpose of branding and clearly don’t enhance the look of jeans. Most brands just follow in line adding a patch as if it is a required part of a jeans construction without actually thinking about why it’s there. I decided to go my own way by adding a W built inside the waist band for retail shelf I.D. that is nearly invisible when wearing. I’m often asked, “Your jeans are beautiful, so why don’t you add some kind of label or stitch detail so they are recognizable when people are wearing them?” My response is, the beauty in WGC jeans is they don’t have labels and branding decorations.
RIVET: WGC jeans are made in a variety of sizes, too. Why is this important to you?
Malone: Most other brands refuse to make sizes over 38, because they think it does not go well with the luxury image they are trying to project. We know that beautiful people come in many shapes and sizes. We are building a new legacy of Made in the USA jeans that appeals to everyone from the skinny edgy kid with a minimal budget for fashion on a skateboard, to the heavy set guy trading stocks and bonds on Wall Street with an unlimited budget and taste for luxury and fashion. We produce modern fitting core basic jeans. We are not interested in chasing or predicting trends. Our goal is to make beautifully simple products that fit well and last.
RIVET: We’ve seen an increased focus on Made in the USA in the jeans market over the last few years. How does WGC fit into that? And do you think this is indicative of where the denim industry is going as a whole?
Malone: American made is very important to me. Some people don’t realize the effect it has on our economy when we buy imported products. As a nation, we went from being a powerful industrial-based economy to being known more for our technology and entertainment after giving away lots of our manufacturing to low labor cost countries. People don’t realize as they started seeking to save money shopping at those new huge mega discount stores popping up in their neighborhoods, not only did they help to put the mom-and-pop retailers out of business; they were putting the factories they or their friends and family worked at out of business. Also, not realizing factories have economies built around them in restaurants, entertainment and other businesses. Americans [recently] started buying more Made in USA again and now you hear the explosive growth in China has slowed or stalled. Our economy is now doing better and that’s because we took a small step. Imagine if more people and businesses took American production more seriously.
RIVET: How did you decide WGC was going to be made in America?
Malone: One of the most aspiring things anyone’s ever said to me was told by the friend who owned a small factory and produced my jeans in China prior to 2013. He wanted me to lower my standards and make cheaper jeans in order to sell higher volumes. In response, I asked him, “wouldn’t you rather produce a lower volume of jeans at high profit, like making 5000 jeans at a $20 profit?” He said, “No, I’d rather make 100,000 jeans at a $1 profit. This way I can keep my people working and able to put food in their mouths.”
I thought if we looked at business in the U.S. with that kind of unselfishness, our economy and county would be so much stronger. That conversation helped to inspire me to one-day start manufacturing back in the U.S.A. So when President Obama put out the call to American businesses to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S., I totally got it. I produced our first Made in USA jean called Hope Street in the spring of 2013. After the success of the Hope Street jeans that only sold at a slightly higher retail price than my Chinese made jeans at the time, I decided to bring all my production back to the USA.
RIVET: Your brand emphasizes quality and affordability. Do you feel the two are at all at odds? Or are consumers wasting their money on luxury brands when they can get a similar quality product for less?
Malone: I think you can surround an inferior or equal product in a beautiful inspiring setting and then place an equal or better product in a setting that doesn’t excite the senses and it would be likely a large segment of people will willing pay more for the product with the better setting, without looking at the details or differences between the products. That’s called marketing. Luxury is placing a premium on an obvious difference in quality or creative talent behind the product. Today, there are more brands selling marketing than actual luxury.
A lot of people simply think if it cost more it must be better. Those types don’t spend much time doing their homework before buying. They’re used to paying more as a security blanket. I get that. That type will be the consumer that comes over to our brand after seeing it accepted by other more knowledgeable consumers. I also accept that, WGC may never be attractive to the customer who wants to spend $400 to $1000 on a jean or sneaker because they want to be associated with the image the brand. Selling image is what a lot of so-called luxury brands are in the business of selling. Many times the premium price tag is more a result of the marketing expenses and high target profit margins, because the brand chooses to willfully waste money in its operations. WGC is absolutely about making the very best possible product it can with minimal waste and keeping the price within reason.
RIVET: Have other brands had a reaction to what you’re doing?
Malone: By producing high quality American made jeans without the high price tag that so many consumers have become accustomed to, we are making waves in the market. A lot of competitors and even some retailers don’t like what we’re doing but I’m not concerned with them. I only care about the final consumer. They are my number-one priority each and everyday. As long as I have happy customers my business will grow and succeed.
I had one retailer tell me they did not want to buy our brand because they were not interested in undercutting the other brands. I explained, we are not trying to undercut brands selling for more then $200 or devalue them; we are simply presenting an alternative. It didn’t matter. Some retailers and brands are all about selling the illusion of luxury and some consumers don’t mind paying more for less because it makes them feel good; more power to them. There’s an old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.