1620 Workwear is Made in USA and built to last. Co-founders Ted De Innocentis and Josh Walker formed the company after noticing the lack of durable, high quality work clothes in the U.S. The company’s patented material holds up 10 times better than typical cotton work garments.
In this interview, Ted and Josh discuss the birth of their business and what inspires them to continuing manufacturing in America.
Josh: We appreciate your time and helping us to get the word out about our company.
Jason: Of course! That’s really the whole point of this interview series is to shine a light on what’s actually made in America today because a lot of people don’t realize there are more American made options than you think. Especially cool companies like yours, which I’ve seen in the past few years how you’ve grown so I’m excited to dive into your story today. First, how was this idea born?
Josh: A lot of the idea for what we wanted to do in the textile industry actually came from my business partner, Ted.
Ted: Josh and I had known each other for a few years in this industry and we met in our 20’s from attending the same tradeshows and events. In 2010, I moved to mainland China to live and work in a garment factory. I ended up staying there for five years and we were an OEM manufacturer for about 40 different brands ranging from activity apparel and outdoor gear to workwear for the European market – that was about 60% of our business. So, I really became knowledgeable on how to build better workwear and the supply chain of the major brands. Josh and I before I moved to China thought about building a business together because we had complimentary skillsets. Josh is great and branding and demand creation and I was more on the supply side. We didn’t know what the business was like before I went to China but we would see each other at international tradeshows once a year and we’d kick around ideas. After the fourth or fifth year, we brought up workwear and decided there was an opportunity to make a better work pant. The European market was focused on bringing more durability workwear to the jobsite and no one in the U.S. was really focused on that. During my time in China, we would actually ship a lot of the quality durable materials from the United States to China and then shipping the finished product back to America. So, I knew the raw material existed here and it was reallyabout designing products around the material that’s available here, which is not a ton, but they make quality niche fabrics and that’s how they survive. At the end of 2015, we combined forces and we had our first kickoff meeting the day after I got home from China. It became pretty clear once we realized the best fabrics came from the U.S. anyway and we wouldn’t need to be importing from all around the world. We worked directly with yarn suppliers, fabric mill, and the dye house to create our own proprietary blend so it’s not an open product. In 2016, we lab tested it and it was 10 times more abrasion resistant than 100% cotton.
Jason: So you guys bring all the material in and you do all the cutting and sewing at your own plant?
Ted: We actually do contract manufacturing right now and they’re all family businesses. We control the entire supply chain so we buy all the raw material and control all of our patterns.
Jason: Are you straight to the consumer or do you also do wholesale?
Josh: Currently, we’re all direct to consumer, but we’ve had some interest with retailers. Through Covid, a lot of the older tradesmen were forced to shop online for new workwear so it’s put us in a good spot to get new customers. Once we get more volume we can look at retail.
Jason: What is the feedback like once you get people to try your pants?
Josh: Well, the typical digital model is to buy something for half the price and it’s just as good. For us, our workwear is three to four times more expensive than cheaper options, but it’s higher quality and more durable. So, it doesn’t quite fit the digital model, but once people actually make that purchase they realize why it’s more expensive than competitors. We have a more than 60 percent repeat customer rate. The feeback is unanimously really positive, which we think shows how poorly made most workwear is in the U.S. market. We’re the first brand to really come into this category at a higher level.
Jason: How did you guys do throughout Covid? Did you have any setbacks?
Ted: 2020 ended up being a great year for our customer and we ended up hitting our pre-covid goals through the end of 2020. Our customers never really stopped working during the pandemic. The demand for home improvement was really great too so they might’ve even had more business than usual. Now, in 2021 we certainly haven’t looked back. We’re building slowly still because we wouldn’t want to risk quality for faster growth–it’s just not sustainable.
Jason: I’ve talked to other manufacturers and they ended up not going to big box retailers because they didn’t want to sacrifice relationships with small retailers or even sacrifice quality. Is that why you’ve stayed away from larger retail stores as well?
Josh: Yeah, the name of the game is they want to make as much money as they can–we’ve talked to CEO’s of these big businesses. At the end of the day, depending on the path the business goes, owned retail is what we’ll probably be most interested in. What we beleive in matters and we’re making better stuff in the U.S. We just want the American people to know that there’s no one out there doing it that way. There are plenty of American manufacturers in other categories, and they know it’s harder to do it this way. We’re super passionate about trying to make it here and prove that you can be successful here.
Jason: What’s inspiring to me in your story is that you proved you can be a profitable company making garments here. You had an idea and you brought it into fruition. It’s awesome to see people pulling it off.
Ted: Yeah, everyone who’s doing it here really loves what they’re doing and they’re passionate about it. It’s great that we’re all working towards the same goal.
Click here to learn more about 1620 Workwear.