Is there anything more classic than a navy trench coat? I’d have to say no. It is a must-have for all well-dressed men. There is nothing worse than a guy in a suit with a ratty jacket on over it. Get it together guys! And get an American Trench.
The Valente: What was your experience like using Kickstarter?
American Trench: Kickstarter was really useful – it is a great way to get your product off the ground and in front of people who don’t know you. It was also our first exposure to the marketing/distribution side of the business. We spent several years designing and making our product from scratch, totally immersed in that side of process, but spent no time marketing or selling it (because it wasn’t ready.) Suddenly, we were in a 5th grade popularity contest! You have to reconfigure your brain to be in marketing mode. Kickstarter has limitations – there is no shopping cart, so you have to keep your product offerings simple and minimal or the audience will get confused. The main thing we learned is that Kickstarter is about telling a story. We had a great story to tell, which was centered on our trench coat, even though we had some killer socks to offer. The socks kind of got lost in the trench coat story even though they are a fantastic product. Our two products were also on opposite ends of the cost spectrum, and the lack of a middle tier product probably isolated some potential customers.
V: Any plans to expand your product line?
AT: Yes, we are working on new products as we speak. We had a lot of requests for other colors to the trench coat, so we are working on a khaki version. It will have a completely different cotton lining fabric to complement the khaki exterior. We are designing that textile with the same mill in North Carolina that we worked with before. Our other big cut and sew item for the fall is a quilted vest. It will be trim fitting and modern looking (Italian influenced), as opposed to rugged/puffy (e.g. Barbour/Filson), and will fit nicely under our trench or under a blazer or suit jacket. The modern down fill alternatives like Primaloft are really amazing because you can make something that provides a lot of warmth without a lot of puff.
On the accessories side we working on a bunch of things, but the highlights are argyle socks and cashmere baseball caps. We have an argyle sock in the works that will hopefully drop this summer. It will be a true argyle, meaning intarsia knit, which means no broken stitches from diamond to diamond. The US used make the machinery to do this it all disappeared when most of the hosiery business left for Asia. After an exhaustive search, we found one maker who still had the machines and knew how to use them. For the baseball cap, we got connected to a company in Seattle, and asked them to make us a cashmere baseball cap. It is a great item to have in the winter if you don’t want to wear a stocking cap but still want warmth. David and I walked into a fabric store in NYC and walked out with a mortgage payment of cashmere fabric! There is a blog post on our website about it. It should be very interesting.
V: Have you found any disadvantages to not selling to wholesalers?
AT: In short, yes. Even if you have a great product, reaching your audience is not as easy as it sounds. We are looking at partnering (wholesaling) with some menswear boutiques and other specialty retailers now. For example, we recently partnered with the Made Collection, who is selling some of our wool socks. You can think of it as a hybrid approach. We’ll always sell out of our website and have certain products that are direct to consumer. I think direct to consumer provides great value to both the consumer and producer, but if you can’t get your name out there or the marketing costs exceed a certain threshold, you won’t be in business long. You make less money on a wholesale transactions per item, but you don’t pay any marketing costs. How you sell – direct vs. wholesale – was another part of the experience where we weren’t going to know what to do until we experienced it.
Another nuance of direct to consumer vs. wholesale: it helps to sell products that have a very known price point direct to consumer. For example, premium jeans for men start at about $200. This is a well-known price point. Direct to consumer versions like Gustin can then offer something 40% less and the consumer knows what they are getting. American Giant does the same with sweats. The market for outerwear is much more muddy, especially premium outerwear. We are trying out best, but it is hard to tell the consumer what incredible value they are getting on our coat vs. what big brands like Burberry offer. Burberry doesn’t even make a coat using the incredible H2O fabric we use, but their sort-of equivalent is roughly twice as much.
V: What has been your best memory since starting American Trench?
• The first time we saw the finished product – seeing the vision come to fruition after all the effort and turns in the road – it was really breath-taking.
• After we launched, the outpouring of support we have gotten from older garmentos in the business, some of them now retired, who understand the importance of made in USA and selling quality items, and who love style. They want to help us in any way they can. We have had dozens of people reach out. It is awesome.
• Getting good feedback about our products- we just got an email today from a kickstarter backer who has been wearing his coat on business travels in the Pacific Northwest and Asia. He loves the coat and says he has received a lot of complements. It is a great feeling to know we were able to create a product that used a lot and valued.
V: Favorite items to wear with an American Trench?
AT: Definitely American Trench socks! The wool herringbone socks were so clutch during the cold winter in Philly this year. Aside from that, I bought a reversible vest from Cucinelli off YOOX.com and wore it underneath the trench and liked the look very much. The vest shows through if you leave the top button undone or the trench unbuttoned. David got a pair of suede chukkas from Rancourt of Maine – he has been rocking them with jeans and the trench coat – it’s a great look because it’s casual but still very refined.