In the aftermath of the factory collapse in Bangladesh, plenty of gut checks, soul-searching, finger pointing and a rethink of how, where and why we purchase clothes is underway. One natural reaction is to focus on eco-fashion or “buy local,” and indeed here in the U.S. a bevy of manufacturers are creating clothes that look sharp and are far more ethical and socially conscious than what is churning out of dubious overseas factories. One of them is Osmium, a Massachusetts-based men’s clothing firm I highlighted two weeks ago.
Yesterday, I chatted on the telephone with Mark Paigen, Osmium’s founder and a compelling spokesman on why we should step away from fast fashion and have a wardrobe focused on clothes that last. His personal journey and his company’s successes and challenges also shed light on what domestic manufacturers confront day-to-day here in the U.S.
Paigen’s journey started with his company, Chaco, which he founded in 1989. The company made sandals designed for outdoor activities such as river rafting, developed a strong cult following, and eventually he sold the company to Wolverine World Wide Inc. in 2009. Paigen then took time off, sailed around the world and traveled, but got the itch to get back into business. Meanwhile, he realized he had a hard time finding men’s apparel he liked–either they were mass produced or were in boutiques at a price far out of reach to most consumers.
To that end, Paigen launched Osmium last year. He found his fashion inspiration in his travels and also in history. For example, wearing shorts in many regions of the world is bad form (i.e., screams “tourist” or is not culturally acceptable), so Paigen designed the Point Six Pants, literally a 6/10 cut pant comfortable enough to wear in humid climates without offending local sensibilities. And in a nod to 18th century sailor pants, Osmium sells the Mariner Pant, a zipper-less pant that heralds what soldiers and sailors wore during the Revolutionary War, only with a more updated look.
Both styles, along with the rest of Osmium’s product line, are manufactured 20 minutes away from Paigen’s office in Stoneham, MA. Osmium’s manufacturing process is typical of other manufacturers. For example, most contract manufacturers in the U.S. require designers to source all fabrics and finishings–so it is up to Paigen and his staff to procure everything from textiles such as cotton canvas or Merino wool to buttons and snaps. If you want one-stop fabric procurement, specs, cutting and finishing, unless you’re American Apparel in L.A, you are working with Li & Fung or Alibaba in China–sadly, the American textile manufacturing infrastructure is a shell of what it once was.
But Paigen emphasized the rewards generated by working with a local manufacturer. The 30 or so employees at the factory are treated well and he does not have to worry about a factory horror unfolding overseas. He can also quickly swing by the factory to discuss last minute changes, sewing details and production. There is no 15 or 16 hour time zone difference, and he as a small manufacturer, has no prohibitive communication or travel costs. “I don’t have to worry about a factory with unsafe conditions, said Paige, “I’m there all the time, I don’t have to hire a third party certification or wonder about the honesty of the factory’s management.” And we did not even discuss the reduced carbon footprint by not transporting clothes from thousands of miles away.
For now, Osmium only sells direct to consumers from its website, though occasionally Paigen and his team will sell their clothing at fairs and outdoor events throughout New England. Venturing out gives potential customers the opportunity to touch and feel the clothes as nuances such as texture or sewing details do not show well on a web browser.
I asked Paigen how someone should stock their wardrobe to have the right clothes while buying fewer of them and therefore having a more sustainable clothes closet. “I think if you went into any guy’s closet,” Paigen said, “60 percent of the stuff is never even worn. I ask guys how many pairs of pants they wear in a month and most say three, four or five.”
Obviously what’s needed in a closet varies whether you are a banker or a building contractor. But in the end, Paigen insists, men should keep their color palette simple, change out garments slowly over time and turn away from any urge to buy for the latest season. A cohesive style will allow you to mix and match looks without having a closet full of cheaply made, fast-fashion items.
“We should buy fewer garments of higher quality that last longer,” Paigen said. “I want to succeed and grow my business, but I also want to educate people more about buying good clothes that fit, being less ‘consumer-ish’ and focus on quality instead of quantity.”
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: Osmium]