“Sweatshirts are the classic ubiquitous American silhouette, but they’ve become associated to be this crappy thing that doesn’t look good,” says Bayard Winthrop, American Giant’s founder and president, sitting at a wooden table next to a giant American flag in his Mission District showroom on 21st Street near Capp.
To Winthrop, hoodies — and now T-shirts — are more than a casual mainstay of American fashion.
“It’s kind of a personal story on why we started with selling sweatshirts,” he says. “I grew up with a U.S. Navy sweatshirt my dad gave me that was heavyweight, with a quality that is greater today than it was 30 years ago.”
After spending his entire career in the apparel industry, including a stint as president of bike messenger bag company Chrome, Winthrop says he started American Giant to build a brand that focuses on lasting quality in a changing landscape of apparel consumerism.
“American Giant is an intersection of two main things,” he says. “One is the belief that consumers want to support brands that are closer to the people who are making the products, and the other is the belief that we should make stuff the way they were made in my grandpa’s generation.”
The menswear retailer started out selling online only, but in March Winthrop opened a storefront on 21st Street. After selling out the company’s first inventory, Winthrop and his employees found it was no longer an option to hop from coffee shop to coffee shop looking for a spot to put down their laptops. The need for a physical storage room prompted them to open a store where they could have their inventory on hand.
American Giant garments are manufactured in Brisbane, and everything else but the actual sewing of the garments happens in the Mission storefront. From initial product conceptions to door designs, everything else for the retailer is carried out in the Mission.
“We really like it here and want to stay as long as we can,” says Winthrop, who has lived in San Francisco for more than 20 years.
The store itself is small — a narrow space big enough to fit three hangers and some shelves filled with neatly stacked shirts and hoodies. Brown shipping boxes are stacked behind Winthrop.
“This space is more storage-focused, but the point of a display room is so you can come in and try our stuff in person,” he says.
The American Giant hoodie is for everyone, Winthrop says.
“We follow a democratic ideal with our brand. Whether it is a guy in Des Moines running a machine shop or Mark Zuckerberg, if they care about quality, then that’s who American Giant is for.”
American Giant will release a new product every three to four weeks, and is planning on launching a women’s line next spring.
American Giant is located at 3171 21st St.