In a blog post earlier this week, beloved cycling apparel brand Kitsbow announced they were closing their doors for good after 11 years and one cross-country move. The brand was unable to secure necessary financing to keep the business running. They’d recently hoped to raise $1 million to continue operations and to grow, but only about half of that amount came in.
The CEO, David Billstrom, wrote in a blog post on the Kitsbow website:
It is devastating and disappointing – in ways that words cannot possibly convey. Terrible for our community, Old Fort and McDowell County, North Carolina. In each of the past three years, Kitsbow injected an annual payroll of approximately $2 million dollars into a rural town previously in economic decline for 30 years. Our presence sparked a resurgence of employers – two manufacturing operations have since followed to Old Fort, adding more jobs to the local economy.
This is also terrible for our investors, new and old, and a blow to the tiny segment of our industry that is attempting to make apparel in the U.S. instead of overseas as 98% of the clothes sold in the U.S. are made.
But most of all, it is the end of a dream for our employees, 30,000 customers, and the thousands of supporters for our vision of making clothes in a new way that respects the worker and pays a living wage (with benefits).
Our apparel industry is deeply broken, and like to think we were showing that there was a different way: made local, respecting artisan skills, paying a Living Wage, and working together as a community. Our crew made 17,000+ garments during 2022 right here in the U.S. and we humbly hope that we have changed minds about the way clothes have to be made, and by whom.
It’s that last part I wonder most about. Running any kind of business is tough, but especially so when you know there are cheaper, easier ways to do it—Kitsbow could have made their clothes in a vastly cheaper labor market overseas and they could have paid their workers in the US far lower wages.
But they wanted to show a better way. A way that means better jobs paying a living wage, a way that means better clothes that last longer. A way past our fast fashion, clothes as a temporary body wrapping made with dirt cheap labor in Southeast Asia meant to be tossed in the garbage the *moment* we tire of the color.
I don’t want to descend into a political thing here, but whether you celebrate globalism or not, making things in the USA means more jobs with living wages than if everything we buy is made overseas. This isn’t a knock on quality from Asian factories—I’ve spoken with many apparel brands who would love to make their goods here in the US, but the quality isn’t up to par with overseas factories that have been perfecting their production methods for decades.
That’s where brands like Kitsbow can offer a way ahead.
Unfortunately, we might not be ready yet, as a consumptive society, to embrace a strategy that means pricey clothes meant to last. Kitsbow’s iconic button down riding shirts were nearly $300. I don’t doubt they were worth every penny, but that’s a big, big chunk of change for a button down. I’m also sure it was priced as low as Kitsbow could price it while still making enough money to keep the lights on.
I would love an America in which there are factories in every town making super high quality clothes and gear, offering great jobs, revitalizing rural communities that have been left behind by the knowledge economy and overseas manufacturing. As I’m sure would anyone reading this.
We just have to be ready to put our money where our hearts are.
One last bit from Billstrom:
The Leaders at Kitsbow hope that each of you will continue to spread the word of the fine work done by the team at Kitsbow.
We can’t go on, but we don’t want the movement of benefit corporations and respect for the worker to slow. Values that we all can embrace are nearly within reach of any apparel company. Please use your purchasing power to vote for brands that matter.
And in the years ahead, please give a nod or a wave when you see someone wearing Kitsbow in the wild. Durable Kitsbow gear will last for years to come, and every use of each garment is a reminder that this journey mattered, to you and to us.
Love & Gratitude,
David Billstrom for the Team at Kitsbow
Raise a glass to Kitsbow, they freaking tried. And we’ll always love them for that.
Words by Justin Housman