BUSINESS SUCCESS IS IN THE BAG.
Archival Clothing, a Eugene apparel company that sells USA-made products, is only two years old, but it's getting noticed in national publications and international style blogs.
The Wall Street Journal heralded Archival Clothing's debut piece, a "musette" bag - styled after the small bags used to pass meals to cyclists during road races - as a "manlier man bag," perfect for carrying an iPad.
Fashion blogs gushed over Archival's rucksack, released in spring 2010. Modeled after a traditional canoe pack, it is made of waxed twill, with straps of tightly woven cotton webbing, Horween leather accents and solid brass hardware. This summer, Archival produced a limited run of these bags, with a special computer sleeve, for Barney's, a high-end retailer based in New York City.
Archival's products, which are made by T&J Custom Sewing and Design in Springfield and other manufacturers in the United States, appeal in particular to fashion-forward Japanese, who've had a decades-long love affair with heritage Americana style, creative director Lesli Larson said.
The products also appeal to a growing group of consumers who want their dollars to support jobs in the United States and are willing to pay a premium for well-crafted items made of quality materials, company officials said.
Customers have e-mailed Archival after they receive their purchase saying, "Oh my God, I forgot what quality looks like!" managing director Lynn McInnes said.
Archival's line of bags, shirts, sweaters, caps and belts are sold on its website and at 45 retailers throughout the country; and as far away as Australia, Japan, Thailand and Switzerland.
The company recently partnered with a Japanese distributor that represents about 50 stores, McInnes said. "I think that will fuel some of the growth for next year," she said. "It will keep us busy and probably test us out a bit. We're going to have to learn how to ramp up production."
The company, with just two full-time equivalent employees, had revenues of $178,000 last year and projects revenues of $436,000 this year, McInnes said.
Archival's products aren't cheap. Its signature rucksack starts at $260; a 13-inch by 10-inch musette bag is $50, and a wallet made of leather from the Horween tannery in Chicago costs $120.
But U.S. manufacturing costs more because of minimum wage laws and other workplace and environmental protections that don't exist in many countries overseas, manufacturers and labor advocates say. Also Archival seeks out best-in-class materials, Larson said.
It was Larson's own longing for well-made, timeless clothing and accessories that set her on the path to business ownership.
Larson's day job is digitizing historical photo and newspaper collections at the University of Oregon.
With a fascination for mail-order catalogs dating back to childhood and an affinity for classic movies, Larson, 43, said she is nostalgic for a past that in some ways seems better than the present.
"The way clothing was made," she said. "The way people wore clothing. ... There was a level of personal style that was appealing."
In 2006, years before there was a company with anything to sell, Larson launched her Archival Clothing blog. There she lamented what she saw as the loss of quality when U.S. apparel companies shifted production overseas and many longtime U.S. manufacturers disappeared.
She puzzled over the trend of some U.S. companies continuing to make select items in the United States for the Japanese market, but not selling them here.
She scanned in pages from L.L. Bean catalogs from the 1950s and encouraged her readers to fantasy shop.
McInnes, a former roommate of Larson's from their days at the University of Washington, saw the interest Larson was stirring up, and she encouraged her longtime friend to think bigger than her blog.
"One day I asked her what did she want to do with this?" McInnes said. "Where did she want to take it?"
"Instead of talking about the brands that we've lost and the companies that have gone overseas, what can we make here?" asked McInnes, a chemist who built a career selling software to financial services companies. She now lives in Boulder, but said she keeps in constant contact with Larson via phone, e-mail and Twitter, and monthly visits to Eugene.
To start up the company, Larson contributed the Archival Clothing blog and identity and McInnes contributed about $70,000 in the first nine months, McInnes said.
A third partner, product designer Tom Bonamici,
has a background in architecture. He formerly lived in Eugene and is studying design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
The trio chose to introduce the musette bag first because it was a simple, lightweight, unisex item made of parafin-treated cotton - a "romantic material" that got wiped out by Gore-Tex, Larson said.
Sourcing materials even for this simple bag took months of sleuthing, she said.
"It took us a month or two to find the company that produces webbing for the UK military," Larson said.
Then Archival had to find a U.S. sewing contractor to make the bags.
Finally they found Terry Shuck at T&J in Springfield. He and his wife, Julie, had formerly worked for Burley Design when it was a worker-owned cooperative manufacturing bike trailers in Eugene.
"I feel fortunate that (Terry) took us in," Larson said. "There aren't a lot of people like Terry out there who are collaborative."
Today, Archival's bags are about 30 percent of T&J's business, Shuck said.
Shuck said he has been "buried with work," particularly in the past year, with so many manufacturers wanting a "Made in the U.S.A." label. He said he added three employees in the past few months and bought a building triple the size of the space the business has been leasing. The business will move there in February.
Orders also have picked up at Columbia knit, a 90-year-old knitting mill in Portland, which manufactures rugby shirts, sweatshirts and wool scarves for Archival.
"We are seeing an uptick in interest in U.S.A.-made apparel," said Nickie Huckaby, product development director.
Not just from manufacturers in the U.S., but in Japan, New Zealand and other countries, she said.
Huckaby said she has "no clue" what's driving the interest: "I'm just very glad that it's happening."
Bob Bussel, director of the UO's Labor Education Research Center, who formerly worked for a garment workers' union, said he questions whether there could be a large-scale revival of U.S. apparel manufacturing.
But "I do think there are certain types of niche markets ... where people are willing to pay top dollar for a certain type of product with a certain level of quality. As wages begin to rise in China and other parts of the world, there does seem to be a greater (interest) in making more things here."
Business: Designs and manufactures USA-made clothing and accessories
Founded: August 2009
Partners: Lesli Larson, creative director; Lynn McInnes, managing director; Tom Bonamici, design director
Employees: Two full-time equivalent
Revenues: $178,000 in 2010; $436,000 projected in 2011
Where available: Baker's Shoes & Clothing; Caddis Fly Shop; store.archivalclothing.com