I’ve always been fascinated with the way goods used to be made, the tradition, craftsmanship, and pride that was synonymous with American manufacturing. I run a leather camera accessories company, Cub & Co., and when I decided to start my business I knew I wanted it to be rooted in the same principles, and made here in America.
It’s no secret that the made in America revival is still going strong. Decades of offshore manufacturing and questionable quality standards have reignited consumers’ desire for quality American made goods. Consumers are eager for premium products made to last, with soul, and a story to match. It’s no surprise that many designers, brands, manufacturers are looking to our golden age of yesteryear for design inspiration and knowledge of traditional craftsmanship methods. Heritage brands such as Filson, Levi’s, and Woolrich are heralded for their commitment to making exceptionally well-made products, but most of all, for their timeless authenticity.
Authenticity is Timeless
Authenticity, that’s the buzzword that seems to be going around so much. There is obviously something to be said about our emotional connection to products that make us feel nostalgic. There is a certain romance to a classic Stetson hat, or a letterman jacket. As a vintage camera collector, I know it all too well. That feeling is often the driving force by which purchases are made, over need. All designers and brand owners are trying to tap into that channel of consciousness.
We are constantly unearthing the past, and, while it may be great at first, after a while, it starts to resemble a Civil War reenactment. Everyone starts to look the same and we deny ourselves the opportunity develop our own unique voice, and be our true authentic self. Just like Filson or Levi’s 100 years ago, we today as brand owners, designers, manufacturers, should be a product of our time. They weren’t looking back to recreate styles and functions of earlier generations, they looked at their surroundings and saw a need in the marketplace and capitalized on it. What makes them timeless is their commitment to their original ideals, aesthetic and tastes.
Since globalization and the Internet, the world has gotten much smaller. The spread of ideas are now instantaneous and we are all part of one global economy and in many ways, share one global culture. Speaking personally, I didn’t come from a lineage of skilled leather craftsman and I never apprenticed for a master leather worker. I didn’t have to because I taught myself with Google, Youtube and an exacto knife. I don’t have mountains and rivers in my backyard and I can only grow a neck beard. I barely even drink coffee. So I can’t really tell that story. I’m just a 1st generation Latino American who grew up in the 90’s, loves Wutang, photography and making things with my hands. That’s the only story I can tell, I can only stay true to my experiences and my ideas.
That’s the world we live in today. There’s been such a massive culture clash, we are all walking oxymorons, which is exactly what makes the present so exciting; whether it’s a dude wearing a straight brimmed felt hat with a leather biker jacket, joggers and Jordan 1’s or a young lady wearing weathered boyfriend jeans, a blazer and high heels. These interesting juxtapositions are everywhere we look and are what will ultimately define our sense of style and what will be the lasting value that we can pass on to future generations. The possibilities are endless.
Do it For Yourself
As the founder and creative director for Cub & Co., I’m looking to make my own unique mark on the “fashion” landscape. Not because I’m consciously trying to be different than everyone else, but because there can only be one me. I read this quote the other day that really resonated with me:
“In art, at a certain level, there is no ‘better than.’ It’s just about trying to operate for yourself on the most supreme level, artistically, that you can and hoping that people get it. Trusting that, just because of the way people are built and how interconnected we are, greatness will translate and symmetry will be recognized.” – Frank Ocean, American Artist
I feel this holds true for any art form and is an idea I try to live by everyday. For most of us, the very reason we got into the business is to make our own mark, not to have other agendas dictate how and why we make things, but to truly feel a connection to the products we make, goods with soul and character that come from a very personal place. In my humble opinion, that’s the only way to provide lasting value to our customers, not by just making the best whatever out there, but by inflecting ourselves into our products and our brand aesthetic.
Make a Connection
In everything I do for my brand, I like to put a piece of myself into it. I have countless pools of inspiration that I dip into that come from my personal experiences; from my love for hip-hop, my Hispanic culture, traditional menswear, my hobbies, to the places I grew up and my passion for good design. Whether it’s the music I choose for promotional videos, down to the styling and location for our lookbooks, everything has a connection back to my journey and to this place I find myself at right now.
I’m not trying to recreate something from the past. I’m trying to familiarize my customers with who I am and my story, and hoping that they will in turn be able to relate to their own journey. That’s the emotional connection I am looking for. I don’t just want to sell products then eventually fade away. I’m trying to develop a lasting relationship. I want to connect with them on that subconscious level where they are no longer just buying a product, but they are essentially buying into my vision. At that point you are your own greatest competition.
Brands That Are Pushing Boundaries
Of course it takes creativity and keen sense of style in order to execute this in a cohesive manner and to be able to look back for influences, while still transforming that inspiration into a fresh idea. There are many brands that are doing this very well. Back in 2009, Peter Buchanan-Smith, Manhattan based graphic designer, tapped into his love for the outdoors and his experience working on cattle farms in order to reinvent the trusty axe. Which became the blank canvas he used to cultivate his own unique aesthetic, which is now known as Best Made. There’s also Portland based Kiriko who repurposes centuries old Japanese fabric to make their own line of unique apparel and accessories.
On the flip side of the coin is NYC based Outlier. They don’t focus on tradition so much as they look to the future. Constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to textiles and construction techniques. By applying their forward thinking aesthetic to classic menswear staples, Outlier is helping to redefine the level of performance we’ve come to expect from our clothes.
The Future Starts Now
There are countless other examples of brands that are helping to shape the “Made in America” landscape. No matter what part of that spectrum you are on, we have an incredible opportunity to put our stake in the ground and build upon strong traditions of American craftsmanship, attention to detail, and ingenuity. We can thrive in this mass cross-pollination of ideas and cultures as long as we stay true to who we are, and aren’t afraid of being different. Let’s share our experiences, let’s try new things, let’s be inspired so that 100 years from now, we can truly be a timeless reflection of our time and place in history, the New American Heritage.