On the Line | Unionmade

By Caleb Bushner


If you’re into classic menswear, then do yourself the favor of getting acquainted with San Francisco’s Unionmade. Founded by Todd Barket and Carl Chiara, two apparel industry alums with nearly forty years of creative direction and design experience between them, the store harkens back to an era that predates “fast fashion,” offering garments that are simple, durable and timeless. This back-to-basics approach has lead to great fanfare, quickly earning the boutique a reputation for being one of the best in the country.

For Todd, who still remembers when there was no difference between dressing well and dressing authentically, the approach comes naturaly. Citing his father as one of his biggest inspirations, he says “this sensibility is what I’ve always grown up around. It’s important for the store’s collection to focus upon quality and have a vision, a point of view. It has to tell a story.”

One of the more impressive chapters in Unionmade’s story, so far, has been the exclusive collaborations the store has done, and continues to do, with brands such as Alden and Golden Bear. “Golden Bear can do everything we want,” Todd says. “We like working with people who are experts – best-in-category for what they do. Then we can bring in our taste level and aesthetic and make a great product.”

Speaking more on working with domestic makers, he says, “It’s been really surprising, the pockets of production that are still here. I can see why Asia is so set up to do big business: a lot of the large scale machinery hasn’t existed in the US since the 60s or 70s. But, people appreciate it when you find [American-made goods] and bring it to them.” Pointing to Tellason Jeans as an example, he says, “Tony [Tellason’s co-founder] will personally come to our store, pick up [a customer’s] jeans and take them back to the sewer for hemming.” What customer wouldn’t appreciate that?

The shopping experience at Unionmade is a distinctive one. Aesop skin care products sit across from Japanese menswear magazines, near insulated Patagonia jackets, which face an impressive array of vintage Levi’s denim. Somewhere in there is a collection of children’s books about San Francisco and a few other cities. And yet, despite being so incredibly diverse, everything in the store seems to be perfectly at home, including the shopper. “It’s amazing what happens if you put out the right vibe,” explains Todd. “We get customers we really want to be friends with.”

About the author:

Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in San Francisco.

  • http://the-distillery.tumblr.com Garri

    Thanks for getting me acquainted with one of my favorite online shops. Browsing their site and receiving those brown paper packages of theirs in the mail, I’ve always felt that Unionmade is a unique store. I would feel right at home spending an afternoon perusing their wares. Now it’s time to book a trip to SF and get out of NJ.

  • http://www.twitter.com/calebbushner Caleb

    Yeah, there are super nice folks there, and damn does that shop have some gorgeous stuff. Let me know when you make it out and I’ll buy you a beer!

  • http://urbanadventurer.com/blog Emily

    This store looks great! I definitely think I’ll go check it out. The pictures came out nice as well. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  • ripley

    I’m just wondering – is everything in the store actually made by people who are in unions? Because that would be great.

    Otherwise, The name is kind of an insult to the labor movement, as well as being actually undermining by turning the phrase “union-made” into a brand that has nothing to do with unions.

    the concept of “sustainable” need to include fair labor practices to be meaningful, otherwise it’s just branding for the wealthy to pat themselves on the back over and won’t actually lead to systemic change. In general, the people who make the stuff ought to be able to afford it (that’s the only way changes can be widespread enough to affect anything systemically), which is much more likely if they have organized enough to demand a decent wage.

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  • http://www.ufcw.org Amber

    Same question here. I work for a labor union and we actually represent retail workers (some H&M workers, for example, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, etc.) so we have a lot of young members (and staff like me) who are always looking for hip union-made stuff. If all this product and apparel is actually union-made, we would LOVE to know so we can talk this store up! If not, then I’d love to know why the store is using the name Unionmade–because union made is not the same as ‘made in the US,’ as much as I’d applaud a retail looking for stuff made here as well.