Seven Questions: Inland Clothing

Let’s face it, buying American rarely means buying affordable. Due to our country’s (very necessary) laws and regulations regarding compensation, factory conditions, environmental impact, etc., producing goods here costs more, which means the products do too. Add to that the expense of quality materials and fabrications, and prices can go from high to downright prohibitive. However, there are still bargains out there. Durable items that are made in America by workers paid an equitable wage, but don’t require a bank loan to buy. And now, thanks to the newly launched e-tailer Inland Clothing, those items have never been easier to find.

Launched by Eli Naeher just a few short months ago, Inland operates under the belief that “made in USA clothing should be an accessible investment for everyone, not a rare luxury.” Stocked with a number of independent and family-owned brands, most of which have been in business for decades, the e-store’s myriad goods offer the best of many worlds: quality, function, looks and value. An impressive array to say the least, and they’re only just getting started. Naeher recently took some time out to discuss small brands, big value and the future of the made in USA movement. Here’s what he had to say.

Well Spent: Give us the Inland origin story.
Eli Naeher: I started Inland Clothing because I saw menswear retail going more and more upmarket and fashion-forward, and becoming less accessible. And, by the same token, because I kept coming across all of these small traditional manufacturers with wonderful products that weren’t getting the attention or distribution I thought they deserved.

Tell us about the concept.
I want to sell high-quality clothing that is accessible to everyone. Accessibility means a few different things. For one, it means that the clothes are affordable. Since what I’m selling is US-made, of course it is going to cost a little more than clothing made in low-wage countries. But, I try to carry products that deliver a lot of value for the money. You aren’t paying for the name on the label or a big marketing budget.

Accessibility also means that I’m focused on things that are very wearable and versatile. My friend Dan Levin of Wexman Trading once said something to me about Gitman’s basic oxford shirts: he likes them because they’re so well-made, and yet you can wear them without anyone knowing that you’re wearing something special. All of the attention and effort goes toward making a high-quality shirt, not toward flashy, attention-grabbing details. That’s what I’m going for with my store: clothing that anyone can wear even if they don’t have the sort of job where they can get away with wearing a camo print to the office. Things that won’t feel dated in five years.

Tell us about your brands.
Every brand I’ve got, I feel really privileged to be selling. They all make fantastic things.

I’ve got a slew of wonderfully soft wool scarves from the revived Faribault Woolen Mill. Most of the colorways are not available anywhere else online right now. Faribault was one of the canonical US woolen mills, at one time making a majority of the wool blankets sold in the US, until it closed in 2009. But it reopened in 2011 after a local family bought the mill and it’s currently operating in the original facility with the original machinery and some of the original workers.

I’ve got these amazing sweaters from Bartlett Yarns, which spins its own yarn from raw wool in the tiny town of Harmony, Maine. If you go to the product page there is a video of the “mule-spinning” process that the Bartlett folks put on YouTube. It’s really worth watching. The sweaters have been very popular, I can’t keep them in stock.

I have shirts made exclusively for Inland Clothing by Individualized Shirts in New Jersey. My favorite is the brushed oxford cloth, it’s the perfect fall shirt. I’ve got some interesting things from Pointer’s Special Make line – Pointer probably doesn’t need any introduction. I’m carrying a few pocket knives from Queen Cutlery, which are made in Pennsylvania. I have wool jackets from Labonville, a forestry outfitter in New Hampshire. Canvas bags from the Port Canvas Company in Maine. Socks from Two Feet Ahead in Atlanta. And sunglasses from Shuron.

In the next couple of weeks some heavyweight twill work pants from Domestic Workwear here in Chicago will be going up on the site. They’re made right in the city in East Garfield Park and they’re not available anywhere else online. The guy who created the line, Daniel Evans, developed it while he was working as a mover because he wasn’t happy with what was on the market.

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What, as you see it, are some of the pros of buying US-made?
I think most of us who look for US-made clothing have two main reasons for doing so: we want higher-quality clothing and we want clothing that is made by workers who are paid and treated decently (to me it seems clear that these things go hand-in-hand). Right now, I think US-made clothing hits a sweet spot for quality, ethics and value. Of course, there are other countries where apparel workers are paid a comparable wage, and that have a long tradition of making clothing to a high standard. But, in order to sell that clothing in the US, you have to ship it halfway around the world and go through the import process, so you end up with a much higher price point. It only works for garments made in China because the wages paid are so incredibly low that it offsets the transport and import costs.

Do you think the recent made in USA boom is a trend, or something that will last?
The number that gets tossed around is something like 2% of clothing sold in the US is made here (I think that figure may be a couple of years old at this point). That’s a very low number. So low, that it can only really go up. So, in that sense, I think made in USA is something that is going to last. Also, I don’t think we’re going to go back to a place where price is the only thing anyone cares about, because at this point everyone’s bought the cheaply made stuff, and now knows that you get what you pay for.

There’s another factor: since the ’90s we’ve been hearing that it’s impossible to sell anything made in the US at a reasonable price, that you’d have to have ridiculous retail price points and things would cost 10 times as much. But now US-made clothing is becoming more widely available, and people are seeing that that’s not true. Yes, you pay a premium, but a shirt costs maybe two times as much, not 10, and it’s better made anyway. That kind of premium is a lot more palatable.

The current pop-culture cachet that made-in-USA has, I don’t know if that will last. But, people are not going to stop caring about quality, and they are not going to stop caring about the treatment of the workers who make their clothes, so I believe that in 10 or 20 years you’ll see US-made constituting a much larger share of the market than it does today.

At the moment, you’re online only. Any plans to open a brick and mortar store?
I like the flexibility that comes from being online-only with low overhead. But, I’d also love for people to be able to see the clothing in person, so I can’t say what will happen in the long term. In the meantime, we’ve been doing pop-up markets here in Chicago. We had a great time at Dose Market this month, and I’m very excited to be at the first NorthernGRADE Chicago this Saturday, October 27th.

What would you say to someone who’s still on the fence about buying from Inland?
We’ve got a lot of exciting new things coming in over the next couple months so I hope you’ll keep checking back. I think you’ll see something that catches your eye.

For price and purchase info, visit Inland Clothing.

  • Cory

    Bookmarked! Thanks, Brad.

  • JFPisa

    Great artcile, great concepts.

    I agree, USA is here to stay.

    Love the gree plaid jacket. Bookmarked as well!