Victor Athletics wants to save the American garment industry. And they just might do it. Founded by the creators of the artisan jean label Noble Denim, Victor is as much a clothing company as it is a vessel for change. The brand is driven by two goals: to make American-made goods more affordable, and to help domestic manufacturers recover from decades of outsourcing-induced decline. To achieve these ends, Victor is offering a range of vintage-inspired, organic cotton basics, all of which are made in the USA out of American materials, and sold directly to the consumer without a middleman mark-up. And, they’re reinvesting 5% of their after-tax profits back into their factories, so that the factories can recoup, rebuild, restaff, and, ultimately, thrive once again.
Victor co-founder Abby Sutton recently took some time out to answer a few questions through email. Here’s what she had to say.
How did the idea for Victor Athletics come about?
In September of last year, our team was in Portland, OR for a strategy meeting and we kept getting stuck at the same point in our conversations. We knew our factories needed more work, but Noble is a limited-edition brand, so we were hesitant to expand our production. We also kept hearing from people that they wanted to buy US-made but couldn’t afford our jeans, and yet there was no way we could make them any cheaper.
We finally realized that we couldn’t generate the kind of change in the industry that we wanted with Noble alone. And that’s why we created Victor. It’s a brand for men and women who want to buy US-made clothing at a more accessible price, and it’s also for our factories, who are desperate for the opportunity to grow.
How Victor is made is just as much a part of the story as what Victor makes. Tell us about your supply chain.
We couldn’t be prouder of how our clothes are made. We can trace the materials in all of our products back to the organic farmers who grew the cotton here in the United States. That is a dream come true for us. We work closely with our textile manufacturer. He directly gathers the raw materials and oversees the knitting process. Then, our sweatshirts are cut and sewn in the same factory that makes Noble’s jeans. It’s almost an entirely vertically integrated system, which gives us unprecedented transparency in our product.
We chose to give 5% of our after-tax profits back to the factory because we saw how outsourcing has negatively impacted the manufacturing community in our part of the US. As we talked to our partner factory in Tennessee, and our partner factories on the East Coast, we heard story after story about factories that have gone out of business or had to cut wages. By reinvesting 5%, we’ll be able to help with benefits, improving working conditions, bonuses, etc., depending on the factory’s needs and the extent of our profits.
What can we expect from the first collection?
Our first collection focuses on classic silhouettes made with updated fabrics. We hope our clothes become the go-tos in your closet, the stuff you want to throw on all the time. We wanted to incorporate details that we found in vintage knits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s: elongated cuff and waist ribbing, larger V insert on the chest, and collar ribbing sewn on the bias to name a few.
We spent a long time with our natural dye house in Tennessee, honing the texture and color of each garment. So much of what makes a vintage sweatshirt or t-shirt great is how it feels. We wanted to replicate that washed down texture without sacrificing fit and construction. A lot of the time, you can find a great vintage sweatshirt but the fit is completely off due to years of wear, shrinkage and stretching. With Victor, we’re able to achieve the vintage aesthetic through natural methods without compromising on fit.
Why did you decide to launch Victor with a Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is perfect for this project because it allows early backers to have a sense of ownership in the company. We see the sad state of American manufacturing as an issue that belongs to all of us, and we want Victor to be a brand where the customer is deeply engaged in helping to change the industry for the better. It is a vulnerable thing to be on Kickstarter, to have our success measured in such a public way. But we want our backers to feel that we are relying on them to make this happen, because we are.
What is #fortimespent?
#fortimespent is about finding the good in the more gritty moments of life. It’s become too easy to live in a hectic haze where the good moments get lost in the midst of work and obligations. I think our generation as a whole is realizing this.
The brand value of #fortimespent is about reclaiming the ordinary aspects of life and just being present in them as they come. All of our lifestyle photos are shot on real film and retain that out of focus, messy feeling that makes life interesting.
Aside from the pricing structure, how else are Victor and Noble different? Do you worry that by selling similar products at half the cost, you’ll be hurting Noble’s business?
Since Noble Denim started with Chris sewing the jeans himself, the brand has always had a more spontaneous nature. Noble releases small-batch collections whenever we find a fabric we love, so we’re often outside the fashion schedule.
The pricing structure actually isn’t that different between Noble and Victor when it comes to our denim. If we priced our jeans according to industry standards, they would retail for $510. In fact, we barely make $10 when we sell a Noble jean to a wholesale account. As a result, we release very limited quantities to stores, and sell the majority of our jeans direct to the customer at basically what should be our wholesale price.
In 2014, Noble sold knits at a higher price ($125 for a crewneck sweatshirt) because we sold them in stores in addition to our website. However, now that Victor is launched, we will only sell our knits direct to the customer through Victor ($65 for a crewneck sweatshirt). Noble will not sell knits, but will focus on small batches of highly-detailed menswear products, like jeans, canvas pants, and jackets.
Going forward, you’ll see even more of an emphasis on the details in our Noble products and you’ll find the classic, high-quality basics at Victor. Victor will sell all of the products that are easier to buy online and will operate on a fashion schedule, releasing new products each season for both men and women.
What would you say to someone who’s still on the fence about supporting Victor Athletics?
If you wear clothes and you live in America, our story is for you. Our values are important to us, but we don’t think people should buy Made in America on sentiment alone. At the end of the day, we’re making really awesome clothes too.
Buy for any reason you want, whether it be great fit, transparent sourcing, US-made, fair price, 5% back to the factory, garment dyeing – whatever motivates you. We think we hold up from multiple angles.
If you still have questions, ask us. We have spent a lot of time thoughtfully constructing this brand and we will be transparent with you about every step.
For price and purchase info, visit Victor Athletics.