Melanzana, Part 2

A few years back, I wrote about Melanzana, a Leadville, Colorado-based enterprise that sells and manufactures fleece outdoor clothing.

This summer, my wife and I made a trip to Breckenridge. A side trip to Leadville was on our itinerary with Melanzana our first stop. Because my dimensions are a bit more modest than they were when I purchased my first Melanzana fleece, I picked up a micro grid hoodie in a size medium. My wife bought a micro grid dress.

These garments are lightweight, warm, eminently packable and a great value for the price. With a slightly loose fit, they’re the perfect outer layer for a cool day outdoors and an ideal middle layer for colder hiking. In short, the stuff outdoor dreams are made of.

I was astounded by the number of people sporting Melanzana fleece while we were in Colorado–both on the trail and in town. It’s a testament to the popularity of a company that has thrived almost entirely by word of mouth since its founding nearly a quarter century ago.

If you want one of these (and you’re not alone if you do), unless you can make it to Melanzana’s Leadville store, you’re out of luck. Skyrocketing demand has prompted the company to suspend web sales for the time being. But you can still visit their website and lust to your heart’s content.

We love Melanzana not just because it makes and sells its products all under one roof. We love Melanzana because it makes all its products from U.S. made fleece, sourced from Polartec’s Tennessee mill. American made from stem to stern.

Blue Claw Garment Bag

The venerable garment bag.

For those of us who appreciate tailored clothing and for the members of the fairer sex who travel with dresses, it’s essential.

My previous garment bag, a promotional gimmie I received about a decade ago, was on its proverbial last legs, so a replacement had been, for some time, in order.

Understandably, my wife and I wanted a bag manufactured on these shores. And, to our delight, several options presented themselves.

We eventually opted for the Gooseneck Garment Bag from Blue Claw. Made in Minnesota, it’s constructed in a classic, bi-fold style, made from milspec ballistic nylon, about as indestructible as it comes.

The design is resolutely minimal, with all the right details: an interior hanger loop, full grain leather handles and zipper pulls, a zippered shoe pocket, a diagonal zipper for the main compartment. It foregoes the ubiquitous shoulder strap, recognizing that slinging a garment bag over your shoulder causes it to warp in the shape of your torso.

The bag has already held up well during a few trips, both during plane and car travel. And it’s hearty construction suggests a lifetime of dedicated use.

Taylor Stitch

This missive is something of a postmortem.

Don’t get me wrong. Taylor Stitch as a corporate entity is still, by appearances, going strong.

Truth be told, it’s taken me a while to get around to finishing a post about Taylor Stitch. And, over that time frame, Taylor Stitch has shifted from a company that produced most of its wares in the United States to a entity manufacturing clothing in locales around the globe, principally in China. Rest in peace.

In the original post I was drafting, I suggested that Taylor Stitch was trying to be L.L. Bean, a brand, broad in its offerings with a strong connection to its home, in this case California. Sadly, that assessment has proven true, but in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It took Bean several generations to sputter largely into an importer of questionable goods from third world countries. Taylor Stitch has done it in about a decade.

You might think that shift, with its resultant lower costs, would translate into a less expensive product. But you’d be wrong. The clothes still carry the same not insubstantial price tag.

Reddit boards are legion with customers decrying this situation. They point out, correctly, that Taylor Stitch got its start embracing a laid back, California vibe, with American manufacturing central to that identity.

Once their website and their clothing tags trumpeted the phrase “Proudly Handmade in California.” Now they simply say, “Made in China.” I suppose we should be grateful for that level of honesty–both to list the country of origin as few others do and to admit that pride no longer factors into it.

Once this was true. Alas, no more.

Taylor Stitch representatives have weighed in, defending the move on quality control and environmental grounds. Never mind that investment in Chinese manufacturing undergirds a brutal regime with hegemonic views toward the United States. Never mind the fact that Chinese factories have been legendary in their fudging of information on their labor and environmental footprint. And never mind that the decline in American manufacturing Taylor Stitch indicts was hastened by the very outsourcing in which it is now complicit.

Are there challenges to sourcing from United States factories? Of course. But Taylor Stitch had an opportunity to be a part of the solution–to leverage its goodwill to raise the standard and capacity of American manufacturing.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that a smattering of Taylor Stitch’s products are still manufactured domestically: blue jeans, a denim jacket, shoe trees. But the overwhelming majority are made in locations where pride slips on a banana.

I’ve purchased a few American made items from Taylor Stitch over the past couple of years, and they have been uniformly outstanding.

For my son, I purchased a pair of selvedge jeans. For myself, I purchased a pair of running shorts and two oxford cloth button downs. I even cajoled by brother into adding a couple of the shirts to his wardrobe.

Andrew wearing American made Taylor Stitch jeans

Of the button downs, I should mention this (a mild rebuttal to the company’s claims of inconsistent sizing): Every Taylor Stitch shirt I’ve purchased or tried on in size 38 has had the same fit; no variance in sizing to be found. I suppose the anecdotal limits of my experience should not be used to judge the quality control across the board. But let my voice be one small bit of testimony in approbation of Taylor Stitch’s American made shirts.

Yours truly sporting a Taylor Stitch oxford cloth button down, made in California

My one issue with the button downs is the stinginess of the collar. But in today’s style environment of narrow widths and skinny silhouettes, that’s to be expected. It’s a design choice, not a deficiency in the manufacturing process.

At this point, with so much goodwill squandered, I’m not sure if Taylor Stitch can recover. If you’re willing to buy made in China goods, $125 is likely a price too dear for a shirt.

Unfortunately, the story is an all too familiar one: a company, once firmly committed to making its wares in the United States, has betrayed that commitment in a profound manner. The result is, to say the least, dispiriting.

Gitman Vintage Redux

I’ve written before on Gitman Bros., the Pennsylvania-based maker of shirts, specifically its Gitman Vintage range. Gitman Vintage was launched in 2008, culling fabrics from the company’s archives to bridge tradition and modernism.

I’m already the owner of a Gitman Vintage madras shirt, and, for our anniversary, my wife gave me one of the company’s navy short sleeve seersucker button downs. It is, of course, made in Pennsylvania, as most Gitman shirts have been since 1978. And it’s classic in every way.

In truth, I found this year’s Gitman Vintage spring/summer collection a bit wanting, with too much emphasis on the loud tropical prints that have suddenly come back in vogue.

But this particular shirt is a gem. It’s the reason I keep coming back to one of the country’s finest shirtmakers.