Next to the oil industry, the apparel business—with its water use, fabric dyeing and high waste rate—is the most polluting business in existence, sending a quarter of the planet’s carbon emissions into the air. Increased consumer concern over this issue has led not only to the rise of ethical clothing brands such as Threads 4 Thought and Alternative Apparel, but compelled established labels to account for themselves. Levi’s, for example, now makes 69% of its bottoms with a technique that reduces water use. Fast-fashion behemoth H&M now sells a Conscious collection that uses organic and recycled materials.
Now comes American Giant with its own first in the sustainability effort: a limited-edition hoodie line sewn entirely from factory leftovers.
The Vault Collection takes its name from a literal vault at American Giant’s sewing plant in Middlesex, N.C., where all manner of fabrics and trim have accumulated in the course of the brand’s regular production. The materials range from high quality remnants to fabric scraps, zippers to drawstrings. The standard industry practice would be simply to toss the stuff out. But the raw material shortages created by Covid-19 furnished a moment of reflection for the brand’s management that eventually led to the idea to sew a small collection from it.
“When the pandemic struck, we saw an opportunity to be even more conscientious with our resources and output,” American Giant founder and president Bayard Winthrop told Adweek, adding that while sustainability was already part of his brand’s raison d’etre, the Vault collection was a chance to “bring our values to life.”
Since its 2012 founding, American Giant has positioned itself as the anti-corporate clothing brand, a producer that not only sews its sweatshirts, pants, T-shirts and accessories in the United States, but makes clothing designed to last for years and, hence, stay out of landfills. (As the web site put it: “We make clothing that’s durable, not disposable.”)
Despite being made from leftover materials, the Vault hoodies don’t look like Dolly Parton’s coat of many colors. They come in six colorways in both men’s and women’s styles, and also feature the same attributes—reinforced elbow patches, heavyweight cotton fleece, double needle straddle stitching—that allow the brand to command $112 for its Classic Full Zip. (The Vault hoodie sells for slightly more, at $124.)
When the idea first materialized, the limited-edition line was to have been called the Pantry Collection—the metaphor being that all the ingredients in the pantry get used to make a nice stew. But Vault Collection sounded better, and the idea was the same.
The idea is also clearly resonating. Over 12,000 people have signed up for the Crimson Collection, the first of Vault’s three releases. The rest are expected to drop later in the fall.