CRESCENT Products: Loggerhead Apparel — A South Carolina Brand Built on State Pride
You’re working for one of the biggest advertising firms in South Carolina. You meet the love of your life. You get married. You start a new company and work to grow it while you’re expecting your first child. That’s the story of Sara and Zac Painter.
Inspired by Men’s Health magazine’s “Eat This, Not That,” a segment designed to show how to swap high fat food for lower calorie alternatives that don’t sacrifice flavor, Sara and Zac decided to apply that thought to South Carolina. What brands could they exchange for South Carolina-made alternatives?
Well, when they realized there were no clothing brands made in the Palmetto State, Sara and Zac decided to change that.
Like Zac told CRESCENT, “You know, the history of South Carolina in textiles, in agriculture, there is no reason not to do it.”
They pounded the pavement, connected the right vendors, and brought Loggerhead Apparel and itsBellweather Polo to upscale clothing retailers across the Southeast.
Did we mention that they also take 10% off the top to donate to Loggerhead Sea Turtle conservation efforts?
You’re very blatant about saying “Made in the United States” and showcasing that you make as much of Loggerhead’s products in South Carolina as you can.
ZAC: Yeah, and not everything we do is made in South Carolina. The product we launched with Bellwether Polo is, and it’s on the label, “Made in South Carolina, USA,” a big point of pride for us to be able to have that on the label — because to be on the label, it has to be made here.
SARA: And that comes from our heritage. We’re both from South Carolina. I’m from the coast, he’s from the Upstate. Kind of the combination of textile industry and Spartanburg that used to be known as “Textile Town.” I’m from the coast and have been involved in Loggerhead sea turtle conservation, so that was where that sort of came together and why we wanted to launch our first product that was made in South Carolina. But knowing that we wouldn’t always be able to do everything in South Carolina.
ZAC: “Made in the USA” is huge. Speed of doing business is really good. As far as the benefits outside of the force impacting the local economy and keeping that rolling and employing Americans, the cool thing about it is our polo manufacturer is a 2 ½ hour drive from here (Greenville), so literally, when our shirts are done, a truck picks them up and they’re here the next morning. There’s not a 3-month wait as it crosses the Pacific on a freighter.
The yarn arrives in South Carolina in Jefferson — sort of southeast of Charlotte in Chesterfield County. It arrives there then it’s dyed in Gaffney. It’s finished in Lamar. It’s embroidered in Mauldin. The labels are made in Spartanburg. But all of that happens here, in South Carolina which is pretty cool.
That’s part of the myth that we wanted to bust. You can do all of those things here in state. You may have to look a little harder to find them, but all of these companies, everything that I just mentioned. There’s a place in Gaffney that’s dyeing 6000 pounds of our fabric. We actually use a trucking company that’s here. That ships them back and forth. All of these things, you can do here, you just have to find them. It was a lot of hard work. That was one of the hardest things, finding all of those companies in South Carolina, but what we get is an incredibly fast production process for what we’re doing.
Because, again, when they’re going from the dye house to the manufacturer, it’s a 2 hour ride on the back of a truck. It’s not on a train then on a truck then on a boat then on a train and then on a truck. So that’s a really cool part of it and being able to pick up the phone and be on the same time zone. Not have to worry about international calls …
The whole thing was kind of paralleling the Loggerhead. The Loggerhead is in danger and a lot of US manufacturing is in danger, too, especially in South Carolina. We have one of the highest unemployments in the country, so we keep as much of it here as we can.
What kind of process did y’all have to go through, though. Because you get this idea in your head, what kind of process did you have to go through to figure out how to get all these suppliers and vendors that close together. You said you had to look but, good grief, in South Carolina, you’d really have to look.
ZAC: Right. Not a lot of people know this, but, as far as our polo shirts, the plant where they’re made, they actually used to make Ralph Lauren polos in South Carolina prior to some of the trade agreements that made it so easy for companies to move manufacturing overseas. So the same plant that our shirts are coming out of, Ralph Lauren shirts used to roll out of…
SARA: Same people that worked to manufacture ours.
ZAC: The guy that supplies our yarn used to supply yarn for Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, they worked with Lacoste in the past. So we’ve got the talent here. And that’s one of the things that’s made it. Once we found them, they had the equipment, the knowledge, the experience to do it. We just had to find them and make the connection.
SARA: And another really important thing is they had the passion for what we were passionate about in wanting to do it here. They’ve had so many companies pull their business overseas, so they really appreciate what we’re doing and have really become a partner of ours.
It’s almost becoming a life blood of some of the smaller towns. If you look over at what happened in Liberty with the denim plant and the town doing everything they can to try and find a new investor and not being successful. That’s a major part of their population that’s now going to be wondering where their check’s coming from.
ZAC: If you look on our web site, when we were first writing sort of our story that we could give to some of the vendors and say, “Look. Here’s what we’re trying to do.” There was a comment in there about “What you just mentioned, we compare it to what’s happened to Detroit and what’s happened in parts of Eastern North Carolina with the furniture industry.” It’s killed whole areas. That’s crazy, and that’s what’s happened in South Carolina in some of those cases.
A lot of those mills have shut down, most of the textiles you see now are high end condos, which is good that they’re using them for something, but it’s also really sad since that was the life blood of the community. The house that I was born in was in a mill village. I could see the mill from my front porch. I could hear the whistle every morning. My grandparents lived on the same street and walked to work. It was…it’s sad to see all those go so far down or just go away completely.
The guys that we work with in Lamar are a fifth of the size they once were. They have some people who don’t work 5 days a week because there’s not 5 days’ worth of work to do. We said very early on, that’s…that was one of the reasons we wanted to this. I’d love for that guy to be able to work 5 days a week this year and help get them back up. We’re not going to do it on our own, obviously. It requires more volume that we do right now to truly impact the plant to where they can hire additional people and put those extra hours out there, but that’s what we want to do.
From regulatory standpoint, how much of a headache has it been? Because when you’re putting people to work, there’s a lot of headache now that seems to go along with it. What kind of agreements have you had to work with and go through to make life as easy as possible on yourselves?
ZAC: You know, it’s funny, we were talking earlier about establishing trust with some of these folks. I think our story, they had passion for it. They believed in what we were trying to do and we, right or wrong, probably skipped over a lot of that stuff because it was sort of that “old school, man of my word, I’m going to shake your hand and this is what we’re going to do” kind of thing.
So we haven’t had a lot of headaches, as far as that goes. We’ve done a lot of that stuff retroactively with agreements, but literally, the first shipments of shirts we had…we had an invoice when the truck arrived with several thousand shirts and we’d never paid a dime to those guys, but they trusted us. They could sense our passion. That knew that we were willing to come through on this. They wanted to do it. A lot of our vendors and people who are working for us feel like a part of the company because they’ve been gung-ho for us and pulling for us all along. The guy that supplies our yarn, every single time I talk to him, he asks how the baby’s doing and how Sara’s doing. He’s offered. “When the baby comes, I know it’s going to be a hectic couple of weeks for you. Anything I can do…” He’s volunteering his family members to help us out. We’ve got vendors like that. It’s a lot easier to do business with people like that than when you have to have this form completed to do X work. You have to have this…this deadline, prepay this, percentage of this.
There is a lot of that.
ZAC: There is a lot of that. Luckily, we’ve been able to skip over some of that. Now, as we get bigger, I’m sure that may not be as possible, but I don’t know. There very well could. We’re talking about ordering thousands of dollars worth of yarn, all he needs from me is for me to say, “Yeah,” on the phone, and he’s done. That’s pretty amazing, the trust level that’s there. Especially in my experience how much paperwork and compliance and legal documents and contracts that you have to go through. We really haven’t had to do that.
SARA: And I’d say the bigger, the company that we work with, the more likely they are to need credit information up front. The smaller the company, the more they’re willing to do it on our relationship.
ZAC: We’ve got 20 vendors out there. How many credit applications have we done? I don’t think we’ve done a single one. It’s all been through a network.
That’s almost unheard of.
ZAC: It is, but it’s been really cool. I called an organization in Columbia that works with clothing manufacturers, fabrics, that sort of stuff so. I called them and told them what I was trying to do. They said, “Yeah, call this person in Jefferson, South Carolina. He’s a good guy for you.” I called him. We started chatting about what we wanted to do. He could tell, I’m sure, that I didn’t know exactly the lingo to use. He’s like, “This is a really cool idea. How serious are you about it?” I said, “Well look, I’m very serious. Give me your email address, and let me send you some stuff that we put together. We talked about our mission, our commitment, and our background.” He basically made the comment and said, “I’ve helped other startups before who have either faded or quickly left me to go somewhere else or moved their stuff overseas.” I remember telling him, “We can’t do that because our brand is based on it. If we were to do that, we’d have to start another company. It wouldn’t be this company.” And I remember that was the turning point of the conversation because after that, it was like, “Alright, I’m in. I’ll get some samples over to you. Let’s start talking about what we want to do.”
We worked together for, I think, 6 months before I wrote him the first check and he’s already done thousands of dollars of work for us. And then he said, “OK, I’m going to put you in touch with this person because he’s who you need to work with.” His guys we worked with developing the patterns and getting the fit right and all of this kind of stuff. We talked to a different embroiderer. He set up an account with the dye house in Gaffney, with the yarn suppliers, with the Pima guys in Arizona, and all this happened, literally, the first time we wrote a check for more than a couple of thousand dollars, we had already completed thousands of shirts. All on just a handshake, basically. That old mentality of doing things which is…
The way things used to be done.
ZAC: It’s amazing, looking back, that we were able to do that and things are moving so quickly. When you do it, you don’t think about it, but looking back on it, it is pretty cool to think how all these guys just believed in it and wanted to be a part of it. They thought it was a good idea and then they put their necks out for it, too.
SARA: And I think because we’re working with local vendors that all know each other, we’re benefiting from this wide network of resources that we wouldn’t have gotten if we were working with a much bigger group overseas…
And they’ve already built their network of trust.
SARA: Exactly. Yeah. So we feel good about all these moving pieces and parts because of that network of trust.
ZAC: Yeah, I trust everyone he’s sending me to and, by default, they trust me.
Stay tuned for Part 2.