In 1980, America made 80% of its clothes in the US. Today, that number is down to 2%. Victor Athletics is here to help change that. We visited the team behind Victor at their offices in Cincinnati and New York to discuss how they’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States and outfitting you with your new favorite basics.
If you’ve spent any time around menswear blogs, you’ve likely heard the Italian phrase sprezzatura, or “studied carelessness”. It is the principle of being artfully disheveled, by which laborious effort is masked to present oneself as perfectly imperfect.
Victor Athletics is not about “sprezzatura”.
“The core of Victor is truly the every day,” says Sam Wessner, Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director of Victor Athletics and Noble Denim. “It’s about embracing the moments that aren’t put together. The moments of our lives that aren’t curated. The moments that are imperfect. Those moments may be coincidentally striking, but they’re also familiar.”
Moments like today. We’re sitting with Chris and Abby Sutton, also Co-Founders of the brand, in their studio in the heart of the Over the Rhine neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati. Amidst the clean lines and intentionally designed layout of the light-filled space are the day-to-day accoutrements of life lived. A worn baseball cap. A dog-eared book. A camera lens cap.
And best of all (personifying both the striking and mundane) is a great cup of black coffee, shared with new friends.
Victor Athletics is as much of a unique idea as it is a derivative of its sister brand, Noble Denim. Also started by Chris, Abby, and Sam (albeit back in 2011), Noble set out with the goal of making the best jeans in America. Which was quite lofty one, considering Chris had only learned to sew some six months before launching the brand.
And though the “best jeans in America” claim is objective (and the number of brands with the same value-proposition is increasing every year), Noble’s standards are higher than most. Crafting a Noble jean requires slow production by hand and sourcing only the highest quality, natural materials (in Noble’s case, that means hand-dyed organic cotton from Japan).
And Noble is pulling it off – these jeans are really something special to behold. But while executing against such maniacal standards makes for an exceptionally impressive product, it also makes for a high price tag and low volume (Noble plans on making only 500 pairs of denim this year).
But amidst Noble’s success, the Suttons were frustrated. Frustrated that they hadn’t been able to put much of a dent into one of Noble’s original goals: to bring more jobs to local factories in the United States.
“We wanted to create a company that could make a change in the market. To help American manufacturing develop,” says Chris. “But we also didn’t want to compromise on our ethics and aesthetic and quality. We realized that we couldn’t make Noble’s quality of denim and also meet our goals of factory growth at the same time, so we knew we needed to make something else.”
That “something else” required the team to explore a new category of product as equally American as jeans, but one that could scale. And after much discussion, dreaming, and designing, the team landed on something: era-inspired athletic wear.
In March of 2015, Chris and Abby Sutton, along with Co-Creative Director Sam Wessner and COO Christman Hersha, pitched the plan on Kickstarter. Victor Athletics would create their sweatshirts (along with hoodies, tees, and sweatpants) and they would do so in a way that would provide well-paying jobs to a workforce that needed it desperately.
“There is a vulnerability with Kickstarter that is both compelling and uncomfortable. It never felt like the right platform for Noble, but we wanted Victor to be more of a movement,” says Abby Sutton. “People can see the funding going up and get a shared sense of ownership in making it happen. We hope this translates into how customers feel long term, that they continue to feel their connection to our brand’s product and the factory’s story.”
Connecting to the factory story of providing jobs to skilled but unemployed laborers is easy. And once you’ve seen the garments that Victor has produced, connecting to the product story isn’t hard either.
“Aesthetically, we’re particular about translating inspiration from an era,” says Sam. “Not just the clothes themselves but how they were worn. The vintage knits of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s have inspired a lot of the unique details in ours, like an elongated cuff and waist ribbing, a larger V insert on the chest, and collar ribbing sewn on the bias, to name a few.” These details, combined with their uniquely substantial handfeel and made-for-years-to-come quality make Victor’s products incredibly special. And, like the brand itself, there truly is something about the product that is at once mundane and beautiful.
“We wanted to make Victor about something that feels iconic and timeless but also out of focus and imperfect.”
The world agrees—the Kickstarter campaign raised $123,002, making Victor the 6th largest apparel campaign in Kickstarter history. The concept and customer desire were proven, and Victor has spent the summer working to deliver on its promise. “Our Kickstarter orders are shipping out in September 2015,” says Chris. “So we’re right around the corner of our official launch to the world in October.”
And when October comes?
Chris pauses and takes a deep breath. “Let’s just say that what you see now is only a glimpse of what’s to come.”
Supporting Victor is worth it on every level; support American manufacturing, help good people build a business and promote good-looking (and well-priced) product. 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.
Shop Victor pre-orders on victorathletics.com.