Why demand for U.S. fashion manufacturing is on the rise:
Inspired by the negative impact that the coronavirus had on off-shore manufacturing and supply chains, progressive American retailers were quick to learn how to strike a balance between inventory and sales. When the supply chains failed to deliver, it became evident to look into manufacturing right here in the USA.
ABOVE: ECCO Studio at The Brooklyn Navy Yard Photo. Courtesy of ECCO
For many brands in the U.S., having the flexibility to work with local manufacturing made the inventory process much easier. In the U.S. fashion and related industries, manufacturing has been accelerating to new heights because it is crucial for retailers to avoid inventory problems that they had endured for the last two years during the pandemic crisis. Although the U.S may be in the resurgent stages of apparel manufacturing, overall, Americans adapt easily to switching gears real fast and take pride in manufacturing locally. For now, the U.S does not have the manufacturing infrastructure that you’ll find off-shore but it proudly maintains a tremendous advantage in product creativity.
In 2022, Danish footwear, leather, and leather goods maker ECCO opened a 7,000 square foot studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York. Interested in collaborating with US creatives and footwear industry professionals, the space will focus on footwear and bag design, prototyping, product line development, and leather sales. This is the first endeavor of its kind in the US for ECCO. And for locals, it is a space dedicated to creative development.
Founded in Denmark in 1963, the family-owned business takes great satisfaction in leather innovation. Today, the manufacturing operations are scaled to suit the growing consumer needs for sustainability by ensuring platforms of transparency and communications. When it comes to younger millennials and Gen Z, sustainable production and packaging will be at the top of their list. More to the point, ECCO’s new studio will serve as a communication cell for young creatives. Naturally, the interaction will focus on design, sustainability, and social media presence.
ECCO’s success is built on top-quality leather coupled with a hefty dose of technology that operates as a vertical company managing the production aspect of the value chain. In a customer-eccentric environment, both retail and manufacturing will be required to adapt to a transitioning menswear marketplace.
The US is one of ECCO’s largest markets, and the Navy Yard space will offer an important foothold for the development of relationships with wholesalers, vendors, designers, and other enthusiasts. What I find exciting is that the studio will maintain an open-door philosophy, through which industry allies will be welcome to join in learning about innovations in sustainability, and material technologies relevant to shoe, bag, and leather making.
The brand is focusing on ramping up its efforts to establish a wider creative community in New York. Through progressive thought, this space will allow for knowledge sharing that will benefit both ECCO and the industry overall.
Perhaps like that of the automotive industry, global fashion brands may adapt to a more geo-local business model by developing customer-centric ateliers as well as new alternatives in manufacturing. Come what may, one thing is for sure; the menswear industry is ripe for revolution.
Events and programs at the Navy Yard Studio will emphasize sustainability and economic and social best practices.
“ECCO has always prioritized making spaces for creativity and inspiration,” said Panos Mytaros, CEO of ECCO. “We believe in opening spaces where creatives can be exposed to different environments. Our Main Studio in Denmark inspires creatives from its unique nature, landscape, and the Scandinavian way of living, and we want to expand that opportunity elsewhere. The Brooklyn Studio offers that with modern city life, the history of the Navy Yard, and vibrant Brooklyn culture.
The Studio in Brooklyn Navy Yards will open the doors for ECCO to more collaboration, and a broader community. We believe it will inspire even greater creativity in our brand while connecting ECCO to the US market and consumer.”
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Tom Berry President and CEO of ECCO USA about how the brand’s vertical model is unique to the industry, why ECCO is moving towards being a consumer-led company, and how the Heritage collection combines classic ECCO values of sustainability, leather leadership, comfort, and durability with a rugged American aesthetic.
Joseph DeAcetis: What is the reason ECCO decided to open a studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard?
Tom Berry President and CEO of ECCO USA: We opened our Brooklyn Navy Yard design studio for three principal reasons: proximity, talent, and community.
Proximity is both in regard to NYC and the USA. As a global and proudly Danish company, we still recognize that no country matters more to our success than the USA — and no city matters more than New York City. If the globe had a capital, it would be NYC.
Talent also makes a difference in our business and there is nowhere in the world with a greater concentration of creative talent than there is in NYC.
Also, Community matters. ECCO has a long history of community engagement. We have enjoyed an incredible partnership with the small, but incredible, community of Bredebro, Denmark – home to our global headquarters – for almost 60 years. In both Brooklyn, and the Navy Yard, we see another opportunity to partner with a community that shares our values around sustainability, responsibility, inclusion, and craft.
And lastly, cities – like brands – have their moments. Now is Brooklyn’s moment.
JD: In your words, what is ECCO’s competitive advantage in the footwear marketplace today?
TB: We have an enormous and unique competitive advantage in that we are a true ‘farm to foot’ brand. By this we mean we own and operate both our leather tanneries and our footwear factories. This vertical model is unique in the industry on a global scale and provides us with tremendous advantages with both the consumer and the trade. For the consumer, we can guarantee the highest standards of sustainability and responsibility — foundational values for ECCO that over the last decade have come to truly matter to the consumer. For the trade, we can deliver transparency, resilience, and agility — all values that have become even more important in the context of the pandemic and the associated supply chain disruptions. Like everyone, we have had enormous challenges in our supply chain during the pandemic, but unlike many, we are emerging from the pandemic much more confident in our future which is under our direct control.
JD: How do you intend to increase brand awareness and sales revenue in the US consumer marketplace? Who do you see as the new consumer market on the horizon?
TB: Brand awareness and sales revenue of course are completely linked. Our biggest change is that we are moving from being an industrial-led company — where the markets (and consumer) are in service to the factories — towards being a brand and consumer-led company where the factories are in service to the consumer. This change is as profound a change as a company in our industry can make. As a result, we will dramatically increase our focus on consumer, brand, and demand creation and are in the process of completely transforming our value chain and how we bring products to market.
When we look to the horizon, we see many new consumers because we are a ‘big tent’ brand with authentic values that appeal to many different consumer groups who transcend the usual demographic groupings like age. Whether you are an avid golfer who wants the best golf shoe on the market, a conscious consumer who wants to support a ‘farm to foot’ vertical company, or a durability focused customer who recognizes that durability is better for both the wallet and the earth, a step counter who wants the ultimate walking shoe, or a comfort obsessed professional who spends all day on your feet, ECCO delivers.
JD: In your opinion, what is new and exciting about the AW ’22 collection that will gain consumer interest? Is there a particular style, color, material, or inspiration for AW ’22 that speaks to this?
TB: In AW22 we are debuting our Heritage collection – designed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard with the US consumer in mind. Our Heritage collection combines classic ECCO values of sustainability, leather leadership, comfort, and durability with a rugged American aesthetic. It combines classic American work boot styles with the comfort, lightness, and walkability of your favorite athletic shoes – all the while maintaining the long-wearing durability, support, and quality of ECCO. For those who say ‘you can’t have it all – they haven’t tried ECCO Heritage!