By Harry Sheff and William Buckley
You may know Jake Bronstein from MTV’s Road Rules. Or as a former editor at FHM magazine. Or maybe you read last summer that Buckyballs, the hugely successful magnetic desktop toy company he started with Craig Zucker, was going out of business after a battle with the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Or perhaps you heard that Bronstein raised nearly $300,000 on Kickstarter for Flint & Tinder, his premium underwear venture—10 times his goal. Bronstein says he came up with the name for the business after a potential investor shot him down with a line that will live in infamy: “The only way to reignite American manufacturing is with a flint and tinder.”
“Making stuff in America is hard. It’s super hard,” says Bronstein. “And we’re trying to make every part right here, all the way down to growing the cotton. I’ve built some very large businesses around an ever-growing manufacturing base in China. I don’t regret it. A lot of those products could only be made in that way. But suddenly I felt like I had a responsibility to do things differently. I wanted to make something in the U.S. to create jobs here.”
Underwear, Bronstein finds, isn’t easy to market. “Men don’t actually talk about their underwear. It makes spreading the word about a great product hard. But the story behind what we’re doing has bridged that gap. It means every time we sell a great pair of underwear, we create more than a single customer because we’ve built in a lot of reasons for the guy to tell someone else.”
The Flint & Tinder collection is all made in America of California-grown Supima cotton. Most underwear retails for $21.95 and T-shirts for $22.95. Flint & Tinder’s gamble in crowd funding was so successful that he’s adding new product categories and has opened an e-commerce store selling a range of other American-made products, including long johns from Rambler’s Way and bags from Duluth Pack.