Unionmade: Making made in America cool

by Elise Diamantini

After 19 years of working in corporate America for the Gap, Todd Barket, like many people during the recession, lost his job. Barket took the opportunity to live out his American dream and opened Unionmade in San Francisco, Calif. “When I opened the store, few men’s specialty stores carried aspirational brands.” Of course, that’s since changed, but even with new competition entering the market, Unionmade stands out by sticking to its core values—searching for well made, beautiful goods, much of which happens to be made in America (75 percent to total). “Made in America is the baseline of what we do. We sell a lot of Gitman Vintage, Alden shoes and Levi’s Vintage made in America collection.”

Barket says because of the store’s name, they get a lot of people searching solely for made-in-America product. The majority of customers however are lured in by the style. “Sourcing is secondary, but it’s always a nice surprise when customers learn that product is made in the U.S. However, some people are under the impression that everything we sell is made by union workers in the States, which obviously doesn’t exist anymore. I wish we could do it exclusively here but there’s just not enough good fashion stuff that’s made in the U.S. to make an impact. We make stuff here but I have to say that it’s really tricky. Our country just isn’t set up for that kind of production anymore (for example, sweaters are almost impossible to make in the U.S.), but we’re finding viable niches.”

Often, Unionmade finds those niches via collaborations with brands like Golden Bear. “We’re doing well with our Unionmade/Golden Bear jacket (starting at $198 retail for cotton styles). It’s a fast turnaround, easy minimums and most importantly, our customers are responding to it. We just had a great event with New Balance. They came out with a made in the U.S. collection and we bought a capsule of six styles. We were the first store to carry it and it sold out immediately (we’re getting in another 80 pair). We have another event coming up with The Hill-Side which is a tie and hanky line out of Brooklyn. We bought every piece for fall; we’re the only store that has the entire collection and we’re having a trunk show/launch party with them. We’ve been working with brands on doing special things like this where we buy every piece of the collection and then create merchandise stories around it for a greater impact.”

Coming up for fall is a larger collaboration with Cone Denim based in North Carolina (one of the oldest denim mills and top suppliers to denim brands all over the world). They’re working with American-made companies (Hill-Side ties, Raleigh Denim, Golden Bear, Gitman Vintage and Steele Canvas totes) using American-made fabric (indigo selvedge canvas). “Indigo is the perfect thing for us because we love anything in the denim realm and it’s a nice way to approach the fall season. We’ll shoot a lookbook and make it a big idea on the floor. It was so much fun working with the brands and everyone is really excited about it.”

Todd Barket
Todd Barket
Barket’s schooling at the Gap may have influenced his love for denim, but he says he didn’t want to open a completely denim-driven store. “That idea has been played out so much. And not only that, it’s really expensive to stock with all of the sizes and then you have to merchandise around all of these stacks…” The merchandise mix is 70 percent ready-to-wear and accessories to 30 percent denim (comprising five key lines: RRL, Tellason, Raleigh, Levi’s Vintage and A.P.C.).

Barket explains the reason for stocking A.P.C. (the only denim brand they carry that’s not made in America) is to offer an opening price ($198 retail), well made, great fitting jean for the younger customers. “People have been wearing A.P.C. for so many years that we get a customer who replenishes it. But our number one seller is Levi’s 1947 501s ($265 retail), hands down.”

Unionmade has been growing rapidly. They’re expanding the original outpost in San Francisco from 1,400 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft. They opened a store in LA in April 2009 and are set to open another store in Marin County, an affluent suburb just outside of San Francisco, in addition to a strong e-commerce business at unionmadegoods.com. “I was the sole owner, but my partner Carl just left his job after 17 years as design director for Levi’s to help me full time because the business got a little busy…” Each store stocks the same core American-made product mix, but differs slightly based on location. For example, the San Francisco flagship carries everything, the LA store has an edited version of San Francisco and the Marin County store will have a sportier edge with brands like Ralph Lauren and Patagonia.

Fast Facts

Concept: American style
Founded: 2009
Size: San Francisco store is 3,000 sq. ft.
Key Vendors: Gitman Vintage, Alden and Levi’s Vintage
Category Breakdown: 30% denim, 30% shoes/bags, 20% tops, 20% bottoms
Average retail pricepoints: denim $250, shoes $450, tops $160, bottoms $225