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Reshoring Momentum Puts Wind In The Sails Of Authentically American

Authentically American's ever-popular red-white-and-blue stars-and-stripes socks. Image courtesy Authentically American

July 14 will officially mark the fifth business anniversary for U.S.-made apparel producer Authentically American, makers of premium business-casual and branded apparel. Like many small business owners recovering from the effects of the pandemic, Founder & CEO Dean Wegner is just glad they’re still around. “I’m thankful we survived!” he said. “If you’re a tech company, it’s relatively easy to work virtually. But we make amazing t-shirts in Texas–you don’t operate a t-shirt factory virtually. Our socks are one of our best sellers and they are made in North Carolina–but you don’t operate a sock plant virtually either.”

There has been one tailwind that nonetheless helped propel the company’s revenues from nothing in 2017 to booming in the past half-decade, and that’s the burgeoning made-in-America movement. Authentically American’s sales growth made it into a million-dollar business even as COVID restrictions made life difficult for small businesses across the country. “The surging interest in American-made is real and we have incredible momentum building. We just received our financials, and May was a record month, and June will exceed May.”

But for Wegner, riding the made-in-America wave has been a necessary but not sufficient reason for Authentically American’s success. “We talk a lot about our pride in being American-made,” he explained. “that’s a clear point of differentiation for us. But far more important is delivering a superior product experience and having people coming back to us for repeat purchases. Someone orders a polo and loves it, then comes back to order socks. We don’t have a large Super Bowl-sized marketing budget, so we rely on referrals and word of mouth for new customers and to get people coming back a third, fourth, or fifth time.”

Dean Wegner, Authentically American's CEO, working on out-Top-Gunning the Navy pilots in his Army flight school days. Image courtesy Authentically American

Business focus was another element of driving that success. “We really lacked focus early on,” said Wegner, a West Point graduate and former helicopter pilot and Army Ranger. “We tried to be all things to all people. COVID made us ask the question, ‘We have a small team. What is our primary focus?’ The answer was that we’re a Veteran owned company with amazing American-made product that’s competitive in the marketplace. Our brand really resonates with fellow Veteran-owned businesses and Veteran-focused charities. Veterans want to work with fellow Veterans, they want American-made products, and our values and ethos align. We are working with a fast-growing list of Fortune 500 companies and their Veteran Employee Resource Groups. Bridgestone and P&G are examples of how our focus is paying dividends. We also work with large Veteran focused charities like the Wounded Warrior Project and Team Red, White & Blue.”

Focus on the product was a final piece of the success puzzle. “We have a new sweat-activated print innovation where a hidden message is magically revealed when you work out, which is really cool!” Wegner said. “But it’s also super-soft fabric, and the graphics are printed with a soft hand water-based ink, so it delivers an incredible product experience. Another example is socks. I joke that nobody wears ties anymore, socks are the new ties and a fun way to express your fashion sense. The last time Authentically American was featured on national TV, the host told two million viewers that our socks are his favorite pair, but he didn’t even mention that they are American-made. He highlighted how soft and comfortable our socks are to wear, and the fun patriotic design. When you have a product experience like that, then you read the tag and see that our socks are designed in Nashville and manufactured in North Carolina–that’s where delivering a superior product experience makes people want to learn more about the brand, and helps us attract sizeable new customers like Pepsi and Tunnel to Towers.”

The magic of the sweat-activated print t-shirt. Animation courtesy Authentically American

Even with the company’s substantial growth so far, Wegner sees tremendous upside ahead. “Apparel is a massive $300 billion business in the US,” he said. “Businesses and charities alone spend $8 billion on branded apparel with their organization’s logo. We have a clear point of differentiation with being American-made. When I graduated from West Point in 1993, over 50% of the apparel in the US was made in the US. Today it is tragically less than 3%. We are winning new business and charity clients by delivering a world class customer experience. I’m so proud of our Team for the work they are doing in becoming an indispensable partner for our customers.”

When asked about the future, Wegner highlights the company’s focus on growth. “We want to continue to delight our customers and grow our brand. When we grow, we create American jobs. The heart of our mission is our passion for creating American jobs. To enable successful growth, we’re focused on building a highly engaged Authentically American Team.”

As Authentically American capitalizes on the surging interest in American made products, they are working even more closely with their supply chain partners to ensure long-term capacity. “We now have contract manufacturing established in 11 US states. Our business is starting to get to the point where supply constraints could be an issue in the future, so we’re planning with our suppliers for their growth as well. We have an equal focus on the supply side to ensure we can support the business if another big company comes along with a huge order.”

Authentically American is also partnering with suppliers of other American made products as their clients ask for more. “We have a strategic partnership with Tervis for tumblers,” Wegner said, “and with Nalgene for water bottles. We’re always keeping an eye open for other American-made companies, where we can build strong partnerships.”

For Wegner, it comes down to fundamentally re-thinking the apparel business, especially as some of the industry’s past runs afoul of growing concerns about the environment and sustainability. “We’ve all heard about fast fashion,” he said. “We’re taking things a different direction. We want our polos to hang in your closet for five years or more. We want our garments to last a long time so people can ultimately buy less. We value quality over quantity, and that’s what we want Authentically American and Made in USA to stand for, the absolute highest level of quality.”

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