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In Search of the Perfect T-Shirt Made in the U.S.A.

According to one of Buck Mason’s founders, “there is nothing more essential to the American wardrobe than a white tee.”

The company was started with the objective of making a first-class t-shirt, a well-established product already manufactured by a myriad of competitors worldwide. The majority of the t-shirts are made in the U.S.A. with fabrics also made in the U.S.A. The founders are very involved in the production process and quality control which, they believe, enables them to make a superior product. Yet, to ensure profitability, some of the company’s products are made overseas. Can they have it both ways?

Video Spotlight: ‘Made in America’ Spotlights T-Shirt Maker (December 15, 2022, ABC News)

This post is based on The New York Times article, Can the T-Shirt Be Perfected?, by G. Cook, August 27, 2023, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: ASDF_MEDIA/Shutterstock.

Discussion Questions:

1. Based on the article, what are the quality characteristics of the Buck Mason t-shirts made in the USA? Justify your answer. Are the manufacturing operations compatible with these quality characteristics? Explain.

Guidance: According to the article, the t-shirts’ quality characteristics are:

    • Performance: specialty cotton known as Supima, curved seams, and angular sleeves.
    • Conformance: perfected design with specific measurements and stitching.
    • Durability: according to one of the regular customers, the t-shirts made in the USA hold up better than others.
    • Consistency: inspections of fabrics and patterns in the factory’s grading and marking studio.
    • Perceived quality: ‘Made in the USA’ label

The selection of high-quality materials (superior cotton), the skilled workforce, the precise design specifications, the workmanship with fine stitching and use of protractors, the tight quality control, the close collaboration among units, the founders’ direct involvement, and the dedication to continuous improvements indicate that the manufacturing processes are designed to produce the required quality features of the t-shirts.

2. Why did Buck Mason’s founders choose to have their factory located in Pennsylvania rather than Texas?

Guidance: Buck Mason’s founders chose Pennsylvania over Texas for multiple reasons. First, the old sewing factory and cloth mill were located close together. Having a dedicated supplier located close to the factory would decrease transportation costs and facilitate communication and quality feedback. Second, the factory and the mill had been operating on and off for more than a century. The long history fitted the brand’s focus on classic vintage. Third, the workforce at the Pennsylvania factory and the mill had just been laid off when Stitch Fix ceased its operations. Their skills and experience were essential and could not be lost.

3. What is Buck Mason’s approach to quality control?

Guidance: Buck Mason’s approach to quality control is centered on the philosophy that “being closer to the needle” ensures better control over quality. The materials are produced domestically. The cloth mill for most of the t-shirts is located near the sewing facility. The founders try on the clothes themselves to ensure the right fit and comfort. Communication of and adherence to specifications are enhanced by the close proximity of the participants in the value chain for the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ products. Yet, some clothes are made overseas to ensure profitability. The diversification may be wise to secure enough cash flow while building the brand.

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