A talk with Phunkshun CEO Jay Badgley on the benefits and importance of manufacturing products in the U.S.
In the summer of 2010, Jacob Levy and Lanny Goldwasser were working as snowboard instructors in New Zealand, chasing an endless winter across the globe from their home in Summit County, Colorado. With over 300 days a year on snow, the two had sufficiently put their gear to the test in every condition imaginable. “Having a frozen facemask, and 3 hours left instructing during a cold day, can be absolutely brutal,” said Phunkshun Wear CEO, Jay Badgley. “As former instructors, Larry and I can both appreciate how a small piece of gear can make a huge difference.” Phunkshun Wear was born in 2011, with the goal of providing technical mountain headwear that blended function and fashion, all while manufacturing 100% of their products inside the U.S. Eight years have passed since their humble beginnings in a ski locker room at Copper Mountain, and while they’ve grown in staff, product selection, and volume, the facemask company has never wavered in their commitment to seeing the entire process through in their home state of Colorado.
SIA: Tell us about the reasoning behind Phunkshun Wear’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing. Was this always the plan?
Jay: Originally, it was out of necessity. Starting in 2011, everything was handmade in Summit County because it was a pure startup as a business could be. As production increased, so did our desire to develop and create new products. Being our own manufacturer gives us complete control over the quality of production, and the ability to create and test new concepts with virtually no waiting time. At the end of the day, we have no one to blame but ourselves, and it makes us more accountable, motivated to be better, and to make a better product. As we went deeper down the rabbit hole, we reflected and ask ourselves, what makes our brand different from everyone else’s? Everything is U.S. manufactured, and we maintain full transparency in exactly where and how everything is made. Pride is also a factor. We see it reflected in our employees and how proud they are of what they produce. Our customers are proud to support a company that manufactures domestically. We know we aren’t the answer, but instead of being part of the problem, we’re contributing to a solution. We’re creating jobs for hardworking people, supporting the local and national economy, and more importantly, we’re involved. It’s too easy to order products from a third-party factory, and have no real appreciation or understanding of the work that goes into every single item produced.
SIA: Can you explain the benefits for a company to stick to entirely U.S. manufacturing? Are there any potential drawbacks?
Jay: In the interest of calling a spade a spade, manufacturing is not easy. Whenever you set a limitation to your choices (only utilizing U.S.-milled fabric, for example), you also limit your possibilities, but for us, the benefits far exceed the negatives. Shorter transit times, less pollution generation, communication, elimination of import issues, accessibility to resources, proximity to supply chain partners—the list goes on and on. Yes, labor is more expensive, that’s no secret. It’s also harder to find skilled labor in textile manufacturing, even after we moved our factory to Denver to draw from a larger talent pool. It wasn’t a move we wanted to make, we quite enjoyed living in the mountains, but as we grew we quickly realized the limitations to the availability of skilled labor in the ski-town communities. There simply were not many experienced production sewers, or candidates with backgrounds in textile manufacturing in the area.
SIA: As you’ve grown, has it been difficult to maintain the high standards you’ve set for yourself?
Jay: It’s only difficult to maintain standards if you’re ok with compromising them. As a company built on values, we have to look at them as a guide for growth. We didn’t get where we are by ignoring them, we’re here because of them. Having non-negotiable standards and restrictions also keeps us focused. Instead of looking for ways to avoid an obstacle, we have to think outside the box on how to deal with it.
SIA: Do you think this is a model that you can see other companies transitioning to?
Jay: It’s certainly easier to implement sustainability and U.S. manufacturing earlier rather than later. It’ll likely be more expensive on a per-unit basis for smaller volume production, but an easier change than moving hundreds of thousands or millions of units of production. Regardless, you have to evaluate if it’s the right move for you. We’re proud to be our own manufacturer, but not everyone has a desire to be one. Some parties want to outsource within the U.S.A., but if there isn’t already a viable domestic option available, what are you supposed to do? We’ve recognized this, and actually become an OEM manufacturer for other brands, seeing the opportunity to provide quality, sustainable, domestic production to brands that appreciate it.