Sunday, August 14, 2022

An American Apparel Maker Lives its Values

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The V-Neck Classic Tee | Courtesy Freedom Company

Freedom Company focuses hard on its supply chain to guarantee fair wages and treatment for workers.

When Adam Suttle launched his apparel business Freedom Company in 2019 it was based on a simple mission statement: “Wear Great, Do Good.”

Suttle’s vision was to not only sell luxury-grade American-made cotton clothing but to also educate consumers on the quality-of-life freedoms his supply chain workforce enjoys.

Working in the apparel industry often comes with the undesirable constraints of low wages, a lack of benefits and long, arduous hours sitting behind a sewing machine or cutting fabric.

Freedom Company, based in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn., is not involved in what can be the cutthroat manufacturing business. Instead, Suttle partners with contractors in Los Angeles and Jackson, Tenn. to manufacture his company’s line of men’s and women’s cotton apparel, which includes top-quality t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, dresses and more.

But that’s not to say Suttle and his Freedom Company staff are not hands on. They monitor, audit, and oversee production from a piece of clothing’s inception until it is shipped to the consumer.

Suttle set out to produce 100 percent American-made clothing the all-American way. He was not about to do business with sweatshop manufacturers or companies that employ what amounts to slave labor like many major American brands are doing in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Muslim Uyghur population is being exploited in what amounts to a genocide. Suttle is very explicit about that.

“In order to create freedom, you must first have a slave-free supply chain,” he said.

At Freedom Company, this begins with using American-grown cotton and working closely with manufacturing partners and suppliers in the United States to ensure that slave-free labor and fair living wages are used and paid, from inception to finished product.

“We are end to end. We actually source the cotton working with cotton mills and cotton knitters to find the cotton that we want and then we work with garment dye facilities to dye that cotton,” said Suttle. “We build clothing patterns in-house ourselves so that anything we make has personally been drawn on a piece of paper then brought to life by stitching the sample. Then it is moved into a production run.

“We talk to our manufacturing facilities multiple times as our production line is going through to make sure everything is going clear and we meet with the owners of each of our facilities and talk to them about living wages – what that looks like – minimum wages, benefits and how they are taking care of their employees.

“We have two people in L.A. that oversee all of our production and we make sure everything we sell is ethically made in the U.S.A.”

Not only does Freedom Company diligently protect the working conditions of its suppliers’ workforce, but it also gives back to underserved communities by donating profits and taking an active role in serving together with the non-profit entities it supports.

Every six months the Freedom Company team of six employees chooses a non-profit or 501(c)(3) organization to support by giving 10 percent of its profit of every single product sold before expenses.  And under its Radical Generosity policy, the company designs limited edition clothing pieces specifically for each non-profit partner, and donates 100 percent of the profit to these select partners.

“I think you have to put yourself in those shoes when thinking ethical. Would I go actually work that job if I had to? I’ve got a family with three kids so it should be the same in every industry, so you’re not living in poverty making $2 an hour having to work 14 hours a day. We don’t want to be involved in conditions that are unlivable.”

Adam Suttle | Freedom Company

Taking the “Wear Great, Do Good” philosophy one step further, the Freedom Company team also works directly with its non-profit partners doing hands-on field work.

Its current non-profit partner is Mother to Mother, a Nashville-area non-profit that provides supplies to single mothers in underprivileged communities.

“We go out in the community and serve with them,” said Suttle. “We pass out strollers, car seats, diapers, pack-and-plays for moms that can’t buy them. We greet people in the community. We don’t just stand behind a computer and pick out a non-profit and donate money. We want people to know there is a story behind every piece of clothing we sell.

“Every shirt that we make has a story and you find a lot of companies nowadays that want to give 10 percent to a non-profit and just have that fun, feel-good factor to it. To us, it negates everything if you go ahead and do that and then manufacture with low-wage labor or slave-labor in China, Bangladesh, or India. I’ve been to China, and I’ve watched those facilities before, and it is not a place I currently want to be right now.

“So we went through and started auditing our supply chain and literally came down to the sense that we can’t guarantee it’s ethically made unless it’s truly made in America. A hundred percent of our products are made and sourced in America.”

Suttle sources the cotton for the Freedom Company clothing line from respected mills such as Antex in Los Angeles, Carolina Cotton Works in South Carolina, Buhler Yarn in Georgia, and Parkdale Mills in North Carolina.

“Our larger production is done at Antex in Los Angeles,” said Suttle. “What is great about Antex is they take up five blocks of the garment district in L.A. and so the cotton comes out of the mill or knitter, and it travels less than one mile down the street to go to our cut-and-sew facility and then it travels another one mile to a dye house, then back to our cut-and-sew facility again to get neck tagged, labeled, retail-folded, and a quality check. The garment travels no more than five miles before it is actually put on a truck and brought to our facility in Tennessee.

“Making it in L.A., you cut about three weeks of shipping out of your lead time and about 5 to 10 thousand dollars out of your cotton traveling expense.

“Antex does a lot of work with the military. They have a lot of military contracts and are GSA compliant, so everything has to be made in America.”

And like most products manufactured in America, the quality always stands out. Freedom Company goes through painstaking lengths to make sure premium soft and durable cotton material is used in its apparel. Patterns are cut for a perfect fit, whether it be a t-shirt or cotton dress and every item goes through a pre-shrinking process to ensure a perfect fit from the first wash to the 100th washing cycle.

“Once a customer gets them, you can’t shrink that shirt if you try,” said Suttle.

Statistics consistently show that the clothing Americans purchase is 97 percent foreign-made so the odds are stacked against the success of an all-American clothing brand. And Freedom Company seemingly limits its success with its mission to tell the story behind the garments it sells.

But at the age of 34, Suttle is not deterred. Business has grown year-over-year since its inception in 2019 and Suttle can relish the feeling of doing the right thing for his wife and three children, his employees, and all the garment workers who are making a living wage producing an ethically sourced product.

“Everybody puts their own spin on what’s ethical,” said Suttle. “To us, I want to make sure that if I had to go do somebody’s job in our supply chain that I wouldn’t feel undertreated. If I had to go to work in a cotton mill but I’m getting paid a fair wage and I have a 401k and I have health benefits that are available for me to use, that’s considered an ethical facility to us.

“They are treating everybody fairly, not freezing wages, they are not overworking people. I think you have to put yourself in those shoes when thinking ethical. Would I go actually work that job if I had to? I’ve got a family with three kids so it should be the same in every industry, so you’re not living in poverty making $2 an hour having to work 14 hours a day. We don’t want to be involved in conditions that are unlivable.”

Suttle’s specific goals for Freedom Company are that he wants the business to be known for its exceptional products but also wants to be known for the story behind his products that may connect a consumer with their non-profit partners.

“If somebody learns through our products that there is human trafficking and child trafficking and they get interested in some of the social causes that are happening around here, that’s great,” he said. “You don’t have to travel overseas to find human trafficking and human rights abuse. It is happening in our backyard as well.

“Or underprivileged moms or problems with kids getting food. That stuff is all happening in America, and it is kind of our goal to open peoples’ eyes to the social injustice out there and teach them about purchasing a product that might cost you a little bit more money, but you are actually getting a great quality product that is helping people here.

“Our business is in educating customers that things like this are not only happening in China but are even happening in our backyard.”

Take a look at Freedom Company’s clothing here.

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Christine has always been fascinated by the industrial world. She comes from a family of industrialists and has always been surrounded by machines and factories. When she was younger, Christine would often sneak into her father's office to watch him work on his designs. She loved the way he could take something and make it better. Now Christine is following in her father's footsteps, working at an industrial company that builds machines for factories all over the world. She loves her job and finds satisfaction in being able to improve production lines and help companies become more efficient.
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