Palmer Trading Company
Preserving American Fashion Heritage, Creating Lasting Style
LILIPOH interviews Willy Chavarria and David Ramirez
First published Winter 2013
Willy Chavarria and David Ramirez are job creators. From their SoHo men’s boutique, they run a values-, quality-, and design aesthetic-driven business providing made-in-America menswear and accessories. For many years, when they weren’t busy with their day jobs as fashion industry professionals, they were street vendors selling American vintage goods, much of which they collected from country towns like Palmer, Massachusetts, their shop’s namesake. In our era of mass production and over consumption, PTC represents a trend in business that now prioritizes the quality that once defined American manufacturing.
LILIPOH: Please give us a short introduction about yourselves and PTC.
PTC: We are David and Willy. Two guys who gained a serious appreciation for the beauty of vintage American manufactured goods while collecting (also known as “picking”) amazing things from all over the east coast. After maintaining a little business as street vendors selling an American Vintage story, we decided to create a brand that would make and sell things made in USA with the same dedication to premium quality craftsmanship we find in the things made domestically before the 1970s.
LILIPOH: Why did you start this business? What are your core beliefs and values that stand behind your products?
PTC: Dave and I both come from backgrounds working in fashion and in jewelry for large corporations who manufacture mass quantities of merchandise with an emphasis on quantity, not quality. We have watched the fashion industry turn into a market of disposable, cheaply made product with soaring retail prices. (Shirts made in China selling for $300, with a manufacturing cost of $8). We would each travel to China about four times a year to work with these factories, while we watched the local textile mills and factories in places like Palmer disintegrate. The US used to produce over 90 percent of the worlds apparel (mostly in New England states), and now we produce about one percent.
We decided that we wanted to start a company that would focus on quality over quantity and would preserve an art form mastered by our elders and keep people working!
Our core beliefs: Quality over quantity; great style has little to do with fashion; We do not over charge for our merchandise (our price points are on the higher side—in the realm of luxury brands like Ralph Lauren or Rag and Bone, but our quality is far superior); and we are 100 percent authentic (we do not use harmful chemicals to create vintage “wash” effects—all of our products are sold unprocessed or with light laundering for softening of fabrics and shrinkage).
LILIPOH: You had a tailor come in to the store, and customers could have jeans custom sewn for them. Can you share a story or two about specific products you sell, and how you cultivated a relationship with those vendors, and share some specifics about the products they are making?
PTC: We decided we wanted to do the best jeans made in the world.
The USA is the home of and birth place of denim, and we really wanted to pay tribute to that. Levi’s does most all of their production out of China, so we went on the hunt for a great US-based jeans manufacturer. We met Hartford Denim Company in Hartford, Connecticut and decided these were definitely the guys to make our denim line.
These guys are as true to to the original process as possible. Our factory uses the original jean-making machinery including Singer sewing machines from the early 1900s. All of the equipment was purchased back from Korea, Japan, and Thailand. (Those countries bought up all the US apparel making machines back when the US manufacturers were relocating production to China.) Every rivet is hand penned, every button is hand-forged, every stitch is sincere, and all fabric is US made.
We had an event in our shop when we cleared everything out and moved the sewing machines in for a few days. It gave people a chance to see American clothing in the making.
We work with New York City’s oldest pant maker.
They are based in Brooklyn. They have down sized since the 1970s from a two-building factory in Manhattan to a one-floor factory in a warehouse in Brooklyn. The demand for US-made apparel has decreased over the the past 50 years, but the talent pool in this factory can not be surpassed.
LILIPOH: What does "made in America" mean to you? and Why does made in the USA matter to your customers?
PTC: We have been so happy to see a positive response from our customers in buying made-in-American products. To us, made-in-America means that there is a distinct separation in the mentality of manufacturing between what is made overseas and what is made in the US. The idea behind manufacturing in China is to make as much as you can, as fast as you can. Even the machinery reflects that. More, more, more. Picture a UNIQLO store stacked to the ceiling with millions of shirts that nobody needs. They want you to buy a new one every other week.
The American-based manufacturing mentality has always been “let’s make something that will last forever.” It is a concept that is hard to come by, but it truly is an American way of building product. It is our heritage to make quality merchandise.
LILIPOH: Most people don't think of making clothes as an art form, could you talk about this?
PTC: The Japanese and the Italians seem to be the biggest believers in clothing as an art form. Our Japanese shoppers spend time studying our merchandise, turning it inside out, trying it on several times and asking about its origins. We love this. Clothing is sculpture and theatre. What two wonderful art forms. To create mood and attitude by dressing a human a certain way is so interesting.
Designing is easy. David and I are always coming up with ideas for making items that will make guys feel sexy and masculine and be comfortable at the same time. But the talent in craftsmanship lies with the makers themselves. These are the people who master the art of hand sewing through leather on a boot, cutting a shirt pattern to move with the body and adjusting a collar to lay just the right way. Making anything is just like President Obama said: “Together we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions.” I loved when he said that.
LILIPOH: How does what someone wears reflect who they are?
PTC: Whether we like it or not, what we wear creates an image of how we are perceived. For most of us, we have the fortune of creating our identity through how we move our bodies, how we speak and what we wear. We make our clothes to feel comfortable and substantial. All of our garments are designed with consideration of the many male forms. We like to make things that accommodate the very thin New York hipster who likes to look skinny by wearing his clothes very close to the body. We also make items for larger gentlemen (we make XXL shirts and 38 waist trousers) and design them to be flattering to the male figure and comfy at the same time.
We truly believe that good style is unpretentious. In order for things to look good, people need to feel comfortable and have a sense of humor about themselves.
LILIPOH: Do you hope to foster anything in our society with this endeavor? Does it matter if we have a connection to where our clothes are made, and who made them?
PTC: We hope that our little brand can make people think a bit more about how and where things are made. Everything that we touch, eat, drive, or wear was made by humans who are doing something to help make the world go round. By sharing our appreciation for US-made goods, we see other people inspired to keep the talent alive. We consider ourselves part of a movement that supports and promotes US manufacturing in an effort to help maintain and build a domestic work force.
LILIPOH: Do people get it that something handmade and made in America is going to cost more? Does the moral or ethical aspect give the product value?
PTC: To be honest, only about 25 percent of our customers have a real understanding of why made-in-America is more expensive than made in China. The other 75 percent simply appreciate the quality in the make. There is a level of craftsmanship that can not ever duplicated in China. There is a subtle and beautiful imperfection in everything we do that gives the product life and character. Perfection actually rests in the imperfections. I like saying that.
We believe that in building a great brand, we can not let the moral or ethical aspects alone give the product value. The product itself needs to be noteworthy. The product needs to show itself as the very best in order for people to really say “Wow. That’s what makes American made clothing truly superior.” This is when we have really succeeded.
Our standards as country have been reduced to such levels that people come to expect crap in what they buy. We love the idea of changing that mentality and making the shift to excellent quality, by making a shift to US production.
LILIPOH: What are you working on now that you are most excited about?
PTC: The term “heritage brand” has been desecrated by brands who claim to be makers of American heritage, while making nothing truly American. Often times if you look underneath a label that reads “Authentic American Quality,” you may find a small printed “made in Macau” right underneath it!
We are starting to do design consultation for some larger companies and corporations. We are working with some brands to expand some of their line to include made-in-USA product. This is great for our manufacturers and great for the companies! They see a trend. They see an awareness, and they want to be a part of it. And, we are looking at designing a collection with our PTC label inside a pretty mainstream brand. That’s pretty exciting for us!