How a Main Line trench coat sparked a made-in-Philly fashion collection

Jacob Hurwitz, cofounder of American Trench, with the spring line of socks and modeling some of the company’s new Made In Phila line to promote other local clothing manufacturers.

Nearly five years ago, two Main Line friends mounted a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to fulfill a dual mission: Produce an American-made trench coat and, in the process, create more domestic manufacturing jobs.

Their hope, ultimately, was to get their American Trench coats made in Philadelphia. That hasn’t happened yet. Last week, however, founders Jacob Hurwitz and David Neill launched an initiative to boost not only their Ardmore-based company’s profile but also those of a half-dozen Philly-based apparel-makers.

American Trench’s “Made in Phila” head-to-toe collection is the result of collaborations with designers and manufacturers throughout the city, from Fishtown to Chinatown and the Southwest section.

“This was made in my city,” the Philly-centric Hurwitz said, standing over selections from the new collection laid out on the floor of American Trench’s offices in a former bank building on Lancaster Avenue, across from the Ardmore SEPTA station. “I couldn’t be more excited to say that.”

“This was made in my own city,” Jacob Hurwitz, cofounder of American Trench, said of its new “Made In Phila” collection, a collaboration with a number of city-based fashion-makers.

That’s not to say he’s not proud of the trench coats, more than 300 of which have been sold, Hurwitz said. The first ones were made in Newark, N.J., and sold for $725.

Since 2015, American Trench has had its coats made in Clifton, near Newark, in a profit-sharing partnership with Betterteam USA that allows flexibility on minimum manufacturing orders and, in return, gives the factory higher-than-usual margins, Hurwitz said.

It’s a win-win but also a share-in-the-exposure arrangement that helps American Trench launch new products without having to raise large amounts of money, he said. Their first joint design was a waterproof field jacket. Up next is a peacoat to be made from a waterproof wool developed by a New Jersey outdoorsman.

To broaden its market reach, American Trench also sells socks, made at a knitting mill in Reading, and hats and scarves produced in Texas. The top-selling sock since April has been the Kennedy Lux Athletic Sock — white with red and blue stripes — modeled after those worn by President John F. Kennedy as he watched the America’s Cup yacht races off Newport, R.I., in September 1962. About 2,400 pairs of socks, retailing for $19.50 each, have sold, Hurwitz said.

Camera icon John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
This photo of President John F. Kennedy attending the America’s Cup in Rhode Island in September 1962 inspired what is currently a best-selling sock, made in Reading, for American Trench.

Annual revenue at the company of two employees, not counting Hurwitz and Neill, was $50,000 in 2013. This year, with American Trench clothing offered in about 90 retail stores as well as online, “we’re on track to do a little over a half-million,” said Hurwitz, attributing 35 percent of that to wholesale. “I want it to be more. I want to have more staff.”

The new Made in Phila collection might help with that. It includes a hat made by Whisler Civilian in South Philadelphia; button-down shirts designed by New York-based Corridor and made in Philadelphia’s Chinatown; bags by Hamid Holloman in Southwest Philly; and jean jacket and jeans designed by Fishtown-based Gentry + Rose, which uses a manufacturer in Kensington. Not yet for sale on American Trench’s website but worn by Aaron Pierce, founder of Gentry + Rose, in a publicity photo for the Made in Phila collection were Mason Dixon shoes, made in Fishtown.

(By the way, that picture was taken by Stevie Chris, whose studio is in South Philadelphia, against a backdrop made by Philly-based Dusted Backdrops.)

Camera icon STEVIE CHRIS
Aaron Pierce, founder of Philadelphia-based Gentry + Rose, models selections from the Made in Phila collection now available on American Trench’s website.

The entire project was inspired by American Trench’s continued desire to make something in Philadelphia, Hurwitz said. Collaboration offered a way to do it using “someone else’s expertise” and creative vision, he said.

There’s something else behind it all, too.

“There’s a local-pride thing of finding the people who are doing stuff here and working with them,” Hurwitz said. “It feels good. It’s like supporting your hometown team.”

Sharing in the collaborative buzz is Pierce, from Gentry + Rose, which will celebrate its second anniversary in November.

“It pays homage to Philadelphia as a manufacturing hub,” Pierce said. “Bringing that back is something we definitely believe in.”

5 Things American Trench Has Learned About Fashion Retail:

  1. Instagram and Reddit are major sales channels.
  2. E-commerce is tedious, including writing and editing copy and posting photographs.
  3. Adding products is needed to even out cash flow to avoid boom-and-bust sales periods.
  4. With overlap minimal, a modern fashion start-up will most likely have to offer wholesale and direct-to-consumer brands.
  5. It takes seven to eight years to build a lasting brand.