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Mindful Supply Co. has found the right thread

by Rich Lewis

| @richlewis4ink

There was a time when if you bought a piece of clothing, that it had North Carolina stamped all over it, from the cotton grown here to the ginning, the milling and even the final cut and sew work. People from around the United States and the world wore garments proudly made here in our state.

And then, almost overnight, it was gone – a relic of the past, never to come home again. Wait a minute! Not so fast! Thanks to the folks at Greensboro’s own Mindful Supply Co., cotton and Carolina are working together again.

Founded by graphic designers and clothing industry vets Derek Glass and David Grubbs, Mindful Supply Co. is taking the artisanal/craft movement and moving it into the clothing business. They aren’t just curating the old style of textile business but bringing it into today’s marketplace, pairing modern, down-home designs with local sourcing and transparency of supply chains.

“We always said that once we got out on our own, we’d start an apparel line,” Grubbs said. “We wanted it to be something where we could give back to our state.”

“And we wanted to show that it (clothing manufacture) can still be done in the United States,” Glass continued.

Both men had careers with VF Corp., the parent company of Wrangler jeans, and had seen the modern garment industry go through changes from top to bottom. As world labor and supply markets moved the textile industry out of North Carolina and into places like China, Mexico, Pakistan and Honduras, the state began to lose one of its most important economic lynchpins.

“We had seen it first hand,” Grubbs explained. “We’d both gone to Asia and Central America as part of our jobs and met with manufacturers and suppliers. We just said, ‘Man, there can’t be big enough savings to justify all of this.'” Glass continued, explaining that with things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the new Trans Pacific Partnership, clothing manufacturers had pulled work away from local factories and farms to save between 10 and 20 percent on their overhead costs. In a world of cheap clothes (price and quality wise), chasing the thrifty needle paid off when producing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of units.

While you might have a closet-full of those clothes, if you’re a North Carolina native, you probably have family and friends that lost careers as the local textile industry declined. Cotton fields disappeared, gins shut down, thread and fabric mills shuttered their doors and cut and sew operations packed their machinery and shipped off to Central America and the Caribbean.

“All of sudden, people knew the cost of everything, but didn’t know the value of anything” Glass said.

Luckily, when Grubbs and Glass went in search of suppliers, they were able to find them — people willing to work and bring quality back. Their search was all over the country, but they were able to find exactly what they needed remarkably close to home. And those suppliers and manufacturers had that same commitment to quality that Mindful Supply embodied.

“We started doing this for passion over profits,” Grubbs said. “We wanted to offer the softest cotton T-shirt made in the US. What we ended up with was a local product that impacts 500 people’s jobs here in North Carolina.”

“We got really lucky on getting our T-shirts completely supplied here in the Carolinas,” Glass continued.

He explained that not only was the cotton grown here, but it was also ginned, turned into thread, made into textiles, cut and sewn within our borders. The screen printing is done in Burlington and, of course, the iconic designs on the shirts come right from Glass and Grubbs’ drawing boards in Greensboro.

So, you’ve got your product, locally sourced and looking great, how do you get it out into the marketplace? If you’re these guys, you load the shirts into a classic VW bus and take it out to festivals and fairs throughout North Carolina and the South. They’ve been at the NC State Fair, MerleFest and a host of others, including Greensboro’s City Market at the Railyard and this year’s Hopsfest. The two are focused on building up a fan base and a following.

“We needed to get people on board and believing in our product and what we do,” Grubbs said. “We want people to be proud of what they’re wearing. We want them buying it not just because it’s sustainable and local, but also because of how they look.”

“We’re not trying to create a fad,” Glass said. “We’re building a brand, and one people can feel good about.”

That work is paying off and the T-shirts are being sought out at these festivals. People love the quality and the designs are iconic and timeless, celebrating both North Carolina and the resurgent, positive, relaxed modern Southern culture.

Mindful Supply Co. is also using the Internet to grow awareness, with a retail website that manages to capture the down-home nature of their products. You can find the T-shirts there, as well as hoodies and other articles of clothing (all made and completely sourced in the United States). This more modern marketing is under the care of Brand Manager Kristin Oakley, who is also working to create a presence for the company on the social media scene, connecting the customers with the products they are searching for. !

WANNA go?

If you’re interested in seeing it for yourselves, you can look around for that red VW van at festivals or take the easy route and check out their website at www.mindfulsupply.com.

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