We’ve long been big fans of Kitsbow’s high-quality cycling gear. (We also love their facemasks—your author is wearing one right now as he types this in his office…er, coffee shop). Everything feels well thought out, their apparel is clearly built to last, and their cycling accessories are burly but also elegant. Not an easy act to pull off.
Kitsbow also makes about half of their products in the USA. They were originally based in Petaluma, California, an oak-studded town an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, smack in the middle of road and mountain bike riding heaven. Their founder, Zander Nosler, went to school not terribly far away at Stanford, and loved riding in the area.
Here’s the crux: Nosler wanted to keep his inventory low and to make things in the USA. He’d learned a technique called “lean” manufacturing while in school. Essentially, the idea is limit waste by only making what you know you’ll sell. This idea has taken off among lots of small, boutique apparel makers today, where they “pre-sell” new items to get an idea of how much to make, that way they aren’t bogged down with massive inventory orders and extra stuff, with the eventual reduction in quality of materials as manufacturers seek to cut costs.
Kitsbow tries to keep lead times short by keeping an eye on buying trends and dialing in what to make and when. Limited SKUs, limited inventory, limited waste. It means they can make more of their clothes locally.
The brand relocated to North Carolina last year, to be closer to their domestic manufacturing center, with the goal of making more than 90 percent of their products in the USA by 2022.
Jeff Barber, editor at Singletracks, recently interviewed David Billstrom, Kitsbow’s CEO, for his publication’s podcast. It’s a great look into how a quality outdoor apparel maker can do things differently, and not be consumed with growth for growth’s sake.
*If the above embed code doesn’t work for your system, you can listen to the pod here.