Owning vs. Renting

by David Billstrom


At Kitsbow we have combined our love of riding bikes, hiking, fishing, hunting, and enjoying the outdoors with our commitment to taking care of our planet Earth. It seems inconsistent to make outdoor apparel in harmful ways, and then ship it across oceans using fossil fuel, so that people can enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Let that sink in.

We are one of the few outdoor apparel brands making our own products, and the only brand in cycling apparel that manufacturers here in the U.S.

All the other brands support jobs in other countries, harm the environment by shipping finished goods back to the U.S. (a shocking number use air freight, which is obviously even more harmful to the environment -- we know, because we used to do it too).

But we don't intend to shame customers or brands for these choices, because almost all of us are in it too. At Kitsbow for example, we still import gloves from Vietnam and socks from Italy because we couldn't find the quality we needed in the U.S. Most customers don't even know that they can make a choice from time to time, and we won't convince many people to give the U.S. a try if the technique is shaming.

So let's try a different approach: let's start making decisions as owners, not renters, of the big blue spinning ball.

We want to own our actions and decisions, and avoid the attitude of a mere temporary “renter” without regard to consequences. Kitsbow’s team is investing for the long-term, taking a view that spans generations, not just next year and certainly not with the short-sighted obsession for doing whatever it takes to make the next sale.

One of the culprits in this thinking is a concept sometimes called Fast Fashion. Constantly introducing apparel that is more desirable than the apparel you already have, in a whirling cycle of purchase-and-replace.

The average American wears a new item of apparel just five times before discarding it. Researchers calculate that each American sends 80 lbs of clothes to landfills each year.

In contrast, every Kitsbow piece is designed to last for years. And we make it durable, because we assume you’re moving, working, and stressing your gear in the rough and tumble outdoors.

This requires thoughtful decisions in how we assemble our gear, the thread and stitch used on each seam, and the choice of raw materials -- often much more expensive. Simply put, if we can make a shirt or a pair of shorts that lasts twice as long as the other brands, then regardless of how harmful it was to make it -- we’ve slashed that impact in half.

And inevitably it means that our products will nearly always be more expensive than the short-sighted alternatives. It also means that we offer repair services (where we lose money on each repair, but gain additional use of each garment).

And it means you won’t buy as many from us, because you won’t need to. We’re fine with that.

The biggest decision of all is how we make our apparel. You can learn more about One-Piece-Flow and Lean Manufacturing here, but suffice to say that the concept is that we (only) make it when you’re ready to buy it.

This means we have minimum inventory, no markdowns, and no unsold inventory sent to landfills. Researchers calculate that at least 20% of all the consumer apparel manufactured worldwide goes directly to the landfill when it fails to sell. It is difficult to truly grasp the enormity of that waste and harm.

The decisions we’ve made to locate in the U.S., to train our own workforce, and to create a vital community that will last indefinitely are all tightly connected to the decisions we make when creating sustainable apparel.

And we’re not declaring victory, not at all.

In fact, we have stumbled and we know we’ll stumble again on this journey. A journey that few have charted and even fewer have embraced. We think of it as the ultimate and epic bike trip through unknown lands. As any traveler knows, the rewards are along the way, not so much in reaching the destination.

Your money is precious. You can choose to spend it on apparel that keeps Americans employed. Your durable garment from Kitsbow also pays for new employees to learn a lifelong artisan skill, and helps rebuild a town that was declining in the South. Your money makes a difference. We hope you join us in owning our beautiful planet.

Join Our Cause

Get connected to our journey: Sign up for email here. Buy a product or two here

Visit us in North Carolina at the Old Fort Ride House for a factory tour and to see the magic for yourself. Ride our trails, hike the ridges, and fish in the streams of the Other Pisgah; plan your trip here. Meet our community

Use the power of your purchasing to employ Americans crafting premium quality products that last for years, sustain the earth, and employ awesome people. 

And we’re always looking for more talent and artisans. Send your friends, family, and best promising candidates to join our team here.

Help us change an industry, build a community, and save the world.