If there’s one company that epitomizes the hustle and entrepreneurship of the young maker brands I admire, it’s Knickerbocker Manufacturing Company, or KMFG. The founders could have, like so many startup brands, developed some designs and outsourced their work to factories abroad or even in the Garment District. But they didn’t.
Instead, the three founders, Andrew Livingston, Daniel McRorie and Taylor Spong got on Kickstarter and raised $15 thousand and took over the lease of a sew factory on Flushing in Queens. They wanted to get their hands on the machines. They wanted to own the operation.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is fairly uncommon. There are a few brands like Martin Greenfield that own their own factories and do brisk business making product for other brands as well. And there are a few new companies that have brought production in-house like Mother Freedom in Massachusetts and Harry’s which owns its own razor blade factory in Germany. This model, which is critical to the identities of these brands, seems more possible now thanks to the recent demand for high-quality goods and especially those in menswear.
Knickerbocker has positioned themselves really wisely right in front of this growing wave. They’ve got the factory so they can fulfill orders for clients like Kinfolk, the Hill Side and 3Sixteen and they can also easily make and test their own patterns and designs to develop their own line.
Knickerbocker was also blessed by some luck in that Livingston was working at the factory when he found out its owner wanted to retire. Livingston was uniquely positioned to take over, and of course, being in that place, to take over a sew factory full of great old equipment, doesn’t happen often.
For now, Knickerbocker is so busy that they’re not taking on any more customers. This is in part because they want to spend more time developing their own product line which will feature well-made staples meant to span seasons. The idea is that you should be able to buy something like a chambray shirt that you want to wear year round. I couldn’t agree more.
One of the first things you notice at the Knickerbocker Factory is the halfpipe but for now, it’s not getting a lot of use. It was fun for the first few months, says Livingston, but now they’re all pretty busy working.