With roughly $300 billion in sales predicted for 2014, the fashion industry is a big business dominated by big businesses looking to become even bigger. When smaller houses are gobbled up by conglomerates, their connection to their craft and product is often treated as an asset rather than a legacy. But, for family-owned businesses, that sense of connection with the product and the customer is so deeply personal it becomes almost sacred. Compromising on the creation of shirts, blankets, glasses, jackets, bags, or shoes is one thing if you're in the apparel business and something else entirely if you're part of a longstanding tradition.
We talked to two generations of America's six most prosperous family-owned style companies about where their companies came from, where their companies are going, and the most memorable product they make.
When Mike started making shoes with his father Dave in the eighties, neither of them expected to pass along a large company to the next generation. "Direct consumer sales were such a challenge at that time," says Mike. "You'd have to invent a catalogue." That's why the family focus remained on private label collaborations with large companies looking to gain credibility by selling traditional boat shoes and moccasins. The big shift came in 2010, when Mike and his son Kyle decided to found their own brand and reach out directly to consumers. The plan worked and the family factory in Lewiston, Maine has been humming ever since. According to Mike, the demand for made-to-order men's shoes is on its way up.