In Bed With the Man Bringing Manufacturing Back to New York
Fashion isn’t new to Andrew Livingston. Before founding the Knickerbocker Mfg. Co., Livingston and his friends were running a small boutique and menswear label in Brooklyn. But when he had the opportunity to buy a garment factory on the fringe of Bushwick, he couldn’t refuse.
“When the offer came up,” Livingston told Refinery Times, “the opportunity had to be pursued, or I knew I would have been kicking myself later.”
Now, Knickerbocker Mfg. Co. isn’t just a private label manufacturing company. It’s developed into a menswear brand in its own right. And 24-year-old Livingston is busier than ever overseeing every loom, bolt of cloth, and copper rivet in the 8,000-square-foot industrial space. Not to mention his employees, customers, and the other labels and designers Knickerbocker collaborates with.
“I hope that the youth will take a greater interest in the supply chain,” Livingston said, “and help to create an ethical balance between fashion’s consumers and its producers.” For Livingston, crafting high-end, well-made products is just as important as fostering a culture that’s committed to eliminating waste and improving working conditions.
Livingston opened up to Refinery Times about this, and the other responsibilities of being a business owner, his sources of inspiration, and the three things he never leaves home without.
What led you to buy a factory and begin manufacturing?
Ironically, it was interest from Japan in American goods. This account from Japan asked us to produce some caps for them. I went digging through an old directory where I pulled a few contacts, most of which were dead ends, until I eventually discovered Watman Headwear Corp., where Knickerbocker now resides. After working with them for several months, the owner approached me about purchasing the factory. To own a factory and be vertically integrated as a small designer is really quite a dream when you’re growing your label. You can move quick and get to be hands on through all steps.
The Watman family came up in a different time: when brands and advertising played less importance than they do now and when you could still make money being a manufacturer. I knew it would be important that if we were producing our own goods we would not just be a middle man. We would need to become a brand that would provide our customer with the full experience, from product inception to completion.
How has the Brooklyn community influenced your work?
More than anything, it has taught us to be true to ourselves. Our growth has been very organic. From Steven Watman who passed the factory onto us and to everyone who followed, there are a lot of people we wouldn’t want to let down. Our business could fail but what matters most is not sacrificing our values. I think this is something that resonates in the brand and that people appreciate.
What caught you off guard most about entering the manufacturing world?
We work in a very seasonal business. I was a creative first coming into this but quickly learned that if I wanted to continue being creative in running my own business, that I’d have to invest more time into the financials of it all.
So what makes a great suit?
Well there is a suit for every time, place and occasion. I believe a great suit only stands out when well accessorized. It’s not about flash but the small details. Personally, I always prefer to mix my suit with something vintage. For the guy who doesn’t stray from today’s standard, two-button, single-breasted suit, it really is a nice way to add some character.
How would you describe your personal style?
Whether new or vintage, most of what I wear could be categorized as being ’40’s, ’50s or ’60s. Those were the 30 years that really gave rise to the individual.
When you’re traveling, what clothing do you absolutely always pack?
A white tee, blue jeans, and my Stetson.
Where do you find inspiration for new designs and projects?
Inspiration isn’t linear. It really takes an open mind in day to day life. Sometimes it’s an object, architecture, or an automobile. It’s a matter of translating a feeling into your work. As far as cut and style, most often inspiration comes from work wear. Menswear has always had a function-first mentality, and I like to keep that approach with a sensibility that matches the contemporary man.
What’s your favorite Knickerbocker Mfg. Co. product?
Definitely our Chore Coat. It’s a classic workwear piece that layers well and suits most occasions. It’s also got plenty of pockets—and since I am always running around, I always need the extra storage!
Are you working on any other projects?
Outside of Knickerbocker, I have a new project that I’ve been working on with Harley-Davidson. The product line focuses on a range of goods in their archive and old accessory catalogues. The items date back to 1914—the debut year of their apparel—to the mid 1960s. The line will be made in the United States and be made available at the end of August.