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The J.Crew rut, as beloved as the store might be, is evident in Boston men. Those who want to step outside their head-to-toe mall getups should look no further than Osmium, a local brand founded in 2012 by Mark Paigen. Formerly a footwear executive, Paigen transitioned into apparel, building his Stoneham-designed, Everett-made collection of men's shirting, pants, neckwear, and more—all classics with a twist.
With an Osmium footwear launch on the horizon and well-established American manufacturing processes, the brand exemplifies the fresh crop of outfitters supporting domestically produced apparel. In the interest of exploring a truly Massachusetts-based company, we visited the Osmium's Stoneham design studio to discuss its progression and future.
How did you go from footwear to Osmium?
At the time I was really ready for something different. I loved footwear, loved the outdoors, but I was ready for something that I could make in the US where the price ceilings weren't as low as they are in outdoor. I didn't see clothing that spoke to what I liked—an American made product and something that was a half step outside the mainstream—so those things came together. I'm also not the guy who wants to stand out in bright colors.
Your clothing is very classic in that way. How do you balance that with staying current and trendy? Is that even a goal of your line?
The way I see it, you can't ignore trend, but you don't have to chase it too hard. Mostly we pick up details on fit. My vision of textile is find things that are interesting and have a certain depth. I'm attracted to fibers that are not what you see everywhere else. We make some wool cotton blend shirts that are comfortable but you don't see much.
Where do you source your fabrics?
It's a matter of chasing stuff down. You go to New York. My previous company was in Colorado, so having access to New York [from Massachusetts] is like a kid in a candy store. There is so much there. There's a distributor I work with who sources fabric from Japan, and all of our shirting fabrics are from Japan.
Do you find that there are any pitfalls to being based outside of New York?
If you aspire to be a real fashion brand then you need to go to New York. That's not quite our aspiration here. It's a delicate line and to be honest, it's one I'm still trying to navigate. I don't consider Osmium a fashion brand. But if you're in the clothing business, you're in the fashion business. From a PR, notoriety view, it would be better to be in New York. More recently I realized that's not who I am and that I'm okay not to follow that path. In some ways I resonate my own sensibilities more with the San Francisco vibe.
Who is your customer?
We have who we like our customer to be but I'm not sure we know exactly who they are. The customer we want to be marketing to is design-oriented, lives in houses that combine contemporary with classic [points at Dwell magazine]. That's what we're after. We're working right now on a website redesign to better align our visuals with that customer.
Looking at your shoe samples, they speak to a fashion-oriented customer.
I like to draw the distinction between style and fashion. I think style endures, it has a lower amplitude wavelength, and fashion is more trend-based. One of the things I'm most proud of is the sandal I developed 25 years ago, they're still selling the same model, just in different colors. I get excited about creating icons that last.
Tell us about your apparel design process. How does it differ from footwear?
Footwear is really complicated, but clothing is much harder than I thought it would be. It's a steep learning curve. I designed a lot of things in my life but I don't draw; I'm the "Mr. Potato Head," bringing elements from here and there, trying to put them together in ways that haven't been done before. Typically I work with a pattern-slash-sample maker, bringing pictures and articles and say what I want. We try on clothes, and he will draft the pattern and create a sample. Then we go from there tweaking details, positioning, fabric, fit. The process of product development has similarities within every field.
Where are your manufacturing facilities? How did you select the right ones?
We work with a factory in Everett to make most of our stuff, and we have a few items we make in Chicago. We evaluated them on quality, price, how easy it is to work with them. I'm very happy with our vendor in Everett.
What needs to change for more manufacturing in the US?
One of the things is educating consumers. We have been trained as a society over the last 30 years that everything is very cheap and buy tons of it. It used to be that the percentage of income spent on clothing was three times higher than it is now. Coming back to a culture that values longevity and isn't following the steep trajectory of fashion changes. Slow fashion.
Menswear seems to have embraced it more than women's.
I just hope it lasts. There's a certain look I call the "urban lumberjack"—raw denim, boots, beards. It's been very prevalent and that look has been prominent in stores. That look isn't going to last forever. It will always have residue; there will always be people who wear raw denim. Some men will go back to chinos. I hope that the stores follow the path.
What clothing item does well for you?
Our vests. I don't think there are a lot of vests out there. Ours are cut with a formal pattern but in fairly casual fabrics. You can dress them up with a tie or dress them down and put them over a t-shirt. I think that you need three elements to really look good, and the vest is a perfect example of something that isn't just a shirt and pants.
What would you consider your most innovative apparel product?
The Point Six Pant or the Mariner Pant, which has no zipper. It snaps like the old Navy pants with a contemporary, slim fit. It's exactly the Osmium concept of "it's different, it's outside of the mainstream, but it doesn't yell in your face."
And you make accessories, too. How did the 3D printed belt come about?
Again it was taking concepts from different places and putting them together in a new way. 3D printing as a small company is relatively inexpensive. There's no tooling involved.
Is it hard to come across 3D printers for metal?
It's more and more common. Obviously everyone knows plastic; for example, we have a 3D printed footbed. The shoes, as beautiful are they are...the secret sauce is the footbed inside. In developing now as opposed to years ago, it's all CAD. You can print out prototypes and try them.
Do you see customization capabilities in US clothing manufacturing?
Apparel is tough. On the production side, a lot of what's coming back to the US is because we have high tech systems that can replace labor in other countries. Unfortunately with clothing that's not the case. Maybe in another five years we can see how to make that switch. With footwear I have an idea for the future that takes labor out of the equation almost completely. Crocs are an example of footwear where there is no labor. It's brilliant in a way. That could be one of the ways to encourage more domestic manufacturing.
· All Made in MA posts [Racked Boston]
· Osmium [Official Site]