The new direct-to-consumer e-commerce site USAstrong is rooted in supporting domestic labels and manufacturers.
Former Urban Outfitters executive Krissy Mashinsky and her serial entrepreneurial husband Alex created the company. Its multitiered approach to bolster American-made goods involves selling its signature USAstrong label online, offering a range of verified domestic made goods and establishing a certified USA made program. The e-commerce site, usastrong.io, went live five weeks ago and will be adding more customized, localized resources on Friday.
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After 15 years at Urban, Mashinsky exited as president last March. The executive and her husband started their new company in April primarily to bring transparency into the supply chain, a trend that has been increasingly resonating with consumers, especially Gen Z. It also doubled as an opportunity to bring domestic manufacturing back to the States. Ten brands from five different states will be added Friday, and there are plans to add goods from all of the other U.S. states as well.
In a joint interview Monday, Mashinsky said while building USAstrong’s own supply chain during the first wave of COVID-19, she realized that there was not a lot of local manufacturing in the U.S. “We really started to re-brand ‘Made in the USA’ and to remarket to Gen Z and young Millennials,” she said.
Such consumers want to know exactly what’s in the products that they buy, who made them and how they were made. That interest isn’t just to confirm that an item was made in the U.S., but also that it is locally made, the couple said. Alex Mashinsky said, “It’s kind of like in the Eighties, when a lot of Americans cared about buying an American car and not a Japanese car. The [shop local] resurgence is almost similar to that. They care about their makeup, clothing, how the local restaurants source their ingredients.”
Categorized as those born between 1998 and 2016, Gen Zers are known to make values-driven purchasing decisions that are often driven by environmentalism, racial equality and responsible practices. In a Morning Consult report about Gen Z, 27 percent of Gen Zers said they planned to buy more items from local businesses compared to before the pandemic.
Alex Mashinsky started Celsius Network and Arbinet, among other technology firms. As for USAstrong, he said. “The transparency is for some people a good thing and for some people, it’s a bad thing. There are a lot of manufacturers, who hide all that stuff, because they’re using child labor or countries that may not be our friends. Our job is to bring the transparency and the variety, and let the consumer decide with their wallet what they like and don’t like. Then we will build on that.”
While the majority of the goods being sold — 95 percent — are fashion, the offerings are expected to become more diverse and lifestyle-oriented as new vendors are added for beauty, home, food and accessories. Some vendors are also part of USAstrong’s supply chain, such as Cavan & Co., a Wayne, Pa.-based clothing company. When the state-by-state directory goes live on Friday, apparel is expected to account for 70 percent of all goods, with that statistic expected to drop to 50 percent in the next month or so. The average order currently is $120, with the average online visit being three minutes or more, Krissy Mashinsky said. Interested in more than product, she also wants to understand state-specific information, the vetting process, the community, and special events, she added.
As of Friday, 10 new resources will be introduced to the site. Men’s apparel will be another new addition. The New York-based operation relies on the insights of 16 directors in different states who are helping to source and vet products. The plan is to have a director in every state, and candidates can learn more by joining online. Mashinsky’s background in the fashion industry has also helped to attract talent. As for whether there was anything about her experience at Urban that she did not want to duplicate, or what helped shape what she is doing now, Mashinsky said, “I would like to represent U.S. manufacturing more. That’s really the focus here — representing local manufacturing and bringing that to the forefront and transparency into the supply chain.”
Developing their company, they said they expected to find other sites that were one-stop shops for verified domestic retail goods, but that did not happen. “We’re helping not only the manufacturers but also the consumers who care about that. We have just made it easy for them to find it,” Alex Mashinsky said.
Furthermore, while USAstrong is a direct-to-consumer commerce site, it could also become more of a business-to-business site. As local manufacturers are being verified, the founders are fielding occasional queries from manufacturers in one state looking for cotton, and other resources, in another state. “There is a potential to also develop further as we verify these sources to put all these folks together in each different state and to introduce them down-the-road,” Krissy Mashinsky said.
USAstrong vendors are charged about 6 percent in fees, whereas Amazon may charge about 40 to 50 percent in total fees, Alex Mashinsky said. ”Sometimes their costs are higher than what their productions costs are, so they’re really using Amazon to move inventory than to make a profit,” he said, adding that more than 50 percent of Etsy’s products are not USA made.
Unsurprisingly, loungewear, sweatshirts and sweatpants are the most popular categories. Through its weekly livestreaming TV show, USAstrong’s Gen Z shoppers have inquired about home decor items and natural beauty products. Those 22- to 28-year-olds have been ”very vocal” about wanting to shop local, and to find out how things are made, Krissy Mashinsky. To meet that demand and make it easier for people to buy goods that are made in the states that they live in, the site and via Instagram is launching a state directory of goods and vendors. “The consumer will be able to see who their local retailer is. It’s almost like a local farmer’s market for them,” she said.
Her husband said, “There’s a lot of confusion in the market about what is actually made in the U.S. because even [some] people don’t make stuff in the U.S. they claim that it’s assembled or designed in the U.S. There’s no formal verification.”
The aim of USAstrong is not just the sourcing and aggregation for consumers who are interested in locally-made goods, but also to verify that the goods sold are in fact locally made. To accomplish that, the start-up has recruited directors for each state to confirm that the products live up to their provenance. For starters, the site seeks products that have six or fewer components, and asks that the supplier validate where their products are designed and made. “If the supplier is willing to share that information, then we will add them to the marketplace. If they want to keep it as a secret, then they can continue selling on Amazon or somewhere else and that’s fine too,” he said.
The directors are based in different states and are on the payroll, helping with vetting, working on outreach with the local community, and giving product input. There is also a network of unpaid ambassadors that is helping to spread the word. That group is in the 22- to 28-year-old age range.
The aim is to increase shoppers’ average site visit to five minutes from three minutes-plus. Encouraging shoppers to check out goods from other states is one way the company would like to achieve that. “They can see what retailers they can shop in California, while they are in Oregon,” Krissy Mashinsky said.
Recognizing that many designers and brands are turning to local manufacturers to help with production or sample runs due to financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, USAstrong also provides an invitation for them to help stimulate their local economies, according to the brand’s publicist Kelly Cutrone. “So many young kids were getting discouraged because they couldn’t even make a sample minimum in China or Bangladesh. Now they have factories with different terms here. It’s exciting for everybody,” she said.
As for whether it’s tricky since nationalism has a negative connotation to some people because there was such political debate about being American-focused, Krissy Mashinsky reiterated how the response to locally made has been so strong. “And locally made can be global. We can do that in any country,” she said. “We had folks in the U.K. reach out, who want to do ‘U.K. Strong’ with their locally made products. We had women in Italy, who wanted to do ‘Italy Strong,’ to help rebuild the Italian supply chain. You can think local, but be global. That’s really what we’re trying to promote here.”