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The Rise and Fall of Kitsbow: A Dream of American-Made Apparel

Photo by Samuel Branch on Unsplash

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Key Takeaways:

– Kitsbow Cycling Apparel, an employee-owned benefit corp, will be closing its doors after failing to raise enough capital during a community financing round.

– The closure of Kitsbow is a blow to the small segment of the apparel industry that aims to manufacture clothes in the U.S. instead of overseas.

– Kitsbow’s vision of making clothes in a new way, respecting workers and paying a living wage, was not sustainable due to insufficient operating capital.

– Despite its closure, Kitsbow leaves behind a legacy of excellence in marketing, production efficiency, and innovative approaches to apparel manufacturing.

– The leaders at Kitsbow encourage consumers to support brands that prioritize ethical practices and workers’ well-being.


In a world dominated by fast fashion and overseas manufacturing, Kitsbow Cycling Apparel stood out as a beacon of hope for the American-made apparel industry. With a vision of producing high-quality garments while respecting workers and paying a living wage, Kitsbow aimed to challenge the status quo. However, after a valiant effort, the company has announced its closure due to insufficient capital. This article explores the rise and fall of Kitsbow, shedding light on the challenges faced by the brand and the broader apparel industry.

The Dream of American-Made Apparel

Kitsbow Cycling Apparel, an employee-owned benefit corporation, emerged as a symbol of hope in a deeply broken apparel industry. Headquartered east of Asheville in Old Fort, North Carolina, Kitsbow injected new life into a rural town that had experienced economic decline for three decades. With an annual payroll of approximately $2 million, Kitsbow played a vital role in revitalizing the local economy and attracting other manufacturers to the area.

What set Kitsbow apart was its commitment to manufacturing apparel in the U.S. instead of outsourcing production overseas. In a market where 98% of clothes sold in the U.S. are made abroad, Kitsbow sought to prove that there was a different way. Their approach emphasized local production, respect for artisan skills, and paying a living wage to workers. By doing so, they aimed to challenge the prevailing narrative and change minds about the conventional practices of the apparel industry.

The Challenges Faced

Despite its noble vision, Kitsbow encountered significant challenges along its journey. One of the main obstacles was the need for operating capital to sustain and grow the business. In their recent Community Round of Financing, Kitsbow aimed to raise $1 million. However, they fell short, securing only 50% of their target. While the funds raised were used to launch new marketing programs and cover some expenses, the company required the full amount to survive and thrive.

Another factor that contributed to Kitsbow’s closure was the current economic environment. The apparel industry, already a challenging space, became even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Impact investors, including venture capitalists, reduced their investments across the board, making it even harder for companies like Kitsbow to secure the necessary funding. Despite their efforts to explore alternative options such as partnerships and potential acquisitions, the economic constraints faced by the industry made these avenues unviable.

A Legacy of Excellence

Although Kitsbow’s journey may be coming to an end, the brand leaves behind a legacy of achievements. The company’s commitment to marketing and merchandising on a shoestring budget resulted in a remarkable 10% increase in apparel sales in 2022 compared to the previous year, all without relying on paid advertisements. Their email campaigns became the envy of many competitors.

Kitsbow also excelled in production efficiency, achieving higher margins while paying a living wage. In 2022 alone, they produced 16,000 garments, a testament to their dedication to one-piece flow manufacturing. Additionally, Kitsbow’s transition to Just-in-Time Inventory combined with Made to Order allowed for a rich selection of 5,000 SKUs, providing a model that other U.S.-based apparel brands could emulate in the future.

Notably, Kitsbow developed and operated the only data-driven software system for one-piece flow apparel production planning in the world. This technological achievement, coupled with their commitment to excellence, set them apart from their competitors.

The Road Ahead

As Kitsbow approaches its final days of operation, the company plans to finish existing “Made to Order” purchases and ship them to customers. While the closure is undoubtedly a significant loss, it’s important to remember that Kitsbow’s impact goes beyond their garments. The employees, who showcased their skills, resilience, and ability to work effectively as a team, are now seeking new opportunities.

The leaders at Kitsbow encourage individuals and organizations to consider hiring the talented individuals who were part of the Kitsbow team. With expertise in manufacturing, marketing, customer service, and retail, these professionals can continue to contribute to the industry’s growth and development.


The story of Kitsbow Cycling Apparel reflects the challenges faced by those striving to make a difference in the apparel industry. Despite their efforts and achievements, the company was unable to secure the necessary capital to sustain and expand its operations. Kitsbow’s closure serves as a reminder of the difficulties faced by those who seek to prioritize ethical practices, worker well-being, and local manufacturing.

While Kitsbow may be closing its doors, the legacy of the brand and its employees will endure. Their commitment to excellence in marketing, production efficiency, and innovative approaches to apparel manufacturing will leave a lasting impact. As consumers, we have the power to support brands that share these values, thus continuing the movement toward a more sustainable and ethical apparel industry. Let us remember Kitsbow’s journey and the lessons it imparts as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of fashion and manufacturing.

Written by Martin Cole

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