I must confess, that I struggled for many years with capitalism. While I had benefited from it being raised in family where my father owned his own business, it was easy to look out and blame it on the hands of a few greedy folks.
I also spent four years with a non-profit where we did not sell a product, but took care of people and where we had to collect gifts and donations. It was a completely different financial transaction. So stepping into a business where we were selling products with a story in them... raised for me questions that others might not have been asking.
Are we selling something beyond just a product? Is this only to make money?
Is there a mission behind our brand? And can we live out what we are sharing on the website?
I would call myself a young capitalist trying to understand how to bring more soul into products than the generations before us... maybe more authenticity as well. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, capitalism has spread under the motto of “faster, cheaper, better.” The slogan seems to promise: “If you can create a company that offers cheaper or better products while beating your competition, regardless of your values, your character, or how you achieve these advantages, then you can attain the goal of the ‘American Dream.’”
In the Harvard Business Review Roger Martin proclaims that, “[the] governing premise is that the purpose of every corporation should be to maximize shareholders’ wealth. If firms pursue this goal, the thinking goes, both shareholders and society will benefit. This is a tragically flawed premise.”
The lust for profits all too often brings immoral decisions, irresponsible extraction of resources and neglectful exploitation of overseas factories. As Catholic Priest, Richard Rohr writes, “You don’t want to seek change, if you are benefiting from [the status quo].” So the destructive cycle rolls on and on.
When it comes to clothing and apparel brands, we find that the many of these brands exist simply to make money. This in itself is not wrong or morally an issue, but where it is more interesting is when it comes to promoting a lifestyle of their brand.
Here is what I have found in my research and study of these companies in the apparel industry… Many years ago the government decided you could not trademark a style of a shirt. No one owned the oxford button up or polo shirt designs. It was considered utilitarian, so you could not patent styles like you could a medical drug or musical song. So if one was to build a company that could bring about value beyond the other person in clothes, and compete, it had to be through offering the cheapest or branding that shirt with a symbol that made it better than the rest.
It seems that there were the founders of companies who cared about clothing and men and styles. Men like David T. Abercrombie & Ezra Fitch. C.C. Filson. Levi Strauss. Just to name a few.
But as the business grew... and those founders passed away... it appears the mission changed. It was no longer those men in charge, but larger corporations with the majority of interest in raising the stock price. So clothing brands became carefully orchestrated and choreographed narratives to meet people's needs by telling their brands stories to make profit. Decades later, as brands have evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry and brands are very big business, while I understand the reasons, I can’t help but still question where is the substance and what happened to the original mission. Since the founders of these titan brands are no longer around...it is simply now in the business about making money.
What would these men think of what has happened to their company? Would they approve or feel used?
We are inspired by one of these men living today. Yvonne Chouinard’s Patagonia outdoor clothing company. He has been an avid outdoorsman who lives his passion and brought others into it with clothing and gear. He believed in environmental standards for production, and since he owned the company, he had the control to do this. He has lived the message and brought an entire culture up in that way, including his customers.
We want to celebrate and honor this. There are not enough true stories these days in clothing and apparel.
And so, we are hopeful that by focusing on our mission, while joining in the free markets, we can bring that passion that many of those original men carried. We hope to bring that message about honor, character, and traditions for men. In essence, we would like our company represent what many of those original founders represented. And while we wish they could do that on their own, since that bottom line is only profit and its a very big machine, we don't think they can authentically ever live that out.
My hope as the founder is to build a new brand for this generation that will honor our past, our traditions, and build a clothing company of substance for today.
Founder of Buffalo & Company