Tech Meets the T-Shirt at Pistol Lake and Pickwick & Weller

Xconomy San Francisco — 

It’s hard to think of a fashion item that’s been more commoditized than the T-shirt. Over the last century it’s evolved from a versatile work garment for miners, sailors, and farmers into a nearly universal piece of topwear for students, athletes, and startup employees. It’s also become a form of wearable advertising—a way to display one’s philosophy or affiliations or sense of humor to the world.

But amidst this rush to make the medium into the message, it seems like nobody pays much attention anymore to little things that matter for other articles of clothing—like fit, fabric quality, and durability.

Well, almost nobody. With support from venture and angel investors, several new groups of Internet entrepreneurs have set out to reinvent the way T-shirts are designed, manufactured, and sold.

The Net’s Top Stops for T-Shirts
Pickwick &

They’re bringing different philosophies to the table—Pickwick & Weller, for example, has high-profile investors like Ashton Kutcher and Andreessen Horowitz and wants to be “accepted first and foremost by the fashion world,” while Pistol Lake bootstrapped operations via Kickstarter and sees itself as a group of “makers and craftsmen” rather than as a fashion company.

But there’s a common emphasis at these companies on making great shirts that fit well; on manufacturing the shirts in the U.S., rather than offshoring the work; and on using the Internet to connect directly with customers and turn them into fans.

“The T-shirt is the uniform of the creative worker,” says Ryan Donahue, co-founder and CEO of Pickwick & Weller. But people shopping for casual workplace garb shouldn’t have to pay designer prices, Donahue argues. The 10-employee startup, which has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, makes men’s and women’s crew-neck, V-neck, and tank-top shirts at prices ranging from $26 for a classic men’s crew to $79 for a women’s cashmere-blend tee.

There’s something for everyone at Pickwick & Weller. Each item in its line is available not only in the standard extra-small, small, medium, and large sizes but often in variations that the company calls the “classic,” “slim,” “modern,” “long,” and “relaxed” fits. (For the women’s line, there’s also a “boyfriend” fit; I confess I didn’t ask what that means, nor did I ask why the men’s tees don’t offer a “girlfriend” fit. [Update: A female colleague explains to me that “The boyfriend fit is a fairly common fit in women’s clothing—both shirts and pants—that fits a bit looser than a normal piece of women’s clothing. It’s supposed to mimic the feel of stealing your boyfriend’s clothes to cuddle up in, but with a bit more structure.” Okay then.])

“We identified early on that fit was something we really wanted to excel at,” Donahue says. “We offer a multitude of fits across our styles so that everyone can find something they look and feel great in.”

Pickwick & Weller's Nico women's jersey, made from sandwashed silk and crepe de chine.

Pickwick & Weller's Nico women's jersey, made from sandwashed silk and crepe de chine.

Pistol Lake, based in Los Angeles, also emphasizes fit and price, seeing an opportunity to compete on those factors with the plethora of low- and high-end brands.

“How a shirt fits is incredibly important and difficult to get right,” says founder William Sulinski. “Evidence of how difficult it can be is the vast number of poorly fitting T-shirts available on the market.”

Pistol Lake raised $51,000 on Kickstarter last winter and is working on a men’s V-neck tee (modeled by Sulinski in the photo at the top of this story), a crew-neck tee, a hoodie, and a polo shirt. All are available for pre-order, and full-scale production began early this month. Prices range from $22.50 for the crew tee to $65 for the hoodie.

Pickwick & Weller and Pistol Lake have one more thing in common: they’re pure e-commerce companies, opting to go around both bricks-and-mortar stores and large e-retailers by selling directly from their websites. That lets the companies … Next Page »

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One response to “Tech Meets the T-Shirt at Pistol Lake and Pickwick & Weller”

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