From June 25 to July 4, we'll be examining — and at times, celebrating — all things American-made, from the state of U.S. apparel manufacturing to American-born models on the rise. You can follow all of our coverage here.
"We’re a country that makes things," says Mark Bollman, founder of American Field, a multi-city pop-up marketplace for all things Made in the U.S.A., from apparel to beer. "So this is not something new; it’s just coming back." Bollman launched American Field as a side project in 2012 in Boston, where Ball and Buck, the U.S.-manufactured men's lifestyle brand he founded four years earlier, is based.
The debut American Field pop-up featured approximately 40 fashion, lifestyle and food vendors. The first to sign on were three heritage brands that Bollman sold at Ball and Buck's flagship store: Rancourt & Co. (shoes), Randolph Engineering (sunglasses) and Bailey Hat Company. This year, the Boston event — running Sept. 12-13 — will feature more than 80 brands. American Field will double in size overall, too — opening for the first time in Washington, D.C. (Oct. 17-18) and Atlanta (Oct. 31-Nov. 1), and returning to Brooklyn (Nov. 21-22) for its second year.
One of American Field's chief aims is to re-imagine the everyday retail experience. "When you think about a typical purchase — or what America sees as a typical purchase — it’s fluorescent lights, plastic packaging on a shelf and a salesperson who doesn’t really know about [the product]," he says. American Field seeks out venues that hint at U.S.'s manufacturing heritage: For example, the Innovation and Design Building on the Boston waterfront was originally founded as storehouse for the South Boston Army Base. The overall shopping experience is designed to bring back the traditional, old time-y emotional connection of buying a desired good. "It’s meeting the person that’s making the item," he explains. "It’s interacting and engaging in a thoughtful conversation about why product decisions and design decisions were made."
The vendors that set up shop in American Field make their products in the States, of course, but participating companies don't necessarily have to only manufacture domestically. For instance, New Balance brings in a capsule collection of American-made shoes to sell. The Boston-based athleticwear company touts that 70 percent of the value of its shoes are made in the U.S. and that's enough for Bollman. "I’m definitely on the board of not punishing people because they have extreme success and can’t find operation here or simply want to access a price point that literally is not possible," he says. Instead of saying, 'Oh you can’t do that,' we’re celebrating that they are doing it."
Making participation for vendors at American Field affordable is a key part of Bollman's mission. He purposely keeps the entry fee as low as possible, from $750 for a basic booth to $1,500 for a premium double booth. "Our minimum booth is basically a break-even business," he says. After a couple years of learning curves and takeaways, he and his team have also developed a straightforward system to help the brands market themselves and their participation in American Field. "We provide the vendors with ready-made assets that they can literally drop a logo in," Bollman says. "So, here’s a great email you could do, here’s a Facebook post, here’s how you can talk about it on Twitter. And we coach and work with them to make it really easy because a lot of times with these smaller businesses, the idea of having to create marketing assets and design — it’s just not going to happen."
While American Field is Bollman's off-hours passion project — he's still running Ball and Buck as his day job — he has ideas on how to grow the concept, beyond city-by-city expansion. He'd like American Field to become a "think tank and creative direction consultancy" to continue spreading the gospel. Between his day-to-day and American Field, Bollman says his number one challenge is educating American consumers about the benefits of buying locally made products. "And that’s where this is such a valuable event."
American Field takes place in Boston from Sept. 12-13; Washington, D.C., from Oct. 17-18; Atlanta from Oct. 31-Nov. 1; and Brooklyn from Nov. 21-22. For more details, visit American Field's website.