Three years ago, Bayard Winthrop, the chief executive and founder of the clothing brand American Giant, started thinking about a flannel shirt he wore as a kid in the 1970s. It was blue plaid and bought for him by his grandmother, probably at Caldor, a discount department store popular in the northeast back then. The flannel was one of the first pieces of clothing Mr. Winthrop owned that suggested a personality.
Bringing its manufacture back to America, Mr. Winthrop thought, could be deeply symbolic. Both of the capability of U.S. manufacturing and of the need for big fashion brands to invest here again. It was a quixotic artisanal project, perhaps, but one with potentially high business stakes.
For flannel, he called James McKinnon.
At 50, Mr. McKinnon is not that old (Mr. Winthrop is 49). But he is the third McKinnon to run Cotswold Industries, the textile manufacturer his grandfather started in 1954. Cotswold made the woven fabric for headliners inside Ford cars. Later, the firm manufactured pocket linings for Lee, Wrangler and Levi jeans. Cotswold still handles pocketing business for many U.S. brands, part of a diverse portfolio that includes making fabrics for culinary apparel. The fabrics are woven at its mill in Central, S.C.
In September, in a last-ditch effort, Mr. McKinnon and Mr. Winthrop sent a few rolls of fabric to Carolina Cotton Works and its president, Page Ashby. CCW had not been hired for the flannel project, because it couldn’t do every finishing process under one roof. Still, it was Mr. Ashby who had collaborated on the famous hoodie, and now he and his workers “huddled up” with the fabric.