Ben Brockland had a problem. Each day at the office he made several trips to the bathroom to tuck in his undershirt. With its loose fit and short cut, it simply would not stay in place.
“This is a seemingly fixable problem that there [was] no solution to,” Brockland said. “At that point I decided if I couldn’t find it anywhere else, it’s probably worthwhile to do something about it.”
In 2010 Brockland teamed up with college friend, David Palmer, to start UnderFit. Their goal? To make a high-end undershirt with a slimmer fit and an extra-long cut.
“There’s so much thought that gets put into your dress pants and your button up shirt, where really only one of a handful of things touching your body is the undershirt,” Brockland said. “This should not be the cheapest item in your wardrobe. It should be something that matters and that you want to wear.”
The pair set their sites on manufacturing shirts in the Dominican Republic, where Palmer had been living since 2010 to run his non-profit, the Joan Rose Foundation, which provides meals, medicine and education to kids in poverty.
“In my mind, I had this image that it would be so much more expensive to manufacture in America,” Palmer said.
Instead, the duo was met with one headache after another, including a lack of security and certain officials who insisted on being paid to ensure UnderFit’s products moved through customs.
Those issues made Palmer and Brockland (who hail from Detroit and St. Louis) ready to bring their business back home to the U.S.
“We’re both Midwestern, American boys,” Palmer said. “I like the idea of making stuff in America. I love the idea of helping the economy, and I like the idea of giving Americans jobs.”
“This is a seemingly fixable problem that there’s no solution to. If that’s the case, why should I not do it instead of waiting for someone else?”Ben Brockland
UnderFit now partners with a textile mill in California (to source their promodal fabric), and a cut and sew manufacturer in Milwaukee that’s been open for decades.
By bringing UnderFit’s manufacturing back to the U.S., Brockland said it’s been easier to build relationships with the craftsmen making their shirts, and to support what they’re doing. Just a few months ago UnderFit’s Milwaukee manufacturer called to explain they wanted to pay their workers more. That meant production costs would go up for UnderFit.
“To be able to get on the phone and meet with our manufacturer in Milwaukee to really understand his business and [what] was happening with them was something we could then say, ‘Let’s figure out how to move forward together on this,’” Brockland said.
UnderFit joins the ranks of businesses looking back to their roots to bring manufacturing back to the Midwest. It’s a move that makes them proud.