Dispatch 28: Midwest Basics
Back to Basics in Cleveland
Interview by Jeffrey Roedel Images by Sean Bilovecky
In a post-American Apparel landscape, even more companies, creative professionals and artists are seeking home-grown manufacturers creating quality casual apparel right here in the USA.
Enter Sean Bilovecky and his partner Gwyn. A veteran designer for several top outdoor and lifestyle brands, Sean and his team in Cleveland, Ohio, have been manufacturing clothing for dozens of brands as The Patternmakers since 2006, undertaking initial concept, first patterns, sourcing, first sample, production patterns, sample sets, grading, production markers, and production that runs from small batch to large scale.
Inspired by his travels and his constant love for hard work and daily adventure, Sean has just launched Midwest Basics to supply quality, durable blanks for tees, sweatshirts and more.
I feel like a lot of my creative friends in the South are more laid back and less likely to die from heart attacks.
Passionate about promoting quality craftsmanship in the USA, Wonder South caught up with Sean as he rolled out the initial branding and first round of products for Midwest Basics.
Hey, Sean, it’s been a minute.
How are y'all today? What have you been working on this week?
We are good. We’ve been slammed with several production runs for clients that are stacked right on top of one another. And we’re training new operators... that’s just the production side. On development, my team is working on eight styles of very technical mens and womens mountain climbing apparel, four styles for a yoga brand that is crossing over into swimwear, two styles for a baby sleep wear brand, overseeing four brands that are at the sample stage, designing a top secret project for a global tech company—you most likely have the app on your phone—and drilling down into our production methods to figure out the right machines and methods, vendor partners, and how to meet client demand for our own brand Midwest Basics.
You’re busy bees for sure. Tell me about this transition into Midwest Basics. What inspired that and is Patternmakers then still continuing apace?
We get dozens of new client inquiries each week. When American Apparel first went out of business, we had a lot of the same requests coming in from the same type of potential clients. People were scrambling to fill the hole in the market, and dabbling with their ability to fill it themselves. More often than not, the apparel development process was too daunting and time consuming for the average screen printer. So we came up with Midwest Basics to supply that demand. But for Patternmakers, we are doing everything out of the same space, and will most likely continue to do so.
Nothing is given here. Everything has to be earned. And it can't even be earned until you create the ecosystem for it to thrive.
That’s amazing. It’s really exciting to see talented and motivated people like yourself who are bringing back manufacturing in the USA. What is it about “American Made” that is most important to you?
There are so many aspects about making something where you live that are important. If you want to do something creative and on your own in the Midwest, then you really have to create not only the business, but also create the ecosystem for that business to survive. Nothing is given here. Everything has to be earned. And it can't even be earned until you create the ecosystem for it to thrive. You also have to be as good as, if not better than competitors doing the same thing in regions where that ecosystem is already strong.
And you’re from Ohio so you haven't ventured too far. You’ve bloomed where you were planted, so to speak, right?
Like LeBron. Except for those Miami years.
But it’s an interesting point. There are pros and cons to not being in a cultural epicenter like one of the coastal cities or even Chicago or Nashville. Which is like what many people in the Deep South feel—like we are somehow disconnected from mainstream culture because we’re not in a major city where the progressive work is done.
This comes into play with our operators. We have to train each one. So we look for attitude and not skillset. If their attitude and their willingness to work is there, then we can create operators. Same thing with our production manager. We basically spotted potential, and nurtured her into becoming a production manager that we can now rely on.
What is the Patternmakers and Midwest Basics attitude?
Midwest Basics is all about having a great fit and getting performance out of the design and materials, without all the fuss of ads with naked teenagers. I don’t think you have to be over the top provocative to sell a T-shirt.
I don't think you have to be over the top provocative to sell a T-shirt.
I like your motto: “Made in Cleveland. Built for life.”
Meaning, these clothes are built for real life, not for fantasy images. Although it’s totally fine to ride on a rad mega-yacht in one of our tees, ha!
That’s where I plan on wearing mine! So, what attributes have you given your pieces to make sure they are durable for real life?
It starts with fabric. Getting fabric that isn't going to shrink, or torque, is important. Then defining a fit that allows for a confident state of mind. Fitted without being exaggerated. Using the best thread, with more stitches per inch. Using machines that don’t skip, or cause the integrity of the garment to suffer. All these things add up to a better piece of clothing.
Adventure always shows me that more is possible.
What is the most rewarding aspect to your work?
For my partner Gwyn and I, it’s very rewarding when a startup flies in from out of town and falls in love with their new samples. This industry is really hard. Things don’t always go as planned. Especially with new brands. But when it does, it's so great. We're also super happy developing and marketing our own brands Gwyn has a small brand Lithium Clothing (@lithium_clothing_)
In one of our first conversations you mentioned some travels you’d had in the South, and in particular experiencing the thriving motorcycle culture here. How would you describe those or other experiences in the South?
The South has always had this mystical power over me. For example, being form Ohio and then travelling to Savanah or New Orleans and seeing Spanish Moss on trees—it’s like seeing movie magic but in real life.
We are swimming in moss down here. And kudzu.
I love the attitude and general kindness of people in the South. I feel like a lot of my creative friends in the South are more laid back and less likely to die from heart attacks.
Sounds like travel really inspires you.
Absolutely. I think it pushes me to be both more human and more inspired by ‘mystical power’ at the same time. Adventure always shows me that more is possible.
How would you describe the collaborative and creative relationship you have with Gwyn? What makes it work?
Well, we just got engaged. On live television, So there’s that. Gwyn and I are like yin and yang.
We complement each other’s skill sets incredibly well. As partners in work and life, we had to learn how to deal with that balance of handling problems. We had to learn how to squash the small stuff.
That’s a rare situation, to work side by side every day with your life partner or spouse.
We both feel very fortunate to have found each other, and to be able to come to work everyday with each other. Sometimes we make out in the closet.
Well, it's y’all’s closet! So most people may be wondering how you even started Patternmakers and Midwest Basics. How did you go from dream to reality so well?
We all have something that we wish we could do, or do more of. First, you need to act on those dreams. But action alone isn't enough. It's critical to have a well rounded plan to actually turn those dreams into reality. You can’t just do steps 1-3. You have to first identify steps 1-10. And then follow through on steps 1-10.
I think that’s the difference between dreams and goals. You said it perfectly.
It’s not easy. A lot of life can get in the way of those dreams. And that’s OK. Shit happens. But you have to stick to it no matter what. That’s one thing that all successful people have in common.