Hoodies and T-shirts are the bedrock of the streetwear game. Not only are they universally-worn garments, but for aspiring designers, they are some of the lowest barrier to entry products out there. See, to start a T-shirt and hoodie brand, it’s not like you have to literally make each hoodie and T-shirt yourself, the way you would when it comes to, say, a pair of jeans Thankfully for aspiring young design gods, there companies out there specialize in making blank tees and hoodies that can be purchased at wholesale, printed on, and sold to customers.
Now, this isn’t some kind of secret—every company from Supreme to a kid who just signed up for Bigcartel goes to companies who are known for their T-shirts and hoodies, even if just a jumping off point (the big boys usually end up creating custom products using the company’s access to fabric and factories). And though we all know about Champion and Gildan, we wanted to explore what the other companies out there not only making some of your favorite label’s basics, but that are turning out hoodies good enough to wear sans adornments. Here, we break down four companies whose hoodies and tees are worth knowing about right now.
Location: Toronto, Canada
Known for: Heavyweight fleece, side panels on hoodies, making Supreme bogos
Roopa Knitting Mills is the current title belt holder in the blank hoodie and T-shirt game. Almost every popping streetwear brand today uses their premiere fabrics and factories to deliver top-of-the-line, heavy-duty, made in Canada product, including Supreme, Aimé Leon Dore, Noah, Adsum, and more. If you see a made-in-Canada tag on a hoodie in 2019, chances are it’s made by Roopa, who seems to have usurped CYC (the people behind Reigning Champ and wings+horns) as the kings of the North in the fleece business.
It’s also easy to spot a Roopa hoodie by its side panels, which are designed to add additional stretch around the seams, as well as its often-used 14oz fabric and flat drawstrings. But there’s a reason that so many brands turn to Amit Thakkar for their fleece needs. Finding fleece manufacturers in America isn’t super easy in 2019, especially ones willing to go the lengths that Thakkar is known for. Whether you’re an up-and-coming label or worth a billion dollars, Amit knows his customers on a first name basis and works his ass off to make sure each brand’s needs are being met.
And if you want a Roopa hoodie sans bogo, know you can pick one up on their website House of Blanks. The hoodies go for $115 is their unadorned form, and just as a tip if you’re’ going to cop, run on the slim side.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Known for: Beefy hoodies without drawstrings, vintage fits, french terry, transparent production
Los Angeles Apparel has only been around since 2016, but is quickly establishing itself as the new go-to cotton purveyors in America. This is mainly because it’s run by Dov Charney, the disgraced founder of American Apparel who now remains mostly behind-the-scenes. Kanye West uses Los Angeles apparel for some of his Sunday Service merch, and countless other West Coast brands have begun using the company’s blanks program.
The appeal of their hoodies is their unique design. LAA’s hoodies are drawstring-less, boast a vintage fit (much more forgiving than most blanks), and are constructed of a heavyweight 14oz fabric. Compared to Roopa, LAA’s fabric is much coarser in its hand-feel, which for a lot of streetwear fans is the sign of quality. Similarly, the brand’s T-shirts look like old school 1990s tees, with their high neck, wide sleeves, and heavyweight feel.
In addition to killing the blanks game, LAA is also known for its transparent production methods, which is at the heart of its brand identity. It straight-up tells you on the brand’s website—where you can scoop up its blank hoodies for around $75—how much its employees get paid at its South Central-based factory, which in today’s day and age, when consumers are more and more curious about how and where their clothing is made, is nice to see.
Location: North Carolina
Known for: Classic American style, baggier fits, retailer merch (Stadium Goodies, KITH Treats)
It was just a few decades ago that brands like Champion and Russell Athletic were knitting their hoodies and T-shirts in the United States. But as is the case with so many American-born brands, that all changed in the 1990s, when international trade agreements made producing in South America or Asia way more appealing to label’s bottom lines. But today, a new company, Stateline—founded in 2017 in North Carolina—is making hoodies and T-shirt reminiscent of the good old days of American manufacturing. (Even Stateline’s logo is kind of reminiscent of Russell’s.)
See, it’s not just where hoodies are produced that dictate their quality. It’s about fabrication as well as the amount of attention to detail put into the construction. And on that front, Stateline has become known for its classic approach. Side paneling (much like Roopa), a variety of different fits, and round drawstrings that all say “classic cool.”
In an era when making clothes in the United States is not only relatively expensive, but difficult to do, companies like Stateline are proof positive that Americans do indeed care about quality over overt branding. Stateline is the embodiment of “buy less, buy better, and buy local,” which also means its products are meant to stand the test of time, both literally and figuratively. Trends come and go, but a well-made plain hoodie for a good price? (In their case, $75.) Those are values that last forever.
Location: Northfield, Vermont
Known for: Sun-faded staples, oversized fits, Vineyard Vines T-shirts
Comfort Colors is a really interesting story of ingenuity and resourcefulness. See, they’re the only company in this story that doesn’t actually make its own products. Instead, Comfort Colors is a brand that began by buying blanks from other companies like Gildan, and then treating them through a washing and dyeing process to give them that sun-faded appearance that you’ll find inside many a coastal gift shop and college bookstore. Additionally, Comfort Colors is the only brand on this list that doesn’t sell direct-to-consumer. If you want Comfort Colors, you actually have to be buying in bulk, using their antiquated website to track down one of their distributors.
Recognizing the hustle, as well as the brand’s success thanks to co-signs from companies like Vineyard Vines, in 2015 Gildan actually bought Comfort Colors for around $100 million in 2015—which, according to die-hards (or maybe I should say, dye-hards)—changed the quality for the worse. Nevertheless, Comfort Colors remains the go-to destination for the most easygoing T-shirts on this list, defined by their oversized fit, soft hand-feel, and faded color schemes.
On Twitter, there’s an interesting contingent of people who swear by indy bands who use Comfort Colors T-shirts for their merch. This highlights the schism between the streetwear crowd and everyone else. Where streetwear fans value things like silhouette, rarity, and construction, the average concert-goer values looks and comfort above all else. And in that sense, Comfort Colors is the best in the business.