📦🦾 DTC startups are breathing new life into dying American factories
When DTC startups like Warby Parker, Everlane, Away, and Allbirds popped up in the early 2010s, they were skilled at connecting with a new generation of customers online. When it came to product, however, most outsourced their manufacturing to factories overseas. Across industries, the number of U.S. factories has fallen by 25% since 1997. That decline is steeper in apparel manufacturing, which has decreased by 85% since the early 1990s.
Jonathan Miller, Breeo’s co-founder and CEO, had no experience in manufacturing before he launched the company; his background was in marketing, enabling him to build a digitally-native business. But his partner, Andy Kaufman, had spent years in metalwork, which gave him the skills to invent Breeo’s smokeless fire pit technology. “We’re a DTC business but also a very traditional manufacturer,” says Miller. “Marrying the two brings unique opportunities, but also unique challenges.”
One way that the company kept up with demand was by investing in technology. In 2021, Breeo invested in robotic welding machines that could automate some of some strenuous and repetitive labor. Miller says this has improved the efficiency of the company’s workforce. “We can put our craftsmen towards tasks that require more skill,” he says.
Meanwhile, Miller says he is on Breeo’s factory floor almost every day. “When the customer service team hears of an issue, they walk over to the factory to talk to the workers who can fix the problem immediately,” he says. “This happens daily.”