This Hershey, Pa., based apparel company prides itself as an “authentic American brand of place.”
Neal Goulet didn’t start out in the apparel business.
Goulet spent many years as a reporter and eventually became the owner of his own namesake communications firm. But in 2014, Goulet posted a blog centered around highlighting American-made products, and frequently began highlighting Made in USA goods on his website.
In fall 2016, Goulet began selling an American-made felt pennant and a knit hat branded for his hometown of Hershey, Pa. After receiving a strong response to the items, Goulet began fine-tuning business plans and product lineups — and Stay Apparel Co. was born.
The company officially launched in fall 2017 with a line-up built around graphic T-shirts that featured designs with vintage and retro vibes — and celebrated the Keystone State. Stay Apparel’s product line-up now includes canvas bags, felt pennants and banners, pint glasses, hats, and T-shirts, with sizes ranging from S-2XL.
Goulet describes Stay Apparel as “an authentic American brand of place.”
The company is “authentic in that everything we sell is original to us and Made in the USA, not imported with an American flag printed on it,” he says. “And ‘of place,’ meaning that we highlight Hershey, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in our designs.”
When deciding where to manufacture Stay Apparel’s products, “there was never any other option as far as I was concerned,” Goulet says. In order to differentiate themselves in the highly competitive graphic T-shirt business, Made in the USA was the company’s calling.
It’s also a personal issue for Goulet, who makes an effort to buy American-made goods.
“Only 3 percent of apparel sold in the U.S. is made here,” Goulet says. “It’s devastating to jobs and communities, and I would go as far to say that it’s a national security risk when you rely on other countries to make everything for you.”
But while Neal is an advocate for Made in America, he also believes no one should be compelled to buy American-made products if they aren’t more than that — those products must be “high quality and compelling.”
Stay Apparel aims to do both. With its retro style, the company’s T-shirts tell stories and celebrate Pennsylvania’s distinctions and history.
Take the Pennsylvania Polka Tee, which celebrates Northeast Pennsylvania’s rich tradition of polka music and dancing. The use of polka dots also harkens back to a spotted fabric that first appeared in an 1857 edition of a Philadelphia-based women’s magazine.
Then there’s the Pennsylvania Craft Beer Tee. “This design plays off a Pennsylvania license plate of yore and celebrates the Keystone State’s distinction — three years running — of being the No. 1 producer (by number of barrels) of craft beer in the United States,” Goulet says.
And it would be silly not to mention the company’s USA Tee. The retro design is “inspired by an old U.S. Olympic hockey jersey crest. It’s also our first ringer shirt, made from 3.8-ounce fabric that’s 50 percent polyester, 37 percent cotton, 13 percent rayon,” Goulet says.
Along with its unique designs, Stay Apparel is committed to providing top-notch customer service, quickly resolving any hiccups and processing orders fast.
“Our record is 20 minutes from an online order arriving to it being ready for postal service pickup,” Goulet says.
Although manufacturing locally does provide advantages, even a true believer like Goulet admits there are some hurdles.
“The biggest challenge is that there just aren’t many options when it comes to American-made apparel,” Goulet says. “We have used the same T-shirt vendor since the beginning because it produces a broad line of high-quality products, but we’d like to have alternatives, too. We haven’t produced a women’s tank because we just didn’t like what our vendor offered… We’ll keep looking.”
Overcoming what Goulet calls “American consumer indifference” is also a challenge — although Goulet remains committed to keeping his company Made in America.
“Polls suggest that Americans want to buy U.S-made when given the opportunity, but it doesn’t always translate into action. You’ll see plenty of people wearing patriotic tees and hats that you know weren’t Made in America,” he says.
“We have to get to a place where American consumers at least ask whether there’s an American option. Personally, I like the challenge of finding U.S.-made products, and I really like the discipline it instills. For many products, if I can’t find an option that’s Made in the USA, then I can live without it.”