Why Sheri Benjamin Took “The Path Less Followed” When Launching Menswear Brand Devium

By Jeffrey Bonior
Jul 10 2024 |
“If I can support a fabric maker in the U.S., if I can support a zipper maker in the U.S., if I can support a family, legacy sewing house in the U.S., you know, that is what it is all about,” said Sheri Benjamin of Devium. “Our product is local to California and the U.S., and it is not on a barge polluting when it is being shipped here from places like China.” Photos courtesy Devium

The California company works with suppliers across the country to make small-batch apparel entirely in the United States. 

Sheri Benjamin spent much of her career in marketing, advising CEOs and corporate leaders along with owning her own firm. But retirement did not sit well with the now 55-year-old self-described serial entrepreneur, so she looked for her next career challenge.

That’s when she unexpectedly founded Devium, an American-made men’s clothing brand.

While Devium does not have its own manufacturing facility, Benjamin enlists an entire roster of American manufacturers and suppliers to create all-American apparel. Devium supports the small-batch manufacturers that have managed to survive the influx of cheap Chinese-made goods, and is appalled by fast-fashion companies like SHEIN and Temu. Benjamin founded Devium with her son Cody in 2015. She eschews the title of CEO, preferring to be called “Wrangler in Chief.”

We chatted with her about Devium, and why she’s committed to Made in America.

Sheri Benjamin

Question: Your background is in marketing and consulting, so how did you come to own an apparel company, and do you have a background in clothing production?

Answer: The interesting answer is no. I am a serial entrepreneur. I owned a marketing firm that had nothing to do with fashion. I have coached and consulted with executive teams for 15 years and started Devium in a very circuitous way. I had an acquaintance that had a brand that was sunsetting and we were going to originally make snowboard outerwear that was made in China. I love the business of business, and we spent almost a year creating and developing a snowboard outerwear line working with China to do all the developing and manufacturing. It was to be a small business. There were 10 of us and just before we were ready to place an order, some of us had a crisis of morality and said, ‘no way should we be doing this.’

Q: What changed your mind about manufacturing in China?

A: I think because the more I got into the apparel business that first year, the more I understood what people kept telling me. ‘Oh, this business moved to China.’ Or ‘oh, this moved offshore.’ My thought was what had happened to all the guys in the U.S.? I realized there was a group in the USA apparel supply chain. So, three of us restarted a new company and named it Devium which means “the path less followed” in Latin. We decided we were going to make it our mission to help rebuild the USA apparel supply chain, one American-made garment at a time.

Q: How difficult has it been using an all American-made supply chain?

A: Well, that’s craziness for a small, self-funded company to think they can be David to that Goliath. But it seemed like the right thing to do, and nine years later, throughout all of our trials and tribulations, I have never regretted making that decision. It’s hard. But you’ve got to stand behind things you believe in.

Q: Sometimes the right thing to do is the challenging thing to do, but once you take action and believe in it it feels great. Do you have this feeling?

A: Exactly. For nine years now I’ve spent most of my time trying to find the right USA partners to work with, because we do what we call small batch originals. We’ll never make thousands of a garment at once. We make under 500 of a garment, which in itself is a feat to find the kind of people in the supply chain who will sell us the fabrics when we want to buy them in lots of 1,000 yards instead of 10,000 yards. Or the sewing houses that will do under 500 instead of 10,000 Haggar pants or something like that. But what I’ve found is the supply chain is filled with mom-and-pop small businesses that have somehow weathered the storm. A lot of times it will be generational family-owned businesses and I would say half the time they don’t market in a very sophisticated way, so they are not the ones I’m going to find by Googling. They are the ones I find by blood, sweat and tears, by networking and by asking people I have no business to ask. And that’s where we find a small metal manufacturing company that has been in business for 50 years and they make grommets and snaps but don’t even have a website. That’s how we find people like that. It’s a needle in a haystack and we are willing to look for the needle.

Q: Is all your clothing from small batch manufacturing?

A: Yes, everything is small batch from our shirts to our trousers to our bottoms to our jackets. All of what we created is small batch, because our customer is the guy who is probably 30 to 50 who doesn’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing. Our customer is a more curated guy, who is willing, quite frankly, to put his money where his mouth is. Everyone can jaw on about USA made and there is a select subset of those who will actually buy USA made. Our job is to bring to life the stories of our partners so the customers will see why they are supporting the cause.

Q: Have you found encouraging signs in the American-made textile business?

A: In Vernon, California, they have a few textile companies still left. The majority of what’s called woven mills that are left – and there are not many of them – are in North Carolina on the eastern border. I went on a mill tour about a month ago and was very heartened that the CEOs of these pretty large mills would come up to me and say ‘we know you’re small batch but we’ve got to figure out how to work with you’ because while they make 5,000 yards for one customer, the CEO of one company said ‘there has to be a way we can hang your order at the end of their big order and make it work for both of us.’ So, I was heartened by how willing the executive team was to help our mission.

Q: How many employees make up the Devium team?

A: It depends on how you look at it. We have four full-time people, we have lots of part-time people, we have lots of people who are in it for the mission and do it as a second gig.

Q: Where is the company based?

A: It is based out of Truckee (California). Our fulfillment is done in Truckee and all of our products land in Truckee when finished.

Q: Can you walk me through the production and manufacturing process?

A: Our product is all in the U.S. We start with the design and development in Truckee. Then we find our trims and fabric. The designs and materials go to a sewing house and when finished land back in Truckee. On rare occasions I find that in the U.S. that no one has the material we need so we won’t even make that product. We’ll pick another product to make.

Q: What is the Devium approach to sustainability?

A: If I can support a fabric maker in the U.S., if I can support a zipper maker in the U.S., if I can support a family, legacy sewing house in the U.S., you know, that is what it is all about. Our product is local to California and the U.S., and it is not on a barge polluting when it is being shipped here from places like China.

Q: I love the provenance label that is sewn onto each item. This type of accountability is the type of thing we fight for here at the Alliance for American manufacturing. Why did you include this label on your clothing?

A: Well, I’m a marketer by trade. I owned a marketing agency and I know that I have to educate people on why they should care and to do that I have to personalize it like providing the name of the North Carolina field where the cotton came from. The sewing house that is owned by an immigrant from Greece, I have to personalize that. We are starting to get more traction where people say ‘oh, you really do mean made in the USA. I love the provenance masts that show exactly what is going on here.’

Q: You are in the market with fast-fashion giants Temu and SHEIN, who sell dress shirts for $8. How can you compete with these companies that are subsidized by the Chinese government?

A: I am appalled and intrigued by these companies. Our market is not the guy who would buy his stuff at Costco or on Amazon. I don’t have to worry about child labor and slave labor which happens in China and Indonesia. That is appalling.

Q: Where can Devium products be purchased?

A:  We are only online. We don’t do two-tier distribution except for a few specialty boutiques stores that love us so much they go ahead and stock our products. But we are mostly e-commerce.

Q: What is your commitment to Made in America apparel?

A: Our commitment to made in USA is do or die. Either we do it, or there is no reason for us to have a business. I will never be one of those companies that starts ‘Made in USA’ and then says, ‘it’s too hard’ and then goes to China or Indonesia or anywhere else. I will shut down the company before I do anything other than made in the USA. It is a labor of love.

Devium men’s clothing can be purchased at the company’s website.