Why L.C. King Manufacturing is a True Tennessee Company
L.C. King Manufacturing Company in Bristol, Tennessee, isn’t your average clothing store. It has weathered the Great Depression and the Great Recession, real wars and trade wars, and revolutions in culture and technology. But with a dedication to quality and listening closely to customers, the company’s leadership and employees keep this 105-year-old clothing company on the map in 2018.
“We are solely focused on giving the customer a 100 percent made-in-the-USA jean, overall, jacket or coat,” owner Jack King says. “That’s what we stand by.”
His great-grandfather, Landon Clayton King, founded the company in 1913 to create high-performance farming and hunting apparel, leaving his brother’s dry goods business to start his own across the street. The next year, he trademarked the Pointer Brand garment label, named after his award-winning bird dogs and inspiring the later slogan “for champion performance.” Soon after, he constructed the original wing of the factory that is still in use.
Today, the company retains time-tested cut and sew techniques even as it works with designers to improve workwear fits and add new streetwear styles.
“Being fourth-generation, made in USA still means a lot,” plant manager Marinda Lee Holt says. “We try to keep the heritage of our workwear.”
Garments are constructed by around 30 pairs of skilled hands – including the owner’s – with the help of excellent machinery and two mechanics. (One cutting machine has been going strong since 1918!) “When you see the repairs that come in [under the lifetime repair guarantee], a lot of people have had these overalls or jeans for 20 years,” King says. “That shows the craftsmanship.”
L.C. King contrasts starkly with today’s fast fashion, which is not made to keep for long periods of time. “There’s a need to be made in America if you want something to last,” King says.
When King started as an employee in 1998 (he didn’t work there while growing up), the marketplace was in the midst of significant changes. Under the leadership of King’s father and uncle since the 1970s, L.C. King had been a major supplier of hunting apparel for Bass Pro Shops and other retailers. But with trade agreements like NAFTA in place, the company’s business with large retailers had evaporated.
If You Go...
24 7th Street Bristol, TN 37620
Hours: Open Monday through Friday. You can request a tour in the factory store, which opens at 10 a.m. Factory hours vary by season.
Phone: (800) 826-2510, (423) 764-5188
“We needed to find a new customer base,” King says. He tackled the challenge of better understanding people who actually wore the clothing, rather than retailers who sold it.
To start creating one-on-one relationships with their end customers, the company asked people to send photos – by mail – of themselves wearing L.C. King clothing. “The best thing I got out of that process,” King recalls, “was seeing the customer and what they were doing while they wore our clothing. You’d see people at the dinner table. There was a father and son on a tractor. The father’s wearing his overalls, and the son’s wearing his.”
Now, customers show off what it’s like to live and work in L.C. King clothing through Instagram. “The customer who buys our product has to commit to wearing it,” King says, “because you have to break it in. And in breaking it in, it becomes part of you, part of your memories, and it grows with you as you live your life.”
L.C. King Manufacturing may be 105 years old, but it still knows how to connect with new generations of customers. When younger customers concerned about social and environmental responsibility ask, “Who makes my jeans? The denim? The buttons?” L.C. King has an answer.
King can rattle off suppliers: “Fabric comes from Trion, Georgia. Thread comes out of Tallapoosa, Georgia. Buttons are from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Our tag comes out of Addison, Texas. Oh, our pocketing comes from Trion too.”
After its American source for the popular hickory-stripe fabric, also known as railroad stripe, shut down, L.C. King took the initiative to partner with Mt. Vernon Mills in Trion, giving them a reason to start weaving it. L.C. King’s new line of American-made, hickory-stripe garments hit the market this fall.
When the same customers once asked, “What do you use when you prewash our clothes?” the company examined its process and stopped using bleach. “It’s a win for everybody,” King says. “For our utility costs” – washing denim without bleach requires less water – “and we’re giving the customer what they’re seeking, which is a more [environmentally] sustainable garment.”
“For old and new generations, our customers always come first,” Roxie Ann Blaylock, quality control inspector, says.
“The world economy can change,” King says. “We are determined to make sure the customer gets the best pair of jeans that can be made in America. That’s us.” That’s why L.C. King Manufacturing is gaining customers, nationally and internationally. That’s why it invites guests to tour the factory floor, to see firsthand the hard work and skill invested in every garment.