Stay Apparel Co.

An authentic American brand of place


Stay is an 'authentic American' brand; here's what we mean by that

Made in USA, BrandingNeal GouletComment
All of our products are made in the USA, such as this Indiana-made insulated tumbler.

All of our products are made in the USA, such as this Indiana-made insulated tumbler.

At many of our appearances, a member of the public will ask us what Stay means. We explain that our tees connote a sense of place, as in a period of staying somewhere.

That’s pretty easy for us to illustrate, given that our shirts mostly bear place names: Hershey, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Lititz, Philadelphia, Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, USA (and more to come). Place also is significant because everything we sell is made in the USA.

Some people have conjectured that Stay is an encouragement to “stay” domestic with one’s purchases. That works, too.

Our name is intriguing to people, which often leads to conversations. And that engagement is the most rewarding part of what we do. Ultimately we want and need for people to buy our products, but we don’t want it to be a one-time thing. We want to have a relationship in perpetuity, so we continue to tell our story at pop-up events, in our e-mail newsletter, through this blog.

Which brings us to our tagline, “An authentic American brand of place.” We’ve yet to have anyone ask what we mean by authentic American. We’ll answer just the same.

There are countless U.S.-based apparel companies that import everything they sell. Some of them started out promoting their “Made in the USA” bonafides, only to end up offshoring their products.

I was a big fan of one such company, which not coincidentally abandoned U.S. manufacturing soon after obtaining a multimillion dollar investment from a national retailer. Today, that company I used to admire greatly can only say that its tees are “designed in the USA.”

Another retailer I like offers a significant number of American-made products, but you can’t be certain. If you don’t look closely, you might find that a shirt is “responsibly imported.”

Stay is only made in the USA

I recently had an email exchange with a company that makes custom patches for ball caps. It wasn’t clear from the company’s website where its products — the hats or the patches — were made. I received this explanation:

“Our patches are manufactured overseas (95% of the patches you will find are either made there as well or made to look like they aren’t) and we source all of the hats from many companies all over the world. We do all of the design and finishing work and ship from [a Southern state],” the director of operations wrote.

Yet we sourced Stay patches from Los Angeles and then had them sewn onto our Stay ball caps, which are cut, sewn and assembled for us in Cleveland. Even at that, we’re able to sell a hat at a reasonable profit for $25.

And that’s a long way of showing you what we mean when we describe Stay as an authentic American brand of place.

Our tee vendor manufactures in multiple states, and we print all of our tees in Lancaster, Pa. We’ve sourced knit hats from Milwaukee, dog collars from Portland, Ore., insulated tumblers from Shelbyville, Ind., canvas grocery bags from El Paso, Texas, zip bags from Lewiston, Maine.

We’re an American company that makes each of its products in America. Our customers never will have to wonder whether there’s an exception to that rule.

That’s as “authentic American” as we can be.

These Stay models are graduating from high school, ready to scale new heights

Products, BrandingNeal GouletComment
These and several other Stay models are members of the class of 2019.

These and several other Stay models are members of the class of 2019.

Flashlight in hand, Jim O’Shell was leading me up the open steel stairs. We had only reached the third floor when my fear of heights — and having to climb 10 more stories — got the best of me. My heart pounding, I told Jim that I didn’t think I could make it.

I felt terrible for wasting Jim’s time. I didn’t know Jim until I reached out to him through Facebook, requesting that he consider allowing Stay to use the giant old cocoa bean silos in Hershey as a backdrop for our latest photo shoot. This was a pre-shoot scouting expedition.

Jim and his partners own the giant tan silos, which were once part of the Hershey’s chocolate factory. There’s a big open room with lots of windows at the top of the silos (I had seen photos online). I thought the combination of streaming light and industrial grit would be a great setting for our photos — until I started the ascent.

I couldn’t imagine making it to the top or, achieving that, having to climb down.

I was disappointed, but the photo shoot had to go on. On May 19, to be precise. Fortunately, the Hershey Fire Department, for which we developed our Station 48 tee, was kind enough to open the doors to its gorgeous building to us. On this steamy Sunday afternoon, we also shot outdoors, first in ChocolateTown Square and then in my backyard.

The class of 2019

This was our fifth photo shoot since August 2017, when we tapped the staff at Steele Salon in Hershey as our first models. Then as now, we needed photos for our website and social media channels.

An iPhone is invaluable for photos (and many other things), but I know my limitations as a shutterbug. We put too much time and effort into developing great-looking tees to scrimp when it comes to presenting them in pictures. Hence, the hiring of our talented photographer, Amanda, to keep us true to our brand image. We’d be lost without her.

Likewise, I can’t thank enough the Stay models — friends and family members who’ve so generously given of their time and visages for the sake of our little enterprise. Our youngest and oldest models are decades apart in age.

However, most of them are members of the Hershey High School class of 2019, so this latest photo shoot was bittersweet. Once they head off to college in late summer, it’ll be harder than ever to get even a core group of them together. What an impressive group they are: smart, kind, funny, talented, ambitious and ready to scale new heights.

For them, 13 flights of open steel stairs are no match.

Stay Apparel Co. featured on Happy Valley Hustle podcast

Appearances, BrandingNeal GouletComment
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We set the bar high early on at our first appearance at Pop Up Ave in downtown State College.

That’s where we were on the beautiful first day of fall, Sept. 22, 2018, setting up the Stay big top in preparation for the outdoor urban flea.

Penn State football coach James Franklin, fresh off the Nittany Lions’ rout of host Illinois the night before, already was up and at ’em before the Pop Up Ave’s official opening at 11 a.m.

He was our first customer.

Next in line was Bill Zimmerman, an affable event volunteer who in our limited exchange struck me as someone I’d enjoy chatting with again.

For me, that opportunity arose on Nov. 30, when I had the good fortune to sit down with Bill in State College for his podcast, “Happy Valley Hustle.”

In the introduction to each episode, Bill describes it as “the podcast that tells the stories of people running their own businesses, launching side hustles, and making the digital age work for them.”

Bill hails from Johnstown, Pa., which, as I explained on the podcast, has special meaning to me because the first professional hockey game I saw in person pitted my hometown Maine Nordiques against the visiting Johnstown Jets.

Like me, Bill has a newspaper reporting and public relations background. He’s currently a lecturer for the digital PR and PR, media and methods courses in Penn State's Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

He’s also a big fan of professional wrestling, hence the Hustle’s prop championship belt that I got to pose with in the photo above.

I’m honored that Bill wanted to hear Stay’s story and to be the podcast’s first guest of 2019. I hope you’ll listen to my episode and check out the others. (I’m partial to episode six, which features Brad Groznik, who with his wife, Andrea, started Pop Up Ave.)

Before you do, however, I want to correct something I said on the podcast. At Bill’s request, I described our new tee, which bears a heart doodled two decades ago by novelist John Updike. I said that Updike was from Wyomissing, Berks County.

That’s close but incorrect. Updike grew up three miles south, in Shillington. In fact, a group is trying to preserve his boyhood home, at 117 Philadelphia Ave., anticipating a 2020 opening for public tours.

Thanks to Bill for inviting and interviewing; thanks to you for reading and listening.

That’s it for me. I have to keep hustling.

Buy American: We'll share some of our favorite brands

Branding, Products, VendorsNeal GouletComment
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We met Steven and Allison at our first Harrisburg Flea, on the frigid first Saturday of January 2018.

While explaining Stay's commitment to U.S.-made products, I also told them about a couple of my favorite domestic brands, American Giant and Dearborn Denim.

When I saw the Harrisburg couple again in March, Steven excitedly said to me, "Hey, look what I'm wearing," drawing attention to his Chicago-made Dearborn Denim jeans.

It wasn't quite "Miracle on 34th Street" with the Macy's Santa sending customers to rival Gimbels, but I won't hesitate to steer Stay customers to other U.S.-made brands that I hold in high regard. 

I pride myself on wearing some of them to our pop-up events, from Bills Khakis button-down shirts to New Balance sneakers, from my Shinola watch to my own Dearborn Denim jeans.

Sell the world a Stay tee

I've always been fond of U.S.-made products, having grown up in Maine when almost everything L.L. Bean sold was domestically produced. Unsurprising, starting Stay and sourcing our products, whether from Pennsylvania or Indiana, California or Cleveland, has reignited that passion in me.

To be sure, I have a vested interest in the Made in America movement. I would love to sell the world a Stay tee.

But I also believe that a movement has to be bigger than a few brands. So I try to recommend U.S.-made brands to customers who seem so inclined. When consumers know about U.S.-made options, they just might consider and even purchase them.

American-made products can be more expensive than their imported counterparts, but not always and sometimes with good reason: namely, they're built to last longer.

Most people just want a good product and a good value, regardless of country of origin. They're not wrong for doing that, but maybe they just haven't thought through the implications of relying too heavily on imports.

Even in this information age, there's great value in making physical goods. It's good for jobs and wages, which is good for communities. It's good for civic pride to be known for a product, right Hershey? 

It's good for the environment to source things nearer to where they are consumed. I'll go so far as to say that it's good for national security, because societies that can make things for themselves are less vulnerable to external events. 

Local makers

Since launching Stay in October 2017, we've been on the pop-up circuit: Harrisburg Flea, York Flea, Creatively Lancaster and, all summer 2018, Market on Chocolate. I never cease to be impressed by the talents and products on display from local makers.

The vendors you find at makers markets are the antidote to the utilitarian, experience-less state of most retail in America, akin to what local and regional craft brewers have done to revitalize a homogenized, stagnant national beer industry.

And even though the likes of American Giant and Dearborn Denim are far bigger than pop-up vendors, they share the same ethos. They love what they do, they engage with customers, and they make great products in America.

If you want to explore some of our favorite Made in USA brands for yourself, you can look at who we follow on Instagram.

Or come talk with us at a pop-up event near you, just like Steven and Allison. 


Defining Stay and a brand of place

Vendors, Branding, ProductsNeal Goulet

I told a friend about Stay Apparel Co. in the spring.

She called it “an interesting brand name.” I wondered just how to take that and hoped she didn’t mean it in the Chinese curse “interesting times” sort of way.

I didn’t ask her to clarify, but I have been asked what the name means. I hope that our tagline – “An authentic American brand of place” – and place-specific T-shirts offer compelling clues as to what Stay is about.

Of course, our name invokes stay in the sense of being somewhere, as a short-term visitor or guest or a more permanent resident. Stay’s mission is to celebrate those places, and we’re starting with shirts branded for Hershey, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster and Philadelphia, as well as Pennsylvania and the U.S. of A.

But we also honor those American cities and towns where our products are made, from my hometown of Lewiston, Maine, to Long Beach, Calif., from Shelbyville, Ind., to Cleveland.

As part of the process of developing Stay’s brand identity, I came across a 2012 column written by Edward T. McMahon, a land-use expert with the Urban Land Institute. He discussed "[w]hat attracts people to a place and keeps them there."

"Place is more than just a location on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental – that provide meaning to a location. Sense of place is what makes one city or town different from another, but sense of place is also what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about."

Honoring those unique qualities that create a sense of place, that’s what defines Stay Apparel Co. for me.


Yes, Lauren, Stay Apparel Co. is a thing

Branding, ProductsNeal GouletComment

The idea for Stay Apparel Co. evolved over several years. I remember email exchanges with a designer friend about creating throwback T-shirts, but the concept was sufficiently vague that it didn’t get very far.

I don’t recall what inspired me on May 18, 2015, but that’s the day I paid the princely sum of $1.17 (after a $12 discount) to purchase the domain. Even at that stage, I hadn’t figured out just what Stay would be.

But in my mind, “Stay” always connoted a sense of place. I remember my wife telling me she had explained the meaning of the name to her co-worker Lauren.

“Yeah, I get it,” Lauren said.

Sometimes when you’re chasing a dream and it still seems unfocused and maybe even unattainable, the smallest encouragement can keep hope alive.

Meanwhile, beginning in 2013, I had started blogging (twice per year, at the Fourth of July and Christmas) about American-made products, highlighting ones I had used and researching others that I was just learning about.

And the more U.S. products I found, the more I wanted to discover. It became a passion that I liken to being an indie music fan in the early 1980s, R.E.M. leading me to Husker Du and Dream Syndicate and The Replacements and on and on.

I spent most of 2016 pursuing another project that just didn’t seem feasible financially or timewise, so I revisited Stay. But I didn’t call it Stay. It was a trial run, basically, just me having a couple of products custom made – a Hershey pennant and a Hershey knit hat – and trying to sell them under the banner of my public relations business, Goulet Communications.

The response was encouraging enough that after close consultation with my family, we decided to launch Stay in 2017.

We had a name, a domain, and a still-evolving idea of what the Stay brand would represent. Always at its essence, however, was a commitment to U.S.-made products. Starting in January, we spent nine months birthing the Stay brand you see today.

In August, my wife was at lunch when she ran into Lauren, who noticed Sara’s zip bag with the Stay flag logo on it.

Mind you, they haven’t worked together for a couple of years now.

“Is Stay a thing?” Lauren said enthusiastically.

Yes, Lauren, it is a thing. And maybe a name with Staying power.