“When you think of New England, which is really the birthplace of American textile and apparel manufacturing, it’s always associated with certain stereotypes,” said Christopher Vroman, the CEO of outerwear company Exley. “People think preppy, they think hunting and fishing, or they think old and traditional.” Vroman’s on a mission to transform consumers’ perception of the region with his brand, and help define the “new New England.” Following a soft launch this past summer, the Fall/Winter 2016 collection is Exley’s first complete showing and showcases a new take on outerwear classics.
Exley’s line of fall outerwear — overshirts, parkas, flight jackets, service jackets — doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel. Instead it represents the history of the region with functional, classic garments, cut and finished with a contemporary eye. Vroman sees his company standing on the shoulders of legendary New England brands like L.L.Bean, J. Press, Alden and Orvis. In the spirit of these brands, Exley’s garments are all produced in its own factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Sitting on the bank of the Acushnet River, Exley’s factory occupies 12,000 square feet in a renovated textile mill. Across the street, Joseph Abboud’s factory stretches down the block and keeps workers producing around the clock. In comparison, Exley’s space is modest. “We’re new and we’re a small team, so we’re continuously evolving,” Vroman said. Exley’s factory not only produces its own collections, but it also manufactures outwear for a number of other small American brands.
The factory floor was open and calm. A dozen workers sat in front of single-needle sewing machines, while a man cut patterns at a large table. Along with cutting and sewing here, Exley also does all of its technical seam sealing for waterproof outerwear. On another wall, racks of jackets wait to be boxed and shipped. No matter the silhouette, Exley’s outerwear aesthetic is clean and modern. There are no raw edges or exposed seams, and the outward appearance is tailored and refined. Whether the fabric is a classic from Italian mills or a modern fabric with technical properties, it is given the same fresh minimalist treatment.
Exley’s outerwear is carried both online and at select retailers in the United States. For the upcoming Spring/Summer 2017 collection, the brand is expanding their product line to include swimwear, expanding on the summer beachgoing traditions in the Northeast. For Vroman, the heritage of New England has given Exley a foundation to build upon, and with the expertise of his factory employees, he can realize the company’s potential. “It’s hard to find people that can make the product that we make,” Vroman said. “The ones that are here are very good at what they do, and we’re happy to have them.”