Some years ago when I lived in New York City, a friend and I were downtown one sunny Fall afternoon doing some window shopping. When we came upon the Save Khaki store, my friend said he needed to go in to get a couple shirts. At this point I knew Save Khaki only by reputation…that they made classic cotton pieces with price tags not for the faint of heart.
When I brought this up to my friend, he encouraged me to pick up a shirt for myself and I’d soon understand not why they cost so much, but why they’re worth so much. OK fine—I’ve got two kidneys so I suppose I can afford to sell one. The resulting Save Khaki shirt was simple button-down oxford, jammies-soft, in a subtle shade of blue (though it came in 153 shades of subtle blue), and as the saying goes, the juice was worth the squeeze.
It was my go-to garment for a long time. It could be dressed up with a tie, though it rarely was, and usually made the rounds with me in a state of wonderful wrinkledness. I caught the sleeve on something sharp at a cookout a couple years later, and nearly cried (not over the torn shirt—the something sharp cut my arm and I have an artist’s predictably low threshold for pain).
Just recently Save Khaki crept onto my radar once again when I learned of their Home Work line. As we’re all (or shall I say the rest of you—I’ve been doing it for three presidents) working from home these days, with “casual Friday” morphing into “I’m wearing my only clean shirt for this Zoom meeting, and likely nothing else,” simple, casual and wildly comfortable clothing conceived to be your new 9-5 uniform made good damn sense. So I got a couple pieces and was lucky enough to talk with David Mullen, Save Khaki’s Founder and Creative Director.
John Bobey-Heddels: Tell me a little about your pre-Save Khaki career…
David Mullen-Save Khaki: Before Save Khaki United, I founded my first label—Joe America—which consisted of graphic tees, gas station jackets, and baseball caps, all of which were made in the USA. I then sold my brand to American Eagle Outfitters, but they never ended up bringing it to market.
After that, my next labels were Double A and A-1. Both labels featured products all made in the USA. While Double A mainly consisted of athletic-inspired gym clothes, A-1 leaned toward military and workwear-inspired clothing. Ron Herman, Barneys, and Journal Standard were a few of my stockists. Next, I consulted for Banana Republic & J.Crew, specializing in men’s washed products, primarily denim, chinos, chambray, durable shirts, tees, etc.
H: Save Khaki was a pioneer in the “elevated basics” game…how did you come to the idea behind the brand?
SK: Save Khaki United set out to make simple, purposeful garments. Utility and function are paramount and we feature no exterior branding—more about product, less about the label. In many ways, Save Khaki United tries to embody the Shaker philosophy: Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.
H: For those who may be new to your brand, can you help them understand why one of your pieces may cost many times more than a “Fast fashion” equivalent?
SK: Here’s a quick breakdown of our supply chain, which should help shed some light: Every piece of Supima cotton is grown in the western USA. After the ginning process, however, most companies then ship their cotton to India or China to be spun into yarn.
At Save Khaki United, we spin our Supima yarn in the USA. Spinning yarn domestically generally costs three times more than it does in China. We then knit these spun yarns in Los Angeles—again, domestically, rather than abroad in China—at a significantly higher price. Next, we cut and sew our t-shirts, also in Los Angeles instead of China. For each of these steps, our Los Angeles wages are estimated to be 3.5 times more than the wages paid in China—it all adds up.
H: Talk to me about the inspiration behind your Home Work line…
SK: Home Work was created to offer clothing that is both comfortable and functional. This unisex line is a modern take on workwear for your home.. Every featured product is designed for the wearer to be at ease while hard at work. Home Work was also born from a concept similar to the “farm-to-table” movement, motivated by a strong desire to help create change around what we wear and where it comes from.
The collection is truly a “farm-to-closet” manufacturing endeavor in which every component is made here at home (in the U.S.), including fabric, threads, buttons, and trims. Rooted in sustainability, Home Work is better for the ecosystem due to conscious manufacturing, the use of high-quality materials, and simple, thoughtful designs built to last over time.
H: Who is the Save Khaki customer?
SK: Our customer is fashionable, but not a fashion victim.
H: The market space you occupy seems to get more crowded by the season…what are some of the challenges to remaining relatable while still innovating?
SK: Competition is a good thing. It inspires you to work harder and focus on what you do best and the consumer benefits. Our customer informs us of when we do well and not so well.
H: What are your plans for the future?
SK: We intend to keep on truckin….
Indeed, a fittingly minimalist interview for a brand like Save Khaki. We can discuss all day long the cost/benefit of making garments in America—exceptional work is being done all over the world, China included (but this is of course a case by case scenario—it pays to research if you care about human rights and the statement about them your clothes are making). As we’ve written multiple times, “Made in the U.S.A.” is today much more a function of philosophy than geography.
But what is not up for debate is the high quality and attention to detail my Save Khaki Home Work pieces exhibit—each is beautifully cut and sewn, with durable trim and a timeless aesthetic. These pieces wouldn’t look out of place in any decade from the 1940s to today. And while no logo is arguably its own “logo,” love how clean the presentation is and how these muted tones go with just about anything I (and likely you) own.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road—my Drill Work Jacket rattles the wallet at just over $285, and the Herringbone Overshirt at just over $200—price points still not for the faint of heart. But they’re beautiful in the Shaker simplicity, and if you can swing it, you’ll be well served in these pieces for a good long time. Just be sure to watch out for stray nails at cookouts…