Solid State's 100% US-Made T-Shirt Is Finally Here

It took months to grow the cotton and sew the shirts, but it's worth the wait.

Solid State t-shirt in dark blue

Solid State

Several weeks ago, a box arrived on my doorstep. It held a cotton t-shirt that I'd waited nearly a year to see. The reason for the long wait—which seems shockingly slow in this era of fast fashion—was because the cotton had to be grown, spun, dyed, and stitched before the shirt could land in my hands.

Way back in November 2020, I'd been given a "share" in t-shirt company Solid State's 10,000 Pounds of Cotton project, which meant that I was promised a shirt at the end of the harvest and production cycle. Shares cost roughly $48 and the resulting shirt was of a thick, lasting quality that's hard to find in most stores these days.

This project is part of an impressive effort to see if rebuilding an American-based apparel industry is feasible; and by American, I mean everything from the cotton grown by farmers in North Carolina to the dyeing and sewing itself. Nothing leaves the country at any stage of production—a tall order for a nation whose sartorial skill sets have dwindled rapidly over the past century. 

I wrote about the project for Treehugger when it first kicked off, but after receiving my own shirt, I figured it was time to check back in with the creators to see how the whole operation had gone. Courtney Lockemer, brand manager for Solid State, answered my questions.

Treehugger: What has the customer response been so far, now that people are wearing the shirts?

Courtney Lockemer: "People are loving the shirts! We're getting reviews that describe them as the best t-shirt on the market, luxuriously soft, and beautifully made. People really connected with the 'dirt-to-shirt' story behind them. I think there's a desire among consumers now to connect with the origin of their clothing and appreciate what can be made entirely with resources from within a few hundred miles of their home."

TH: There were some delays in production. What caused those? And what are the biggest challenges involved in producing an entirely U.S.-made shirt?

CL: "Our manufacturing partners encountered—and continue to encounter—numerous challenges due to the pandemic, mostly related to staffing shortages... Many manufacturers were operating around 50% capacity right when we had planned to have our shirts made. Production was delayed by weeks at multiple stages. Our partners were doing their best, they were just facing a really tough environment.

"We made an effort to communicate honestly with our customers about the delays throughout the process, and people were quite understanding. We shared photos of the cotton in different stages as the manufacturing happened: the spun yarn, the fabric samples, the shirts as they were getting dyed. We wanted people to know what was happening and to feel connected to the actual making of their shirts.

"One advantage of having completely domestic production is that we haven't had to worry about shipping containers getting stuck in ports.

"The biggest challenge we face in producing an entirely US-based shirt, even outside of the pandemic, is that there aren't enough cut-and-sew businesses in our country. Those are the people who take the fabric and stitch it into clothing. It takes real skill to sew a well-made garment, so we need more people who are trained and experienced in that trade."

Farmer Andrew Burleson with his cotton harvest

Solid State

TH: What's the future of Solid State? Do you plan to buy another large cotton order from farmer Andrew Burleson and/or other North Carolina farmers?

CL: "We're continuing to grow Solid State's product offerings, focusing on pioneering the use of local, sustainable materials. This year we're purchasing twice as much North Carolina cotton as last year from Andrew Burleson and potentially a couple other farmers. Harvest is happening now, and we'll be going to Andrew's farm to see it in person soon.

"We recently launched a line of natural dye t-shirts. Our first four plant-based colors were done in collaboration with Botanical Colors. Last month our CEO Eric collected over 400 pounds of local black walnuts, which make an incredible warm brown dye. (And yes, our CEO goes out to people's yards and collects black walnuts from the ground to color our t-shirts.)

"Burlington Beer Works, a local brewery, cooked up the walnuts to create dye, and we dyed shirts with it literally a mile down the road at our dye facility. As Eric put it, 'It was ground-to-garment in 48 hours.' Long-term, we want to help develop more local sources of natural dyes like this.

"We're also working with some local textile partners to create a shirt made with U.S.-grown hemp blended with cotton. It will be, to our knowledge, the first t-shirt made with U.S. hemp, and we're still working to get the yarn formula just right."

Solid State t-shirt models

Solid State

A Hopeful Future

Based on what Lockemer says, I feel optimistic about the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project and its future. It's exciting to see how successful it has been, challenges notwithstanding, and how well it has been received by (patient) customers who know good things come to those who wait.

The fact that Solid State is doubling the cotton order for this year and exploring natural dyes (which look stunning, by the way, if you check them out here) are signs of a promising business model that resonates with people who are tired of throwing away money on cheap, poorly made clothes.

Last but not least, Lockemer says that there are still some original t-shirts left to purchase, though the majority went to the project's crowdfunding supporters. They're for sale on the Solid State Clothing website as the North Carolina Cotton t-shirt, if you happen to need an interesting gift for someone.