Everyone hates when that fated day arrives, when a beloved piece of clothing is either retired to the rag bin or completely wears out, leaving a gaping hole in their wardrobe. Mike Natenshon felt the same wilting sadness when his favorite college t-shirt was thrown out, but instead of going out and simply buying a new one, he decided to create Marine Layer, a line of super-soft, comfortable, and well-fitting tees and well-designed basics that take the time out of achieving what years of wear and washing create.

“I just couldn’t find a shirt that was as soft and broken in as my favorite tee from college, so that was the impetus for me to get started on Marine Layer. From there I just started heading down to L.A. and meeting with different knitting mills and learning about textiles,” says Natenshon.

Natenshon, who grew up on the East Coast, attended school in Maine and held a series of finance jobs in both Boston and San Francisco before deciding to give apparel design a shot. “It was never part of the plan, but it’s definitely been the most fun job I’ve ever had and the only one that I’m halfway decent at.”

So, with the inspiration to begin a comfort-based clothing company that took the wear time out of the worn-in-perfectly equation, he brought on his best friend, Adam Lynch, to aid in the business side of things. “Adam has been my best friend since sixth grade and the smartest guy I know. So once Marine Layer started gaining some traction, he was the first person I went to for help, and it’s probably the best decision I’ve made for with respect to our business,” says Natenshon.

However, what really sets Marine Layer apart from other soft fabric brands is its noble, progressive, and environmentally friendly approach to how it makes each one of its pieces. Absolutely every step of the manufacturing process happens in California.

This localization of labor and manufacturing not only helps support the local economy (three American factories that have been in business over 25 years), but also lessens the brand’s carbon footprint. “We developed a custom fabric,” says Natenshon, “which is a blend of two yarns, Pima Cotton and MicroModal [which is made by Lenzig AG., a bio-based fabric that comes from recycled Beech Wood]. We chose Lenzig fibers because of their sustainable and closed-loop manufacturing process. We also only use Wood Pulp from local forests, and 95 percent of the production materials are recycled and reused.”

This blend of fibers produces a fabric much softer than traditional cotton. “From here,” he says, “we start with the same basic fiber that is knit into varying styles of yarn and then, depending on the weaving, can knit up into jersey for T-shirts, fleece for sweatshirts, or a number of different styles for women’s fabrics.” After the fabric is created, most of it is shipped to San Francisco and sewn together on Mission Street and South Van Ness by a team led by Xiao Ling.

By keeping things local, Natenshon and his team are able to monitor and produce affordable collections for men, women, and children in a wide range of sizes and fun styles. “We hope that everyone in San Francisco can shop here, as we make a lot of understated, comfy basics that are well suited for this city. We currently have two store locations but are opening a third this month on the Peninsula and hopefully a fourth in Venice later this summer.”

With the future of fashion production beginning to shift toward local boutique and artist- and designer-crafted lines that cater to a community’s needs, it’s no surprise that Marine Layer is growing so quickly. The attention to detail, fit, and honorable respect of the environment make this stellar company one to watch — and definitely shop — for all your basics needs.

498 Hayes St., San Francisco


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This article was published in:
Idea Issue - Released March 2013
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Issue 11
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