How Did Costco’s Kirkland T-Shirts Become a Cult Favorite?

At $20 for a pack of six, they have no business being this good

February 25, 2021 11:56 am
Kirkland White T-shirt
Costco's Kirkland White T-Shirt

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Costco launched their private label, Kirkland Signature, in 1995 as a way to exercise quality control over some of their must-buy items. Coffee, dog food, bottled water — just about any basic you can think of is included in the line. Of the myriad products emblazoned with the iconic red and black Kirkland Signature logo, a package of T-shirts has earned a spot alongside Costco’s famed vodka, yet another premium item hidden in plain sight.

How did these innocuous men’s undershirts — priced at $19.99 for a pack of six — rise through the ranks of high fashion at a store that also sells bath mats and protein powder? 

“My Mom got a Costco membership after her four children had grown and left the house,” says filmmaker and T-shirt enthusiast Matthew Thompson. “So, freshman year of college … any time she would come to visit, she’d bring a 100-pack of something, and she threw in some Kirkland T-shirts at one point.” Thompson says he was instantly converted to the cult of Kirkland, describing the fit as “intoxicating.”

When compared to similarly-priced T-shirts in the discount fashion category. Kirkland’s stand out for their fabric and fit. They don’t hang off your body like an old bandage à la Jerzees or Fruit of the Loom, and the material isn’t thin or flimsy — a dramatic departure from what buyers would typically find with T-shirts encased in plastic and sold for next to nothing. 

Made from 100% cotton with reinforced seems, the shirt sits comfortably just below the waste. Snug around the arms and torso, Kirkland Signature Men’s Crew Neck Tee wears like something you’d see a guy like Chris Evans, Pratt or Chris Pine sport off camera.

Nick K. (last name redacted) was Kirkland’s private label designer back in 2002 — a job he was at for 10 years before leaving to start his own company. He is well aware of the shirts’ popularity, citing Costco’s grueling testing and dedication to sourcing high-quality materials as the reason for the excellent fit. Further, he explains, Costco spends a lot of time and money certifying its source material to ensure the fabric used in production hasn’t come from a morally bankrupt source. 

“Suppliers work with department buyers to develop the needed items and submit to the buyer for approval,” he says. “The buyer has a team that does internal testing and review to ensure the product meets needs and standards. Many of the standards are formalized into a sort of book they provide to their suppliers. This book contains all the standardized rules for each product type.”

“It has to be perfect for the average consumer before they place an order,” he says. “This is all part of the development phase. You submit samples many times to them before you get approval … plus, they do fit tests and focus groups.” 

While not every garment gets its own focus group, data from the focus groups of popular clothing categories (i.e. shorts, pants, shirts) are applied to merchandising to identify consumer needs. This customer data ensures consistency across fit, fabric, and function.  

For the non-believers, we urge you to check out any of the 7,660-plus five-star reviews of the Kirkland white t-shirt on Costco’s website, vouching for their perfect length, expert hemming, soft material and overall excellent fit. If you don’t want to shell out the $60 on a Costco membership, allow us to point you in the direction of this page on Amazon. You’re welcome. 

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