Made in America? Why More of Your Clothes Soon Might Be

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For decades, the United States has been losing apparel manufacturing jobs to cheaper overseas production. With an emphasis on costs rather than quality, companies send work to China, India, Sri Lanka and other countries. In the last decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of U.S. apparel manufacturing businesses was halved –- losing 7,000 businesses.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Los Angeles Times reported, found that only 2.5 percent of American clothing purchases came from domestic production in 2013. That's up .05 percent from 2012. That half of a percent could be a sign that American apparel production is on the uptick -- "the first time that domestic manufacturers have won back market share," the Times wrote. (A lot's been lost -- domestic clothing made up 56 percent of the market in 1991, the Times said.)

Dirt to Shirt

Several factors could help bring back more American "dirt to shirt" productions.
  • Some big names in the apparel industry are shifting back to quality over quantity. Overworked, underpaid, sometimes malnourished employees in sweatshop-like conditions churn out cheap clothes that lack durability.
  • More American consumers want to know who is behind the product they are wearing. They don't want to endorse a company with egregious labor violations or safety issues in foreign factories. As pressure mounts, some companies are taking a more proactive lead in workplace safety or moving production to the States, where labor laws are more firm.
  • American consumers "want unique, artisanal goods made sustainably at home," the Times said, citing a Boston Consulting Group study that said "more than eight in 10 are even willing to pay a premium for it."
  • The outsourced production industry is a game of near-constant movement in search of the cheapest workforce, with unexpected countries like Ethiopia promoting themselves. But that game is showing signs of change. Overseas factories are raising prices, and transporting goods across the ocean isn't getting cheaper.
  • As noted by The Huffington Post last year, American technological advances are evening the playing field. Machines are replacing humans for demanding tasks like button and zipper additions. To be sure, losing jobs to robots is a different problem.
  • With domestic production, companies can give their consumers full disclosure about who makes their clothes. That's been a selling point since 1997 for American Apparel (APP) even as the company and founder Dov Charney fight over its future. And Nike (NKE) has became more open about its production process.
"It has been a difficult path" to keep production of "environmentally sustainable and ethically produced" T-shirts in North Carolina, TS Designs CEO Eric Henry told The Huffington Post last year. But his firm is fully committed to promoting its made-in-America status by encouraging customers to enter a code from their T-shirt. From there, they can track every location and person that made their shirt during its 600-mile production trip. Ultimately, they get a more personal experience.

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29 Comments

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lckingmfg1

L. C. King is a company that has been producing jeans and other articles of clothing for over a hundred years. We can proudly say that we support and continue to create American-made products. We agree that this is a difficult path, but we are determined to keep the values that first started our company. It is important for us to support our local community with jobs and contribute to the sustainability of our country.

https://www.pointerbrand.com/
Check us out and see how we are continuing the American-made tradition.

August 27 2014 at 11:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kris Nelson

The apparrel industry has been overseas for years. Nothing will change now.

August 26 2014 at 7:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rbearland

We have a few garment plants left in here in W. Ga. Most of their business is making US military garments.

They are non union staffed....but the military could save a good bit of $$'s if uniforms were purchased from overseas competitors.

The Tea Party folks would love those deficit savings...don't you think?

The democrats might also...

August 26 2014 at 1:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
toosmart4u

StillmadeinUSA.com. Will tell you a lot about what is still made here.

August 26 2014 at 11:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toosmart4u

Tim, there is nothing wrong with the unions. You have to quit listening to the garbage coming out of the mouths of the big money machine of the republicans. I worked in non union shops and in union shops. Non union I call sweat shops. So get your head out of the sand and think for yourself.

August 26 2014 at 11:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Eric Henry

Demand transparency. It was not the brands, nor the trade deals that kill apparel industry in the US. It was the consumer only being focused on price. So when you fast forward to the apparel disaster in Bangladesh last year when over 1,000 people died. Why? twenty six cents per hour is what they were paid. Just like there is a growing movement to know where your food comes from, know where your apparel comes from.

August 26 2014 at 8:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Eric Henry's comment
Hello, Karen

Lets see, which one works out better for the company...paying a worker, 20 cents an hour for a $10.00 garment or paying a worker, $10.00 an hour for a $10.00 garment. The American customer was not in the equation. Bottom line only!

August 26 2014 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bean

I've been involved with making clothes in downtown Los Angeles for the past 10 years. I can tell you first hand that the movement for "Made in the USA" in fashion is growing but will never dominate the market until the BIG brands start making things here. If you go into any department store you will see all the BIG brands are made overusee's. Then you may see a small brand that was in fact made in the USA. Denim is pretty much the only fashion item from the big brands that's made in the USA. My whole line is made in downtown LA by two different family run factories. www.aviatorusa.com and http://kck.st/WflUBK. Please check them out and let me know your thoughts... Thanks!!

August 26 2014 at 2:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
idodeco2

Oh good!

August 26 2014 at 1:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rbearland

I've heard there is an effort to try and get textile production re-established in USA.

IMHO, the value of the dollar needs to slip....
by...say... 80% and electricity prices need to be cut in half before this dream might could develop into a REALITY.

Back in the seventies I was fortunate enough to work for the largest meat packer in USA.
Their name was Playtex. We made the best bras and girdles in the world back then.
They were expensive, but they were the top notch women's garments back then.

I recall one year (1978 I think) a bunch of sewing machines were replaced at our sewing plant.
All the old machines were stacked in the corner of the warehouse.
I asked the warehouse boss, "What are you going to do with all them machines ?".
His reply was, " We're going to ship them to China." "Good Gawd", said I.

Of course the 6 or 7 plants in the Southern Sewn Products Division were all closed down in a dozen years and all production was moved overseas by the late 80's.

August 25 2014 at 9:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
JOE AND JULIE

The increase was five one hundredth of a percent(.05) not half a percent.

August 25 2014 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply