I’m the kind of person that dives in first and researches later, or rather I make up my mind and then I deal with it! It wasn’t like I looked into if China-free living was possible, or made a budget for shopping local, before I started the challenge. As I blog my way through it, it’s the same thing; I run into a brand, an item, an issue or a problem, and then I research it and write.
Lucky for me, there are bloggers out there who actually do serious research, write articles and share them with the rest of us. That’s how I got to reading about trends in Made in USA clothing on the Made in USA blog I follow.
Interesting fact: In 1993, 6.4 billion garments were manufactured in USA, with 52.4 percent of the garments sold here made here. In 2013, Americans bought close to 20 billion garments but only 2.6 percent of them were manufactured here! (The interesting part is that that number (513 million) is better than a few years before; in 2009 only 381 million garments were made here.)
How did we get from 52.4 percent to 2.6 percent in just 22 years? The reason manufacturing went abroad is, of course, the savings due to cheap labor in other countries, like China (with their aggressive growth strategy), Bangladesh, Cambodia and other countries in that same region. This started as early as the 60’s.
When fashion got faster and faster in the 90’s, western companies started comparing and pushing the over-there-shops further, in order to be able to sell clothes at even lower prices to western consumers: essentially allowing us to buy more clothes. In countries where rules and regulations for health, emissions, safety and wages are less stringent; a reduction in production costs equals worse working conditions (lower pay, longer hours). And in the new millennium, indeed, more and more companies have moved their manufacturing to “cheaper” countries in order to keep up with their domestic competition; all of them ignoring the peculiar fact, that it is now cheaper than ever to have clothes made abroad, yet inflation is naturally moving in the opposite direction. No one wondering if they are cutting corners?
Fast fashion companies, like H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and such need consumers to buy a lot of clothes (profits are in moving inventory) and their CEOs want to get richer, so they need to keep manufacturing as cheap as possible – no matter the cost. When was the last time you saw anything in those stores not made in Asia? Do you think the garments they sell were made by people working in terrible conditions, earing 2-3 dollars a day? (Answer is yes).
That said, companies who manufacture local, stateside or Fair-Trade, aren’t exactly non-profit organizations; naturally they’re in business for profit too, but probably not making as much easy profit, as the companies who exploit workers and pollute the local environment in so called “developing” countries. (I don’t particularly like that term, their cultures are developed).
Personally, I believe there are more and more people like me, who enjoy shopping local and sustainably; who don’t mind paying a little bit more to keep things made right (here). Even if that means you can’t afford to buy as many items. The fact that I keep running into more and more cool stuff with “Made in USA” tags, to me, also signals progress. It’s not often that “progress” is presented as “going back to what we were doing way back” but in this case, I think we may have had it right in the 80’s. Yes, I said that!
According to the article, the vice president of international trade at the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) agrees; “The number of clothes and shoes made in the U.S. has consistently increased over the last several years in what could be described as a small, but growing, trend”, he says.
There are challenges here though, like finding skilled workers and specialized materials; “Sewing is still a lost art”.
I believe in the people here though, we can learn how to sew, right? I believe so, and I obviously support this trend. I read that for every dollar a country invests in domestic manufacturing, the country earns 1.4 dollars back, so shopping local isn’t just taking a stand for sustainability, decent wages and reduced shipping pollution, but it also makes for a stronger economy.
I find this topic so interesting and important! There’s always more to learn about this complex, consumer-driven, environmentally devastating, but colorful industry.
Note: I cannot find either of the websites for the striped hoodie “Ginger G” and cardigan “Sweet n Sinful”. (Sorry but those are some terrible brand names!) I suspect they are “straight from wholesale” brands without websites. Found both at Marshalls. (Photo credits: Shutterluv by Ashley.)