Made in USA: Is America’s garment industry making a comeback?

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.

made in usa outfit
Old jacket meets new US made Tart Collection dress. Old rubber boots meet new US made Sweet-n-Sinful cardigan from Marshalls. [Details in LookBook]
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.

DSC_0169
Living local is living greener! Outfit made in USA! [Details in LookBook]
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.)

[LINK to LOOKBOOK[LINK to Article]

5 thoughts on “Made in USA: Is America’s garment industry making a comeback?

  1. WOW! This article was so interesting and informative! I was so excited at the mall today (looking for David’s bday gift) b/c a neat new store opened and it looked like it might have been made here since a sign in the window said something about a cotton gin in the US, sadly clothes are made in China. :(

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  2. Every blog post I read I get a little bit more convinced that what you are writing is the right way to think..! :) You know, getting through the stages of change (denial, resistance, exploration, commitment) takes its time! Especially for an old dog (learning how to sit in a new way) ;)
    Keep convincing me!
    However I still really like H&M, and have good friends who work there, and want to believe that they have a good strategy to get better and improve working conditions and the environment (conscious collection) slowly but surely..?
    Also I’m still in denial about that I can live exactly like you preach here in Moscow. There is a limited supply (that I am aware of) and especially children’s clothes I actually need to buy quite a lot of since the little man is growing so fast! When even Gucci and Burberry is made in China maybe I might as well shop at H&M!?! Save a buck! What say you? xx

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    1. Comments like this is why I write! Thank you – excellent questions.
      First, shopping made in Asia, has a lower environmental impact for you than it does me. The goods were imported by trains not ships, and travelled a shorter distance. That said, there are choices you can make that will be better. Look for organic cotton (huge impact for the Indian farmers), look for fair-trade (made in Asia but ethical treatment of lands and people), and avoid all leather goods from there. The worst thing you could do would be to come to USA on vacation and buy the same made in china clothes here that you have available at home, buying them in Moscow is a better choice.
      I have a whole post on H&M coming out next week (including conscious collection of course)! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on that. Just like your friends, we ALL work for companies with more or less “questionable” morale, that does not make us bad people. My department cleans air pollution (yay!) but we have a whole other department helping to make nitrogen fertilizer! Gross!! Fertilizer could have a whole eco blog of its own.
      As long as the low prices at H&M don’t encourage you to shop twice as many things as you would at Burberry, and you keep the garments and wear them just as often, then yes, your impact is the same. Save a buck!
      For little man, stock up in US with made here options, buy from your friends with older kids, check out e-bay for gently used clothes. And again, look for organic or fair-trade :)
      Great comment! I will keep convincing… :)

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