Eye On Apparel: Made In The USA
At the 2017 presidential inauguration, First Lady Melania Trump wowed onlookers with her Jackie O.- style ensemble, which featured a stunning, pastel blue dress designed by American fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Her decision to choose an American fashion designer was a no-brainer, given her husband’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.
Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing in general back to the United States appeals to Americans on a visceral level.This was a savvy campaign strategy and, clearly, the idea of deliberately buying American-made products and apparel evokes enthusiasm among most U.S. consumers. But is it realistic?
Born In The USA
In the textile industry, made-in-the-USA campaigns go back as far as the 1970s, says Rick Cottle, Ph.D., assistant professor in textiles, merchandising and design for the Department of Human Sciences at Middle Tennessee State University. “The purpose of the campaign was to keep the domestic textile manufacturing industry onshore. Based on history, we know that the campaign did not work,” he says.
By the turn of the century, globalization was on the upswing, creating a much smaller world. “This new world would forever change consumerism and, therefore, the many industries that supply consumer products,” Cottle adds.
Today, apparel is the second largest consumer good in the world behind food, according to Cottle. “Apparel is the quintessential global consumer product,” he adds. “Therefore, the proverbial train has left the station in this industry. It is now extremely difficult to purchase apparel that is sourced entirely from one single country.”
The effects of globalization on U.S. apparel manufacturers are certainly known to apparel suppliers in the promotional products industry.
“Apparel, by its nature, is really cost sensitive, particularly when you consider promo apparel,” says D. Fenton, vice president of compliance for Chicago-based Quality Certification Alliance. “Labor cost in the U.S. is too high for assembly of market-entry product typical of the bulk of promo apparel. The fashion industry’s low margins have punished companies that try to sell affordable apparel while offering its employees living wages.”
In January, the promotional products industry witnessed another sea change. Following the sale of its intellectual property to supplier Gildan Activewear, American Apparel closed its U.S. factory and all its U.S. brick-and-mortar stores.
Gildan And Globalization
Now under the ownership of Gildan Activewear, American Apparel is attempting to resolve the paradox of consumers who want to buy American-made apparel but don’t want to pay the higher price.
“A reality of the industry we face is that more than 97 percent of all apparel and footwear products purchased in the U.S. are imported into the country,” says Mike Hoffman, president of Christ Church, Barbados-based supplier Gildan Activewear SR. There are several challenges to manufacturing apparel products in the U.S., including, as Fenton mentioned, the cost and availability of skilled labor. “In some of the more competitive product categories—t-shirts and
underwear being the largest— most consumers simply demand a lower price than the traditional U.S. manufacturing model can support.”
However, American-made apparel manufacturing is still a viable option thanks to innovations by suppliers in the promotional products industry. “As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of apparel and socks, we have invested significantly in those areas where the U.S. market can deliver the greatest value,” Hoffman says.
Gildan purchases nearly all its cotton in the United States, says Hoffman. “We purchase almost exclusively U.S. cotton, sustainably grown and ethically harvested, largely because it is the best quality and most consistent cotton fiber available. U.S. cotton is also one of the world’s most regulated cotton crops under strict EPA, USDA and OSHA standards. We have also built some of the world’s largest and most efficient yarn-spinning facilities in the U.S.”
New Solutions To An Old Problem
In early August, Gildan launched a new American Apparel website, which now offers dual pricing in two collections: Made In USA and Globally Made. “We felt it was important to continue to offer key selling styles within a made-in-the-USA collection,” Hoffman says. “So, shortly after the acquisition of the brand, we secured contract manufacturers in Southern California to produce the collection now sold on the e-commerce site and to the printwear industry.”
Currently, the site features 10 styles that are offered in both a made-in-the-USA version and a globally made version. “Both product collections deliver the same fabrics, quality and assurances of being sweatshop-free and ethically made,” Hoffman says. “However, the cost differences within the two supply chains translate to a 15- to 25-percent premium for the made-in-the- USA collection. Ultimately, the challenge for brands is to get consumers to pay more for the domestically made products.”
Cottle says consumers do value the made-in-the- USA story. “However, in most cases, that story is going to cost consumers a bit more money,” she says. “This increased cost reduces the volume of potential consumers. The question is, are apparel consumers willing and able to back up the perceived value of made-in-the- USA with their money?”
It’s a question that American consumers— and promotional products buyers—will ultimately have to answer. In the meantime, American Apparel, along with other U.S.-based apparel suppliers in the promotional apparel industry, will keep innovating.
Eight Home-Grown American Classics
Just when you’ve given up trying to find a made-in-the-USA dress shirt, AKWA’s men’s and women’s Oxford dress shirt saves the day. The dress shirt comes in an easy-care 60/40-percent cotton/polyester cut for men with a button-down collar, and with a spread collar for women.
AKWA / PPAI 205981 / www.akwa.com
Designed to flatter the female frame, American Apparel’s women’s fine jersey t-shirt is a sleek, form-fitting crewneck that pairs perfectly with jeans or pants. This jersey is made of combed ring-spun cotton for luxurious comfort and elegant, easy style. Made in the USA of U.S. and foreign components.
American Apparel/ PPAI 223870/ www.americanapparelwholesale.com/us
The non-button two-pocket vest features smart unisex styling and an open front for easy, no-fuss wear; plus, six-inch patch pockets on each side for practical convenience. This top seller is made of a 65/35-percent poly-cotton twill and comes in black, red, royal, navy, white and natural.
Aprons, Etc. / PPAI 110868/ www.apronsetc.com
This licensed camo cap with black undervisor is crafted in the U.S. of cotton twill. The six-panel, pre-curved visor has a Velcro® closure. It’s available in five camo patterns and one size fits all.
Kati Sportcap & Bag/ PPAI 113758/ www.katisportcap.com
For sports-themed campaigns, the 3/4-sleeve baseball jersey tee is a good choice, featuring
3/4-length raglan sleeves of contrast color fabric. The jersey is made of a special polyester fabric that wicks moisture away from the body to cool you down when things heat up. This tee comes in 13 different duotone color combinations.
MVP Sportswear / PPAI 562092 / www.mvpsportswear.com
When quality counts, the men’s and women’s polo delivers. The dry-wicking polo boasts a no-curl collar—perfect for persnickety patrons. This polo shirt resists snagging and wrinkling, is colorfast and has enough stretch to move with you but not lose its drape and shape.
AKWA / PPAI 205981 / www.akwa.com
Colorful, whimsical socks are gaining in popularity, especially among men, and everybody is happier with warm, comfy feet. These knit socks are fully American made, crafted of 100-percent nylon and available in sizes 9-11 and 10-13.
Suntex Industries / PPAI 113094 / www.mainstsun.com
The perfect layering piece for fall, the unisex flex fleece zip hooded sweatshirt features gender neutral styling for versatile appeal. Made in the USA of U.S. and foreign components, this hoodie is made of combed cotton and polyester fleece for ultra-soft, cozy comfort on cool days and nights. The kangaroo front pockets add practical functionality. Available in on-trend colors include asphalt, dark heather gray and sea blue.
American Apparel / PPAI 223870 / www.americanapparelwholesale.com/us
Brittany Glenn is a Plano, Texas-based writer and a former associate editor of PPB.