Photo by AubreyWright via flickr
For many years, the ‘buy American’ tagline has only been a deciding factor with overzealous patriots making automobile purchases. It makes sense – manufacturing of other consumer goods has been vacant from the American economy for too long to remember. In many product markets, no American choice exists. In other cases, foreign countries are the established authority, so the domestic-import debate doesn’t even apply.
This lack of wider concern is also thanks to the decline in quality of American manufacturing, as evidenced by faster, safer, more durable and advanced goods from other countries. And they’re cheaper!
Today, though, the domestic-import dynamic is upturned. The American auto industry is quickly regaining market share. Many historically European goods are being produced in China and Africa, and American consumers are growing more aware of where their goods are made, taking pride in supporting their local, regional, or national economy. One industry in particular, known for mass production in Asian and African countries, has been under mounting scrutiny over the past five years.
Photo by simplethreads via flickr
The apparel market in the United States is one of the largest in the world, the majority of which is produced elsewhere. Mass-market brands based and designed in the US cannot afford to produce here, so they import. Up until a point in the previous decade, most consumers logged no complaints about inexpensive, disposable fashion. Quality was clearly diminished compared to goods produced in higher-wage countries or in lower overall quantities, but unbeatable pricing meant most shoppers were willing to overlook construction snafus. Slowly, even higher-end brands began to produce in the same countries as bargain brands. With that movement came a wave of domestic designers insistent on producing with high-quality materials in American factories, thereby creating domestic jobs and retaining ultimate control over quality.
Photo by Hamilton 1883 via flickr
As buyers become more conscious of domestic goods, familiarity with labeling practices is key. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates domestic production, distribution, and sales of apparel. Under the Textile & Wool Acts, products sold in this country must be labeled as follows:
- Imported products must identify the country where they were processed or manufactured.
- Products made entirely in the U.S. of materials also made in the U.S. must be labeled “Made in U.S.A.” or with an equivalent phrase.
- Products made in the U.S. of imported materials must be labeled to show the processing or manufacturing that takes place in the United States, as well as the imported component.
- Products manufactured in part in the U.S. and in part abroad must identify both aspects.
A Continuous Lean has developed a great resource for anyone interested in American -owned, -operated, and -produced brands, although it is not a truly complete list (I’d imagine it’s hard to keep close track of them all), and some of the brands only produce a portion of their wares domestically. I’ve created a map showing the handful of domestic facilities (non-exhaustive) producing the range, from leather handbags to tailored dress shirts. You’ll notice that many of the US producers of clothing, accessories, and shoes have a notable Northeastern rustic aesthetic, preferring a brown and plaid palate to anything a bit edgier.
Photo by superfantastico via Flickr
Lately, I’ve experienced a number of brands that produce domestically, have an eclectic style, and sell at reasonable to wishlist-worthy prices, relative to their superiority of construction and thoughtful details. I’ve inferred that the pricing of these domestic goods is more closely tied to the real cost to produce, rather than the advertising and overhead costs associated with more well-known brands.
American Apparel – casual basics in bright hues (Los Angeles)
James Perse – casual clothing (Los Angeles)
Hamilton – dress shirts (Houston)
Pierrepont Hicks – ties (Minneapolis)
Makr Carry Goods – leather accessories (Orlando)
Emil Erwin — leather accessories (Nashville)
If you fancy a more urban, festive, body-conscious domestically-sourced closet (read: gay), there are a number of such designers with operations in the US. Andrew Christian is a new favorite of mine, and Rufskin makes all manner of SFW and NSFW apparel. In Tampa, you can find a number of US-made designers and their goods at Urban Body, on Howard Avenue.
America will always import clothing and fashion items, I don’t see that changing at all. I do think it’s important to make informed decisions about how you spend your money. Some will ‘buy American’ because they desire superior quality, and will mostly get it by looking domestically. Others will care more about supporting US jobs, as that is very much a 2012 issue. I’m in both boats.
Next time you’re lusting after a known-brand handbag or pair of shoes, check the label. Where is it made? Many of your findings may surprise you. Make your own value judgement. Is there something else out there that will satisfy your desires, made domestically?