Quick – how much of your wardrobe is made locally? If you’re like the majority of Americans, the answer is probably not much, if at all. But if you’re reading this, then that answer might be more than that – because what I’ve discovered over the past few years in exercising my conscious consumerism muscle is that Made in USA is surprisingly one of the most accessible and easiest ways to buy better.
Surprising given the fact that so much of what we hear in the news is about the death of American manufacturing. Better given the fact that when you buy an American-made good, you know it’s made by someone who’s getting paid to do it at an average of $14.79/hour, not one of the millions of child labourers or modern day slaves working in the global garment trade.
I recently read an article on online fashion business bible The Business of Fashion, in which the author proposed that Made in USA is more hype than reality.
So, let’s discuss. Is Made in USA just a hapless dream, a battle cry of just a select few who won’t be heard from far beyond their flag-waving herd? Is it a slow death American-made is facing? Are we already there?
It makes sense, of course. After all, there’s a shortage of skilled workers and parents don’t exactly want their kids growing up to become sewers. The truth is, America has experienced a steady downturn in American-made over the last fifty years. And the numbers don’t lie. You’d be hard-pressed to find even a single made in USA garment when shopping at the local mall. (Hmm…says something though – I can never find anything I actually want to buy at the mall, which explains why I stopped going there. And why many others have too.)
But numbers aren’t everything.
Steven Alan, a brand that produces primarily in the US, once said that a factor in producing locally for him was his customer base in Japan, who ironically seemed to appreciate American-made more than locals do. Another major factor was simply because it’s just easier to get started.
I work with a company that does offshore manufacturing (mind you – it’s a fair trade factory that only works with certified organic cotton), but even then, it’s hard to get things done right and on time. Locally made is, for the most part, much easier to regulate. And that’s the real reason why many start here, not necessarily some hearty patriotism. But that “patriotism” is rising, supported by a concern for quality, safety, and wellbeing of humanity: This study found that 85% of American consumers were actually willing to pay more for American-made goods.
So I mean, yes, there are the facts. The facts tell us that American-made is (almost) dead. But there are also…feelings. And feelings – the small nuances, the little whys, the whispers of change – are what move the ticking hand. It’s just how the world works: in politics, business, and art.
Something’s in the air; I feel it. We’ve gone past the point where big is cool. It’s not. Not anymore. Being nice and playing fair is. You could argue that big is more profitable. But again: feelings. Just as big became big, good can become “big” too.
Question is: why are consumers are saying they would buy American-made, even if it costs more, but the facts aren’t really caught up to prove it (yet)? Hal Sirkin, Senior Partner of the firm that conducted the above-mentioned survey, said this: “The message for U.S. manufacturers and retailers is that they are undervaluing the Made in America brand by not making it prevalent.”
Interesting. And true.
On my quest to compile a list of American-made fashion, I found it easy to list some off the top of my head because they were touting the horn of Made in USA. But for others? Not so much. Often I found it only in a product description, other times, it was in one line in the bio. Still other times, I had to do some deep digging to find country of origin.
But there are makers and businesses who see Made in USA as a stamp of pride, many of them, in fact.
A turnaround is improbable given the economics of the world we live in, but what is extremely possible and very likely given what I’ve been hearing – even from people who steadily consume fast fashion and are starting to see through the haze of it – is this: that the pendulum will settle nicely enough at a point where the fashion giants will realize that cheap at the cost of nothing is no longer worth it because cheap isn’t the only thing people want anymore.
(Although: Everlane’s LA-made tees are exceptional quality, and they’re only $15. They can do this because they’re an online retailer and have cut significant margins. Expect to see more of this, and get ready for the gap to close slowly but surely. Also, designer denim brands seem to be priced unanimously in the $180-250 range, whether American made or not.)
It’s not really about patriotism. Never really was. You see, I don’t really care about made in USA. I’ve been writing it like I’m American, but I’m not. I’m Canadian. It just so happens that most of you reading this are American. And Made in USA is widely available enough at this point that it makes it easy for anyone to dip their toe into buying with a little more kindness, wherever you’re from. That’s what it’s really about: more love. (And true, it’s not a perfect system: every once in a while, reports of American sweatshops will surface. And there are many companies that produce overseas that do so quite ethically. It’s a numbers game – you’re more likely to luck out on a company that is paying its workers fairly with locally made than not.)
So American or not, in honour of the 4th of July, I recommend looking at your label: made in USA is more diverse, more prevalent, and more accessible than you might think.
Hey, holidays are hype too – that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate them, right? So get to it and start spreading the #madeinusa love.
Photo: Emma Le Doyen