To the Red, White & Blue
While talk may swirl in boardrooms and state houses about how to improve the nation's course, there are some companies that have long believed in and invested in the country, with apparel that us "Made in America." This is product consumers desire, even though it is not easy to find in stores.
Oxxford Clothes have been made in Chicago since 1916. The company is part of lndividualized Apparel Group's stable, which has eight Factories and 14 brands made in America.
"My whole business is tied up in 'Made in America,' says Joe Blair, president and chairman of IAG. "There's no question in my mind that the quality coming from companies that produce in America is not only equal but superior to what we see in Asia. I think the retail industry trails consumer interest in 'Made in America'. But for retailers, it's the easiest thing to capitalize on. What's better than the authenticity of 'Made in America'"
More than half of consumers (56%) say it is very/somewhat important that the clothing they buy is made in America, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor TM Survey.
Despite this interest in American-made apparel, just 4% of apparel available at U.S. stores is made in the country, according to the Cotton Incorporated Retail Monitor TM Survey.
Three Dots has been making men's and women's product at its Los Angeles factory for 15 years. "We are very proud to offer 'Made in America' products, especially in an industry where it is not the norm," says Liz Garcia, spokesperson. "We recognize the importance and the need, and we are proud to support so many Families and help spur the nation's economy."
Roger Charles New York's shirt collection has been handcrafted in Newark, NJ, since its start in 2006. Designer Kevin Stewart felt strongly that the product, which is rooted in Americana, be produced in the United States.
"I first and foremost wanted to keep Americans working," Stewart says. "I wanted to be part of a solution to our economic situation, rather than add to the problem of sending work abroad. As a journalist and fashion director, I supported American design and manufacturing For 20 years. With my own company, it had to be this way too."
Luminaa New York's collection of women's wear is made in Manhattan's Garment District. Designer Dorothy Williams says she enjoys making her line in the district's unique community.
"It really feels like a world of its own, from the fabric and trim stores, to the patternmakers and sample hands," Williams says. "Designers like me can help revive this sector and help bring the economy back to life."
Designers and manufacturers may have varied reasons for keeping their business in the U.S., but for consumers, it is simple. Among those who say it is important that the clothes they buy are "Made in the USA," 87% say it is because they prefer to support the U.S. economy, 38% of consumers say it is because apparel made here is better quality, and 24% say it is because buying apparel made in the U.S. is more environmentally friendly, according to Monitor data.
Williams agrees with the environmental-friendliness factor. "By manufacturing in the U.S. in a reasonable way, we can reduce our carbon footprint and use our resources more efficiently," Williams says.
Blair, of IAG, says the benefits of manufacturing in America are many.
"We have lower transportation costs and fuel usage, so it's greener. There's quick turnaround because there is no transportation - or much less - because everything is right here. And we're supporting American craftsmanship and more jobs."
When co-owner Sharon Lebon started Three Dots, she liked the idea of closely monitoring every aspect of the new company. Today, most fabrics are from domestic mills and all of their garments are made in Los Angeles.
"However, we do not just sell to the Los Angeles markets; that is where we break the 'locavore' mentality," Garcia says. "We have a large domestic account base, as well as a large international business that finds buying U.S. garments appealing."
Stewart entered e-commerce with his website at the end of July. His first sale was shipped to Milan, Italy.
"I also felt that the world outside of the United States wanted a product made in the USA," Stewart says. "I believed this would be the case in the new world of global opportunity online."
Manufacturers concede that the toughest part of being "Made in the U.S.A." is the cost.
"Wages are higher here. But at the end of the day it's worth it when the results are good," Williams says. Garcia agrees. "We have to be careful about how garments are designed so that we can price them to be competitive in the market with all the other garments made overseas."
Blair sees job growth as the most rewarding aspect. "Oxxford supports 180 jobs in Chicago, IAG supports 3,000 jobs in America, so what more do I have to say? We are hiring sewers, technicians, salespeople and we continue to grow. What better statement is there in these times?"
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An Unbuttoned Look at
Love it? Check the label.
UNTIL recently, Bill Allayaud, who works as a director for the Sierra Club in Sacramento, thought people who checked labels on clothing or toys to make sure they were “Made in the U.S.A.” were everything he was not: flag-waving, protectionist, even a little xenophobic.
But lately, he said, he is becoming one of them.
“Everything I buy now, I look at the label,” said Mr. Allayaud, 56, who explained that the “buy American” movement — long popular among blue-collar union workers and lunch-pail conservatives — no longer seemed so jingoistic, and was actually starting to come into vogue for liberals like himself who never before had a philosophical problem with Japanese cars or French wine.
He said the reasons for his change of heart are many: a desire to buy as many “locally made” products as possible to reduce carbon emissions from transporting them; a worry about toxic goods made in the third world; and a concern that the rising tide of imports will damage the economy and hurt everybody.
“Every time you see ‘Made in China,’ ” he said, “you think, ‘wait a minute, something’s not right here.’ ”
“Made in the U.S.A.” used to be a label flaunted primarily by consumers in the Rust Belt and rural regions. Increasingly, it is a status symbol for cosmopolitan bobos, and it is being exploited by the marketers who cater to them.
For many the label represents a heightened concern for workplace and environmental issues, consumer safety and premium quality. “It involves people wanting to have guilt-free affluence,” Alex Steffen, who is the executive editor of www.worldchanging.com, a Web site devoted to sustainability issues, said in an e-mail message. “So you have not only the local food craze but things like American apparel, or Canadian diamonds instead of African ‘blood diamonds,’ or local-crafted toys.”
With so many mass-market goods made off-shore, American-made products, which are often more expensive, have come to connote luxury. New Balance produces less expensive running shoes abroad, but it still makes the top-of-the-line 992 model — which the company says requires 80 manufacturing steps and costs $135 — in Maine. A favorite in college towns from Cambridge, Mass. to Berkeley, Calif., each model 992 features a large, reflective “USA” logo on the heel, and an American flag on the box.
American Apparel, which carries the label “Made in Downtown LA” in every T-shirt and minidress, famously brought sex appeal to clothing basics that are promoted as “sweatshop free.” In the process it won the allegiance of young taste-makers.
Many of the American designers now showing collections at New York Fashion Week, which runs through Sept. 12, will have their goods stitched in foreign factories, a reflection of the battering of American garment manufacturing. From 2001 to 2006, clothing production in the United States declined by 56 percent, the American Apparel & Footwear Association said.
American high-fashion designers who do make clothes domestically tend to be too small, or in the case of Oscar de la Renta and Nicole Miller, willing to pay a premium in labor costs in order to maintain strict quality control.
But these brands have yet to exploit the cachet of “Made in the U.S.A.” in their marketing, in the way that some non-runway labels have seized upon. The designer Steven Alan, for one, while avoiding the Bryant Park tents, makes his distinctive rumpled dress shirts, which sell for $168, in factories in the United States, many in New York City. His “Made in the U.S.A.” labels include an embroidered American flag, which he said helps send a subtle message to his target consumer — downtown, hip, discerning — that his clothes are not just another mass-market knockoff from Asia.
Even though it is not always justified, “there is a perception that because it is made overseas,” he said, clothing is produced to the “lowest common denominator — there is not the attention to detail.”
Any move by the affluent left to conspicuously “Buy American” seems like an inversion of the internationalist sensibility that it always wore as a badge of distinction, said Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell. These people tended to be ardent free-traders as recently as the Clinton years.
“They always think of themselves as more sophisticated,” Professor Frank said. “The farther away something comes from, the presumption, the better it is.”
The evolving image of many American-made products as small-batch, high-craftsmanship products is true in other connoisseur-friendly industries as well. Fender, the guitar maker, builds entry-level electric guitars in Mexico, but it still makes higher-end Stratocasters and Telecasters — including its hand-made Custom Shop models, which sell for several thousand dollars — in California.
In bicycles, too, Schwinn and Huffy have decamped to Asia, leaving high-end specialty companies like Trek and Cannondale alone making bikes in this country, where there is “a greater sense of craft and small scale,” said Matthew Mannelly, the chief executive officer of Cannondale.
The company recently started producing its “entry level” bikes, priced $500 to $1,000, in Asia, but says it still makes the bulk of its product line — and its best bikes — in Bedford, Pa.
The new prestige of “Made in America” was not lost on Elizabeth Preston, a cycling advocate in Washington. While Ms. Preston, 33 , said that politically she is as “as far left as you can go,” she nonetheless felt drawn to the Handbuilt in the U.S.A. sticker on the $1,250 Trek road bike she bought for her boyfriend a few weeks ago. Since then, she has been showing off the sticker to friends.
“There’s something about the idea of the workmanship and supporting the United States’s economy,” she said. Stephanie Sanzone, a graduate student in environmental policy at George Mason University, says she has seen ample evidence that a “buy American” attitude is expanding.
Ms. Sanzone, 47, who lives in Alexandria, Va., started the Web site www.stillmadeinusa.com three years ago to list and promote American-made products, for environmental and economic reasons, she said.
Unlike many “Buy American” Web sites, which feature images of weeping bald eagles or quotations from Pat Buchanan, Ms. Sanzone, a Democrat, keeps her site nonpartisan. In the last month, she said, traffic has jumped fourfold, with new visitors including vegans, green shoppers, “Free Tibet” activists and visitors from the Web site democraticunderground.com. Many said the recall of Chinese-made toys inspired them to act, but many also told her that they were starting to expand their focus beyond toys. “I’m getting all these impassioned e-mails saying, ‘I’m never going to buy anything made in China again,’ and it really is from a different crowd,” she said.
The recent recalls of Mattel toys, made in China with lead-based paint, prompted many parents to seek American-made toys. Joan Blades of Berkeley, Calif., president of MomsRising.org, a mothers’ rights advocacy group with 100,000 members, predicts many parents are going to be checking labels and favoring American-made products, even if they are as simple as wooden blocks, as the holiday season approaches. “I think more and more mothers are going to be particularly distrustful of goods made in China,” she said. Indeed, some domestic companies, such as Stack & Stick, which produces building blocks, or Little Capers, which makes superhero costumes, are working American flags and “Made in the USA” messages into their advertising, as well as marketing themselves as a safe alternative.
Skeptics say there are limits to how far the National Public Radio demographic will go as it flirts with a cause long associated with the Rush Limbaugh crowd. It is hard to imagine, say, that people who tote reusable cotton bags to Whole Foods will ditch their beloved Saabs for an American-made Chevrolet Cobalt.
“People like that don’t even know where the Chevy store is,” said Ernie Boch, president of Boch Automotive in Norwood, Mass., who operates Honda, Subaru and Toyota dealerships in the Northeast. “It’s kind of like people who stay at the Four Seasons. They’ve heard of Motel 6, but they don’t stay there. It’s not part of their vernacular.”
Nonetheless, the new interest from yuppies in seeking out domestically made products is evident to traditionalists like John Ratzenberger, best known as the actor who played Cliff in “Cheers,” who grew up in the factory town of Bridgeport, Conn., and is now the host of “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America,” a Travel Channel show that celebrates craftsmanship at factories.
“When we started doing this show, we were accused of being xenophobic, flag-wavers,” said Mr. Ratzenberger, whose show began five years ago. “The more we did our show, the more people are looking around in their own towns, realizing once these companies close, it’s going to affect the fabric of their communities. Things they took for granted, like sponsors for Little League for example, aren’t there.”
“This,” he said, “goes right across the political spectrum.”
Men and Business Rediscover the Importance of Presentation
Professional wardrobes are back! The dress-down trend has had a beginning, a “muddle,” and now an end, as evidence mounts that men are returning to the fold of tailored clothing and personalized service.
The end of summer typically marks the end to casual dress in many company offices, and this year is no different, with clear indications from some of the nations most respected businesses that they are getting serious about image. No doubt this trend will influence the way men dress not just for a few seasons, but for years to come.
“The astounding success of the dot-com industry was probably a big factor in the shift away from traditional modes of business dress. However, looking like a dot-commer no long has the fashion cachet it did a short while ago,” notes John H. Daniel Custom Tailors. “We are hearing more and more from our clients who work in upper management that they are relieved that the dress-down trend seems to have come to a natural end. It would seem that reports of casual dress impacting negatively on workplace behavior and habits were well founded. We are not only hearing this from our own clients. Members of the Custom Tailors & Designers Association are reporting the same experience all over the country.”
Return of Business Dress
There’s little doubt that men are making business dress a priority. Surveys of business trends are indicating that the casual dress movement has been a failed experiment. Confusion, frustration, careless work habits, manners and thinking, not to mention a poor impression on customers – this is what has become of the casual dress movement.
A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (New York Times June 13, 2001) found that “companies that allow casual attire fell to 87% from 95% in 1999. By then, signs of misgivings about the trend had already appeared.”
In another survey last year by Jackson Lewis, an unemployment law firm, 45% of responding executives thought relaxed standards of dress promoted tardiness and absenteeism. Even politics have entered the fray, with George Bush’s directive of a conservative dress code for members of his administration.
Business once again seems to require professional dress, grooming, and manners. According to the NPD Group, a market research firm (also mentioned in the New York Times article), men’s dress shirt sales have been increasing steadily over the past several years.
According to custom tailors across the country, today’s men want comfort without sacrificing elegance and personality. More and more, men are turning to lightweight, softly constructed suits and sport coats in luxury fabrics such as cashmere, silk blends, and super merino woolens as lighter-weight versions of more traditional cloths.
In addition, John H. Daniel Custom Tailors has noted that companies are now searching for sound guidance on how to rewrite the dress guidelines that were thrown out some time back. We are returning to a time when the leaders want to be easily distinguished from the followers. Personalized service and tailored clothing designed and made for the individual are what John H. Daniel Legendary American Tailors have been offering since 1928.