BIZMOLOGY — The Bangladesh garment factory collapse two weeks ago that killed some 650 people (and came on the heels of a factory fire that killed more than 100 people in November) has put the apparel industry back in the spotlight. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen and read a number of news stories with talking heads from retail associations discussing the global supply chain, but I’m left wondering, “Who’s making clothes in the US?”
Recent news coverage has noted that many US clothing companies don’t have any direct experience with their contract manufacturers and are often in the dark about working conditions. Others have said using overseas manufacturers is a good thing for the global economy since it provides jobs, but the real emphasis should be on fair trade, not moving manufacturing operations back to the US.
Viewpoints aside, I see business opportunity. If consumers start buying more domestically produced clothing, then US production might ramp up in response. Manufacturing might expand, and new competitors may even set up shop to gain their piece of market share. A recent Reuters article stated Wal-Mart pledged to spend $50 billion over 10 years buying American-made products (that’s not just apparel, by the way).
So I tapped the Hoover’s database to find out who’s making apparel right now in the US. I notice most contract manufacturers are either located in the Los Angeles area or outside New York City, where there are “garment districts.” Most just make basic cotton knits. It seems easy to buy a T-shirt made in the US, but specialty fabrics? Not so much. Some other things surprised me. For example, I really thought companies like Dickies, Levi’s, and Patagonia made their clothes here, but they don’t.
Let’s take a look at what companies are “Made in the USA.” This list is by no means exhaustive, by the way:
- American Apparel is a well-known one. The company makes inexpensive trendy clothes for the urban hipster at its Los Angeles factory. (It makes kids’ clothes too.) CEO Dov Charney has been a vocal critic of sweatshops, so most people have heard of this one, even if they’re over 25 and don’t shop there.
- Diamond Gusset makes tough jeans for men and women, from your basic denim to specialty styles for bikers and hunters. Its factory is located in Georgia.
- About 20% of Eileen Fisher clothing is made in the US. The women’s casual clothing company strives for transparency around social consciousness — it uses four US-based contract manufacturers (including Andari Fashion) and has a Made in USA section on its website. The clothes are sold online and at high-end retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
- Fox Apparel (doing business as Texas Jeans) makes men’s, women’s, and kids’ denim from a factory in North Carolina. The interesting thing about Texas Jeans is that even its fabric, thread, buttons, and zippers are made here.
- For your unmentionables, Hanky Panky makes women’s lingerie. Its website states “Hanky Panky has been manufacturing in the Northeast area of the USA since 1977. Manufacturing locally saves time, fuel, and shipping costs, thus drastically reducing the generation of CO2. It also keeps our factories where we can see them, allowing us to monitor both the quality of our products and the working conditions.” So there.
- Hippy Tree is another company that buys some of their clothes, like T-shirts and basic cotton knits, from US manufacturers. This company makes men’s surfer-style clothes. Again, not all of its clothes are made here, so check the labels or call the company — a real person answered when I did.
- Jacquart Fabric Products makes Stormy Kromer-brand rugged winter clothes such as coats and hats from a factory in Wisconsin.
- Women’s apparel maker Karen Kane makes 80% of its clothes in the US using Los Angeles-based contract manufacturers. Its clothes are sold at major department stores such as Macy’s.
- Athletic shoemaker New Balance has five company-owned factories in Massachusetts and Maine. Still, those five factories only produce about 25% of its shoes sold in the US.
- Maine-based Rancourt & Company makes quality leather shoes for men and women. Finally, something office-appropriate!
- German T-shirt company Spreadshirt has four manufacturing plants, and two are in the US (in Nevada and Pennsylvania).
In addition, the website AmericansWorking.com is a directory of hundreds of types of consumer products made in the USA, from apparel and electronics to furniture any toys.