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Rebecca Mallett

Apparel grown in the USA

by Rebecca Mallett | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

May 24, 2013 | 5 Comments »

cottonBIZMOLOGY — Would you be willing to pay more for a shirt if you knew it was made in the US? What if the cotton in the shirt was grown in the US, but it was assembled overseas?

These are important questions the textiles and apparel industries are pondering. US consumers assign higher value to clothing assembled in America, according to recent research published in the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal from the University of Missouri. Participants in the MU study assigned a retail price of $40 to a shirt made in China and $57 to a shirt made in the US.

However, once participants were told that the cotton in the shirt was grown in the US, but the garment was assembled in China, the retail value changed to $47. The research indicates that educating consumers that apparel is made from fibers grown in the US will increase value for consumers, even if the item was assembled in China. The item will still be valued less than those assembled domestically, however.

As a result, the apparel and textile industries are considering a change to labeling requirements for garments. Currently, US clothing must have fiber content, country of origin, manufacturer, and care instructions in the label. But perhaps including fiber origin would make a product more appealing to US consumers.

The US is one of the largest cotton producers in the world and is the largest exporter, according to the National Cotton Council. Much of US cotton may be used in garments sewn around the world already. Based on this research, just adding “grown in the USA” to the label may help retailers command a higher price.

As my colleague Tracey Panek recently explained in her Bizmology post Looking for Clothes “Made in the USA,” few companies make all of their clothing in the US. Perhaps if Americans started buying more USA-made clothing, manufacturers would respond to that demand and move operations back to the US. However, the author of the MU study, assistant professor Jung Ha-Brookshire, says the higher value placed on domestically made clothing is actually a problem. According to Ha-Brookshire,

“[Americans] perceive those products to be too expensive and are less likely to buy them, opting instead to buy similar Chinese-made products perceived to be more in their price range. To help U.S. apparel businesses create and maintain domestic jobs, American consumers need to have a realistic understanding of the value of apparel made in the U.S.”

Panek pointed to Eileen Fisher and Karen Kane as brands made in the US (at least partly). But these are higher-end clothing brands. American Apparel, the well-known American-made clothing brand, is affordable but suffers from perceptions of higher prices, proving both Panek and Ha-Brookshire’s points: Affordable US-made clothing is not that easy to come by.

A “grown in the USA” or some similar label could help US clothing companies. The perceived value of clothing grown domestically but sewn abroad is higher than clothing completely made abroad, but not perceived to be as cost-prohibitive as clothing made entirely in the US.

How would more transparency in the clothing supply chain affect your purchases? Is US-made clothing important to you? Or is fair trade clothing more important than its origin?

My father is a cotton farmer and I was just talking about how wonderful it would be to know if what I was wearing may have come from his fields. This could not only boost the apparel industry, but also agriculture as demand for American grown cotton could help prices.

I think this is a big issue of culture in the US. The culture is largely focused on buying & consuming – the garment industry is no different. Daily I receive some 15 emails encouraging me to check out “the latest styles” & there’s even a subscription clothing service out of California now.

While this might be good for consumers, the trickle-down effect is in full effect: when conditions are rough on manufacturers, they’re merciless on laborers.

Rebecca Mallett

I agree that we should demand transparency for all of our products, including clothing. Few Americans expect their clothes to made in the US these days, but many probably don’t think about where the fiber was grown. What kind of impact could labels have on the farming industry? Labor conditions? Thanks for the comments.

I have been trying to find ALL AMMERICAN MADE PRODUCTS! I would pay a higher price for American grown/made clothing and products. The websites are not easy to navigate for me. I am not a youngster looking for clothing. I am a business woman wearing business casual every day. Help! I have bought from local store for a quick purchase but do not want to anymore. Help me find ALL AMERICAN MADE items.

I am responsible for putting items into our awards program (clothing, jewelry, etc.). I am trying to add more USA grown and manufactured items but it’s a challenge to find them.

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