making it in the usa

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In my 20-year career in the apparel business, I witnessed the complete and total shift away from the manufacturing of fabric and clothing in the USA to making it all in the Orient. When I was first starting out, you could actually "run downtown" in New York City to check up on your production run. There was no placing of orders way  before knowing how much you sold, no predicting trends a year ahead, no international flights or FedExing. Now that's just the way it's done. Now it's a novelty if an article of clothing is made here.

With all the wastage involved, shipping costs, and duty rates on top of it all, it boggles my mind that it's still cheaper to produce things overseas. I guess the savings involved in using cheap labor just trumps everything. Third world countries don't provide health insurance or living wages to their workers and labor is still a chunk of the cost of an item. If a company has a conscience and doesn't want to buy into all that, do they just price themselves out of the market? I don't think most companies even question it anymore. But if it were me, I'd think it would be worth it to take a second look at producing in the USA again.
And, well, it is me! That's why my tiny little company is thrilled to be doing business with American Apparel. They are actually producing here in the USA, paying their employees decent wages, providing health insurance and good working conditions, exploring organic fibers, recycling their scraps, and making a decent, price-competetive product. They pay $12 per hour to start (and that was a few years ago- it might be more now), while a 3rd world factory might pay $1 per day for similar work. Yet, American Apparel has found a way to still be price-competetive on the most price-sensitive item in the market: the tee shirt. No duty payments, or overseas shipping costs might have a little to do with it. Having a vertically integrated business might have something to do with it (no middlemen or extra mark-ups along the way). What's not to love? Ok, so they've been busted for using illegal aliens, but who hasn't been in LA? At least they were paying them fairly. So they've had a few racy ads- whatever! Read more here.

I just received my first batch of tee shirt blanks from American Apparel and found them to be of excellent quality and fashionable fit. I still can't believe they support us little people by providing a pricing structure that allows for no minimums! I ordered a dozen total tee shirts divided between a few colors and sizes.  I spent all last weekend appliqueing my little heart out and I couldn't be more pleased with the end product! The tees are listed in the shop already.
Eat your heart out Fruit of the Loom!!!

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