Believers in the ‘American Religion’
At a True Religion store in Hong Kong, located in the shopping mall of International Financial Center (IFC), the commercial building in the city with the sky-high rents, the store manager proudly told customers that all denim jeans were USA made. Priced in a range of around US$250 to US$400 per pair, the True Religion jeans really are luxury items for the casual dresser.
True Religion was started by an American in 2002 based on the principles of quality, authentic American-made denim, with timeless appeal and a vintage aesthetic. For years, Hollywood stars and celebrities have been seen wearing the luxury jeans and their fans are following suit. As a 400-million-dollar company listed on the NASDAQ today with 125 standalone stores worldwide and a distribution network in 50 countries on six continents, True Religion has proved the value of quality American-made denims.
American Apparel and True Religion are examples of how US fashion brands successfully bring to new heights their unique positioning through differentiation and by building brand security through a loyal group of local and overseas customers. Their stories have proved that there are non-American believers in US fashion brands because they represent real quality as well as liberal beliefs, which are always backed by a good American story.
The emergence of an ‘Onshoring’ trend
At the opening session of the 2013 AAFA Annual Executive Summit, Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), said: “In 2011, domestic apparel and footwear manufacturing increased 7.9% and 11.1% respectively, and we expect the 2012 numbers to be even greater, as the ‘Made in America’ momentum for apparel and footwear builds.”
The numbers are showing a ‘comeback’ for US apparel manufacturing. Yet, it is noteworthy that still less than 3% of all apparel purchased in the USA today is manufactured domestically.
During an interview with Tradegood, John M. Martynec, Vice President, Manufacturing, of Brooks Brothers, explained the difficulties the company has encountered in domestic manufacturing. Not only is there a lack of skilled workers, but getting the right fabrics and setting up factories are not easy tasks. His vision is to make one product in 1,000 ways and to be flexible.
As the oldest menswear chain in the USA, and which now has manufacturing facilities from New York to North Carolina, Brooks Brothers has dressed a number of US presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and the current US president, Barack Obama. The latter wore a Brooks Brothers coat, scarf, and gloves during his inauguration in 2009. Today, the majority of its products are imported from other countries, though it keeps some of the premium lines to be manufactured locally.
Despite the fact that apparel manufacturing in the USA has its obstacles, and can be impossible for brands and retailers which require large-scale production, there is definitely a re-emergence of smaller-scale manufacturers and vendors that answer to the demand for US-made fashion. All American Clothing Co. and USA Love List are some of the sites that have emerged in response to consumers’ demands. The stress on ‘Everything we sell is USA-Made’ is prominent. Department store websites such as Macys.com and Nordstrom.com have also answered to this trend by linking products to ‘Made in USA’ searches.
The best is yet to come
The Obama administration’s National Export Initiative aimed at doubling US exports by 2014 has also put the textile and apparel industry at the forefront. The LA Mayor’s Office is one of the most active among cities in support of driving domestic economic development. In 2012, the Office’s Economic and Business Policy launched the ‘Designed/ Made in LA’ initiative with the aim of raising the profile of Los Angeles brands domestically and around the world.
The initiative’s five-pronged approach includes an online resource guide to easily identify local manufacturers. The Office has a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership with Tradegood to build an LA manufacturers database for US apparel manufacturing.
As today’s fashion world calls for shorter product cycles and greater flexibility and variety in product differentiation, the fast-fashion model that is used by many US domestic manufacturers can provide an added advantage to the industry. These manufacturing bases have a quick response time and enhanced design capability, which gives brands and retailers the flexibility to make big changes to the orders even after the season has begun. Fast-fashion products have proved to have higher sell-through rates than those manufactured by the traditional approach, and consumers are more willing to pay the full retail price.
Undoubtedly, there will be a lot more to come from both government and brands themselves regarding the ‘Made in USA’ label. With the American spirit, talented designers and entrepreneurs in the USA should be prepared to welcome more independent brands to the American fashion scene, whether it’s a new Tom’s Shoes or a J Brand.