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Made in America Revival Has Been a Grassroots Effort

Efforts and activity to revive U.S. apparel and textile manufacturing continue to percolate, and it’s coming through in grass roots initiatives and newfangled company strategies.

American Giant, for one, has launched its first new product of 2018–the Roughneck Pant for men–and probably its most challenging to stay true to its Made in American sourcing strategy.

“We wanted to make a stretch canvas pant that was both utilitarian and looks great,” Bayard Winthrop, CEO of American Giant, said, “Producing that material and silhouette in the U.S. is a challenge because the machinery isn’t widely available. It forced us to expand our manufacturing footprint to Georgia to make the pants the way we wanted.”

As an e-commerce specialist, American Giant made a name for itself with its high-quality sweatshirts and T-shirts made in the U.S. Last fall, American Giant introduced its first structured jacket as part of its Work Collection. It was a men’s mechanic jacket made from durable water resistant canvas.

The Roughneck pants are made with fabric milled in Georgia and constructed into a five-pocket, relaxed fit garment in Los Angeles. American Giant also has two company-owned cut-and-sew facilities around Raleigh, N.C., which are supported by a Carolinas-based cotton supply chain.

“It’s a unique approach to product development because it always comes down to our supply chain and our deep commitment to our manufacturing partners.” Winthrop said. “We want to know the cotton farmers, ​the ginners, the yarn spinners and knitters, every single component–the proximity to the production process that allows us to get the product right, keep the quality high and continue to build our U.S. manufacturing presence. The Roughneck is emblematic of this mission.”

Made America Revival Has Been Grassroots Effort
Photo credit: American Giant

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According to the National Council of Textile Organizations, the value of U.S. man-made fiber and filament, textile and apparel shipments increased 4.7% in 2017 to reach $77.9 billion, which is 16 percent above 2009 levels. Investment in fiber, yarn, fabric and other non-apparel textile product manufacturing more than doubled to $2.1 billion in 2016 from $960 million in 2009.

The resurgence of Made in America and reshoring of the industry has been incremental and led largely by company efforts to enhance quick response delivery capabilities and have more flexible production, as well as by government-industry alliances in major hubs like New York and Los Angeles. Georgia is also the source of a new initiative to promote apparel manufacturing in the state.

A new line of “Georgia Grown” T-shirts made with cotton grown locally and T-shirts sewn in the state bowed last week. The project is a partnership with the Georgia Cotton Commission, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and Georgia’s cotton farmers.

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black presented Georgia State Governor Nathan Deal with a 100 percent Georgia Grown cotton t-shirt during a press conference held at the Georgia State Capitol on March 20.

“With the largest row crop industry in this state being cotton, it is an honor to present 100 percent cotton shirts grown and sewn in Georgia,” Black said at the press conference. “We are thrilled to identify a transparent supply chain to produce a high quality, Georgia-made product that consumers will be proud to wear.”

The 100 percent cotton shirts are sourced from South Georgia and ginned at Osceola Cotton Company in Irwin County, Ga. Platinum Sportswear receives the finished fabric and sews the shirts at its facility in Wilkes County. The entire process is completed within a 600-mile radius.

Georgia Grown has partnered with local screen printers, including Georgia Industries for the Blind, to complete the design process, the shirts can be customized and feature a 100 percent Georgia Grown cotton tag.

“With more than $73 billion in economic output each year, agribusiness is the largest industry here,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said at the launch event. “An important part of that industry, which is directly tied to this Georgia Grown project, is our cotton sector, as almost 20 percent of all American cotton comes from Georgia. With this project, we are recognizing the farmers, growers and raisers who are ultimately responsible for so much other business all along the farm-to-consumer supply chain.”

Further north, the Saint Louis Fashion Fund is making a push to bring the city’s fashion industry and manufacturing back to its roots of a Midwest center of apparel wholesaling.

Saint Louis Fashion Fund co-founder and chair Susan Sherman said the fund’s incubator, ongoing search for a high-tech apparel manufacturing facility and request for proposals to transform Washington Avenue and restore its garment district, will help re-ignite the fashion industry in St. Louis.

The Incubator is offering a two-year program in business, fashion, merchandising and retail to six designers selected through a national search. Each designer has a studio in the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator and access to shared resources like cut-and-sew capabilities, a reference library, conference and meeting rooms, office equipment, and a small retail boutique to show their lines.

“It’s right in the heart of the old garment district here,” Sherman said. “We give the student designers cash, connections and sales support. We’ve raised $2 million from the city and community to support the effort.”

The Saint Louis Fashion Fund is working with Washington University’s Olin School of Business, the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and other local and national partners.

Sherman said with the incubator now established as a place to nurture emerging designers, having just graduating its first class, “We’re now trying to figure out the production piece.”

She noted that there are pockets of apparel manufacturing in St. Louis, but it’s basic sewing like uniforms. The fund has been in touch for networking and collaboration with similar programs in Detroit, Nashville, Minneapolis, Dallas and Chicago.

She said St. Louis was once one of many fashion centers in the U.S., making such products as shoes, lingerie, dresses and hats.

“The story is resonating,” she said. “There’s intense interest. We’re at the point where we’re going to announce something real soon. We feel small batch production is something we could do here. There are so many brands that want to reshore to the United States for some many reasons. We are working hard to bring something to St. Louis.”