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SJ Guest Editorial: Is Made In America Real?

When it’s deliver-or-die, supply chains become the lifeblood of a company. To that end, the fashion industry has embraced technology to navigate today’s hyper-complicated supply chain, with myriad solutions shaping the first, middle and last mile. Call it Sourcing 2.0.

It has been over 18 months since this question first opened discussions in U.S. businesses of all sizes. Being in the fiber business, I am fortunate to work with all segments of the supply chain, from spinners to knitters/weavers, and brands and retailers on both coasts.  Last week I met with the LA market to find out if Made in America is real, or all talk.

There are some companies who have built their businesses around souring in the USA, like contemporary knit brands like American Apparel, Michael Stars, Ella Moss, and James Perse. Denim brands like Rich and Skinny, Paige, and Seven for All Mankind are also known for their USA production.  The USA excels at producing crafted t-shirts and USA heritage denim products.

Mass retailers like Walmart and JC Penney have openly publicized their desire to source domestically.  They seek a sourcing portfolio with an option in this hemisphere.  In August 2012 Abercrombie and Fitch even said they brought production back to the USA and Central America to supply trends with shorter development times.  Anthropologie recently opened an office in LA to work with the local vendors.

As retailers and brands investigate the viability of  “Made in the USA,” there are some obstacles.  For most large brands and retailers, established internal systems are geared towards sourcing, inspection and shipping from Asia.  After sourcing in Asia, retailers and brands try to make comparison charts with the USA.  However, there are not the same raw materials and production equipment as in Asia so comparisons are rarely apples to apples.  Labor rates, shipping and duty rates also need consideration.

What value is placed on speed to market and briefer time of ownership?  Having the right product, in the right place, at the right time could reduce the vicious markdown cycle we have in USA retail. Unique trends and right merchandise commanding full price means better margins.

I communicate daily with mills in Asia, but what I witness in LA is the spinner walking to meet the knitter, and then both driving on a freeway to visit their customer.  They all speak the same language, in the same time zone, and do not need to rely on a lengthy email chain.   With all the domestic sourcing activity in the past year, I now update the USA mill list monthly, because I send it out almost every day to some brand seeking to source in the USA.  There are just as many inquiries about factories.

There are even rumors of brands coming together to invest in state-of-the-art factories. It shows that we can have domestic alternatives by determining the obstacles in the supply chain and working together to overcome them.

As I was shopping this weekend, I found Wallace and Barnes brand at J Crew and T.LA at Anthropologie – both are made in the USA.  Brooks Brothers even features “Made in USA” as a category on their website.

Is “Made In America” real? I say, YES! The next question is, will the consumer value Made in the USA, and continue the rebirth?

Tricia Carey is the USA Merchandizing Manager for Lenzing Fibers. Her global sourcing experience assists brands and retailers to evaluate supply chains and realize effective means of using Lenzing Fibers. She is also Vice-Chair at Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of sustainable textiles. She has worked in fibers and fashion for over 14 years.

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