America’s fledgling designers are keen to make domestic manufacturing great again.
Opening day of Sourcing at Magic in Las Vegas Sunday started on a local note with a panel on ideas for branding, retailing and producing product domestically.
What came out of it was evidence that locally-sourced start-ups are succeeding in greater numbers and that new platforms and simplified technology are fueling the resurgence in reshoring, no matter how niche.
Part of what’s driving the success of brands touting Made in USA is today’s consumer, one who wants their products to come with a side of story.
“Millennials are caring more and more and more about the where and the why behind what they’re consuming,” said Moorea Seal, president of Moorea Seal Inc., a site and—so far—single storefront selling handmade accessories, jewelry and curated global goods. “They’re more interested in investing in products that have meaning to them.”
Today, consumers want products that tell a story and many are buying into the Made in USA branding because of the story it tells—one of supporting local creators, fueling the local economy, maintaining quality control, and often, one where ethical labor may be more the norm.
“Storytelling is so essential to my brand,” said Seal, who got her start as a blogger and built her following on Pinterest prior to launching into e-commerce. “When you carry a bunch of brands that carry their own story too…it makes the shopping experience so much more meaningful.”
At Moorea Seal, 7 percent of all retail proceeds are donated to non-profit organizations and consumers even have the option to shop the site by cause, with choices including: caring for animals, children’s needs and protecting our planet.
In some cases, the desire to maintain local production is so great, brands are encouraging simpler, more streamlined designs so that products won’t have to be outsourced to maintain palpable price points—which is, in part, driving the trend toward more minimalism.
“We have to think about manufacturing products that aren’t going to be too expensive to produce,” Seal said. “Make it simple so it’s a lot easier to produce locally.”
Quality control has also been top of mind for domestic brands that want to deliver on the promise of Made in America quality. It’s easy for new brands to get caught up thinking producing overseas will mean getting quality goods cheaper and faster, but that often isn’t the case.
“We did some goods overseas and 20 percent of it was good and the rest was garbage,” Seal said, adding that, on the other hand, having access to the designer and producer in Seattle—where much of Moorea Seal’s local product is made—meant being able to pay them a visit, point out what wasn’t working and start getting it corrected on the spot.
Reese DeLuca, co-founder of De La Commune, a luxury loungewear line, focuses on making the brand’s entire collection in Los Angeles to get the best quality workmanship. Goods for the line—which began as a Kickstarter campaign that turned out successful—are hand sewn by workers in the city.
What’s more than just the quality and the Made in USA story, consumers are starting to express an interest in goods made in specific cities, DeLuca said, which is why some of the brand’s labels boast Made in LA.
“It does give it a certain vibe,” DeLuca said. “I think the specific location does work depending on what you’re really trying to portray as a brand.”
City-made labels take the Made in America trend a step further, lending more to the stories that consumers will buy into.
“SF-made is huge,” added Liz Rossof, director of think tank Betabrand, a San Francisco-based online clothing community where fans co-design and crowdfund new brands into being. “There’s a lot of momentum around SF-made and I think there’s a certain cache that goes beyond.”
At Betabrand, designers can feature a product on the site, give it a chance to get some attention, and if it garners enough, the company will adopt the brand, taking it into into crowdfunding in the form of sales on the site (which the designer/brand gets 5 percent to 10 percent of the proceeds for). Products have to hit a minimum value in sales before going into production because, as Rossof put it, “We don’t want to make things that people don’t want to buy.”
The concept of not making until there’s demand is one more retailers will need to catch onto as excess inventory and the markdowns that result from stale, still-on-the-shelf product, isn’t doing anything for the current state of retail. And that staid, story-less product isn’t sitting well with newfangled consumers anyway.
“It’s important to have something intimate and meaningful,” Seal said. “In building my brand, it’s been very important for me to feel very deeply connected to my customers. I want customers to feel very welcome in my space online and in the store.”