When California’s governor loosened the definition of what can be labeled as “made in the U.S.A.” to align more closely with the federal standard, clothing companies based in the Golden State breathed a sigh of relief.
According to the old legislation, no product could be marketed as American-made when any part of it had been completely—or considerably—made elsewhere. This law led to lots of headaches for the likes of AG Adriano Goldschmied and Citizens of Humanity—denim makers whose jeans had been cut and sewn in California using some foreign components—that found themselves being accused of deceiving shoppers who thought they were supporting U.S. jobs.
While the state’s new law says that goods can be labeled as Made in the U.S.A. as long as 95 percent of the product’s parts are produced domestically, Sourcing Journal talked to plenty of American brands throughout 2015 that work only with U.S.-manufactured materials.
Stephanie Beard designs her sort-of eponymous womenswear line, Esby Apparel (the phonetic pronunciation of her initials, SB), in Austin, Texas, and makes it at a small factory called Nola Sewn in New Orleans. And those aren’t the only stops on the nearly-2-year-old label’s production path: Beard sources silk from California and knits from North Carolina and she also uses a wash facility in New Jersey.
“One of the biggest reasons we’re made in the U.S.A. is for quality control,” Beard said, when she spoke to Sourcing Journal in March. “Being one person I can’t fly overseas all the time to check on factories.”
Designed in Philadelphia and made in various facilities throughout Pennsylvania using custom-knit fabric from the Carolinas, Toggery focuses on simple essentials such as T-shirts, tops and sweaters in muted colors with a nod to the Northeastern lifestyle.
“Being able to live in the same city I’m making my collection in allows me to bring new trends and products to the market quickly,” said Kate D’Arcy, who launched the line back in 2007, adding that she’s typically in her factories two to three times a week. “Being made in the U.S.A. is important to me not just because I believe in investing in our country but because it allows us to be adaptable to the marketplace.”
Detroit Denim Co.
Three-year-old Detroit Denim Co. has struggled to find both skilled sewers and the space it needs to expand production levels, but shifting business abroad is not something that’s ever crossed the mind of founder Eric Yelsma.
“When I did my first pair of jeans, to get that fit, I think I did 14 iterations of it. When you’re doing it overseas I don’t think you have that luxury, you don’t have the time or you’re not willing to spend the money,” he said.
And while he was looking for a new space to house his growing empire earlier this year, he was adamant that wherever the brand ends up he will continue to handcraft his straight-legged, five-pocket men’s jeans using all U.S.-manufactured material, from the selvedge denim right down to the raw-copper buttons and cotton-wrapped polyester thread.
Before brother-sister duo Rishi and Tapasya Bali launched their yoga-inspired activewear line Yogasmoga in February 2013, they spent four years researching fabric and manufacturers in Massachusetts and California and developed a proprietary technology called Aurum, a technical blend of Supplex and Lycra that uses nanotechnology to create moisture wicking, antimicrobial, pill-resistant products.
They also worked with a U.S.-based eco-dye lab to develop a kaleidoscope of colors that don’t bleed. And while American manufacturing isn’t cheap, the siblings insist on it.
“Many companies left the U.S. to go to Asia. Being Indian, I know how that environment works. Those companies are chasing cheap labor. And in a cheap labor environment there’s a lack of quality control,” Rishi Bali, a former Goldman Sachs partner, said. “A lot of companies say they can build quality product in cheap countries—that’s like putting a Band-Aid on cancer. I don’t want anything to do with that. I want a new solution.”
Working with local manufacturers was a no-brainer for New York City-based designer Danielle Ribner, who started her womenswear label, Loup, in 2009. Though small minimums, shorter lead-times and ease of communication may have fueled her initial decision to produce apparel stateside, she said it didn’t take long for a sense of responsibility to kick in.
“I quickly realized that in order for these factories to survive, they really depend on small companies like mine growing with them, and if everybody continues to move production abroad because it’s cheaper, these factories aren’t going to exist for very much longer,” she said.
In addition to making her clothing in Manhattan, she stepped her made-in-the-U.S.A. ethos up a notch in the past year by using only domestically-sourced materials (read: denim, cotton and rayon, mostly from California) in all her designs. She added, “I am a little more limited, but it means that I get to be more creative, working more with washing techniques, doing my own prints, dyeing or things like that.”