Fashion companies have not typically had full visibility into their supply chains. But in response to increasing calls from consumers for transparency, the apparel industry is aiming toward more oversight of each step in the production process.
“The textile supply chain is inherently filled with opacity because that provided the flexibility and cost advantages that manufacturers could leverage to gain business and do volume. That is changing,” said Marc Lewkowitz, president and CEO of Supima.
One of the forces currently pushing business on this path is the need to verify the provenance of raw materials to demonstrate ethical labor and environmental practices. Another incentive is the desire to tell an authentic Made in America brand story.
In a recent conversation with Sourcing Journal president Edward Hertzman, Lewkowitz and apparel brand Save Khaki United’s creative director David Mullen discussed how both their companies’ Made in America foundations allow for greater transparency.
As Mullen noted, Save Khaki United became an American-made brand by accident. When the company was first founded, it was making cut-and-sew knits in the U.S. and producing woven pants and other merchandise overseas. “In the beginning, our intent was to save khaki, not to save American jobs,” Mullen said, hence the company name. Over time, Save Khaki nearshored the rest of its production and found that manufacturing close to home enabled it to have better control of its supply chain.
Along with manufacturing locally, Save Khaki enhances its Made in America story by using Supima cotton fibers, which are cultivated in the United States. Supima growers must adhere to numerous regulations regarding labor and the environment. For example, an associate group that Supima works with in California compiled a list of all the state and federal regulations governing state agricultural practices, and when completed, it was a 600-page document. Supima’s farmers are also focused on crop efficiency, working to maximize the production and quality of the fiber while utilizing the least possible amount of resources.
Supima has strong sustainability credentials, but it was quality that originally drew Save Khaki to the branded cotton fibers as it sought an American-based raw material. Products made with Supima’s extra-long staple fibers have superior strength, length, softness and color retention compared to conventional cotton, which positively impacts product durability.
This focus on quality reflects the intent of Save Khaki’s product development. Mullen wants to make garments that consumers gravitate toward because of aspects such as design and fit, with sustainability and responsibility built-in.
This also extends to the way in which the company communicates with its mostly male customer base. “Consumers are becoming more and more aware of how their consumption affects their lifestyle or the quality of life for their kids and grandkids, but I don’t think you want to beat them over the head with it,” Mullen said. “It’s sort of a delicate balance; you can’t be too self-righteous about it.”
Producing in the U.S. comes with higher costs and regulations than companies would face overseas, but it can be a reason why customers choose one brand over another. Lewkowitz said he’s “bullish” on the potential for more American garment production, since it enables brands to tell a better story. “Consumers have infinite choices, and they can buy product at any price point, from a $10 T-shirt to ones that run in the hundreds,” he said. “It’s more a question of the authenticity about the brand, and why they exist.”
Click the image above to watch the video to hear more about Save Khaki’s made in America journey and its experience working with Supima.