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Made in America: The Good, the Bad and the Potential

There’s good news and bad news for the status of Made in USA: the need is there and factories are humming, but inherent problems persist.

Quick turn is an advantage for domestic manufacturers, especially those operating in the fashion hubs of New York and Los Angeles, but there are still lead times required. While many factories in the U.S. have become nimble, they also lack some of the capabilities of large overseas facilities.

Stakeholders in the sector discussed the pros and cons of Made in America at a seminar during Texworld USA in New York last week. Moderator Christine Daal, who runs consultancy Fashion Angel Warrior, said quality control, small minimums, speed to market and a more complaint system are all advantages of manufacturing in the U.S. While costs are higher, the U.S. is also known for energy efficiency, which can help contain some of those costs.

“There are misconceptions that you can make anything here, which just isn’t true,” Eric Beroff, president of Spoiled Rotton USA Inc., which has a factory in The Bronx, said.

Eveningwear garments with beading or heavy ornamentation and generally apparel that is overly complicated either can’t be made in the U.S. because the machinery isn’t available or the labor costs would be too high. “The labor costs in the U.S. are among the highest in the world, so people have to understand that and take it into consideration when deciding where and what to manufacture,” Beroff said.

Anthony Lilore, designer at Restore Clothing, took a different approach.

“People think we don’t make anything here anymore. I tell them that we certainly do and we make it very well. But there are things you shouldn’t make here.”

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Lilore said he scoffs at the notion that U.S. manufacturing is coming back–“nothing really is coming back,” he said.

Large-scale and intricate manufacturing went abroad a generation ago and its staying there, he explained. What has made U.S manufacturing valid again, according to Lilore, is “we can do smaller quantities here and companies can be closer to the factories,” which allows for greater due diligence, quality and production control and better speed to market.

“There are factories in New York and New Jersey that can make almost anything if you’re willing to pay for it and compromise on some design details,” Lilore said.

Daal added, “Simplicity of design allows you to make goods here.” Companies keen to afford production here might have to reconsider what they do with styles, seams, sewing steps, trims and materials in the garment, which each bring the manufacturing cost up.

“It’s also important to know the capabilities of the factories you’re working with,” Daal said. “You need to work with different factories that have a specialty. Most domestic factories are not vertical, which means you need to source fabric and trim, and maybe even the cutting.”

Laura Dotolo, managing principal of Clutch Bags LLC/Clutch Made, said her company does cost and source the fabric and trim for its clients. It also handles areas like social media for promoting brands.

Dotolo said U.S. factories should offer more services like sourcing and product development, which her firm does, to entice more production. Helping drive the shift in consumer mindset to one that values quality over quantity, and less consumption over getting things cheap, will make U.S. manufacturing more attractive.

Touching on the lead time issue, which is critical in a speed-to-market-centered world, Beroff said production times in the U.S. are naturally better than the average imported garment, but can still be six to eight weeks from his factory.

“That’s on new styles. On reorders, we can get cur that time down considerably,” adding that larger orders that keep the factory making the same style also improve lead times.

Beroff recommended that for startups, it’s important to work with a consultant like Clutch Made or Fashion Angel Warrior with expertise and connections. They can help prepare a new company or designer to approach a factory with full information to get samples made and costs estimated.

What will advance U.S. apparel manufacturing, Lilore said, is a greater effort toward training for factory workers, particularly on advanced machinery. He’s involved in a program, NYC Fashion M.A.D.E. (Manufacturers Alliance of Design Educators) that supports the teaching of garment manufacturing and technological skills to the fashion community. It provides grants for educational initiatives filling the manufacturing skills gap through classes and workshops.