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A Made in USA Resurgence Won’t Happen Without Vertical Supply Chains

There’s currently a strong desire on the part of both retailers and consumers to bring back local textile production. We’ve seen it in the booming food movement—consumers want quality, sustainability, and purpose. They want to connect with the products they’re buying.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason companies have left working in the U.S. in favor of overseas production.

Cost, of course, is one, though the main reason companies have a more positive experience overseas is the verticality of the supply chains. Offshore factories are streamlined and efficient, making it easy to manage the full production of a garment supply chain, from farm to finished product.

Domestically, we’re working with an utterly broken system. Just a few generations ago, nearly all textiles and garments were produced locally, but since so many companies have left to build more seemingly cost-effective models in other parts of the world, it’s created a domino effect domestically.

The textile industry in the U.S. has, for the most, part unraveled, and supply chains are splintered. Without one streamlined entity, levels of workmanship, accountability and efficiency have plummeted.

As with others, I’ve found manufacturing offshore so much more efficient and cost-effective. In the U.S., MetaWear has started making inroads in rebuilding what’s broken in our own backyards. We’ve been at the mercy of subcontractors who lack reliability on both quality and timing, and who prioritize big government contracts over private businesses.

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Trying to deliver “Made in USA” product has been an eye-opening endeavor, trying to manage MetaWear’s turnkey local factory, while navigating broken supply chains, bottlenecks and lack of accountability or service. Further, the inefficiencies of freight—when shipping from factory to factory all over the coast or even country—make it even more costly and inefficient. Overall, the current state of affairs can make domestic management a logistical nightmare.

All of that aside, however, there is tremendous untapped potential in bringing textile manufacturing back to America.

There is clearly an opportunity, particularly when considering the specific demands of today’s market. As noted, we only need to look at the food movement to understand that consumers are craving a transition from global to local. Millennials, in particular, are looking for a shift to transparency and social justice. Local, ethically made and organic are important labels that tell a story of a collective commitment to sustainability and a shared humanity. And in order to expand organic agriculture as a whole, to affect change both in American food and fiber/textile production, we have to rebuild a dependable and scalable manufacturing infrastructure.

We all recognize the desire to bring textile production back to the U.S., of course to create jobs at home. Companies tend to balk at domestic labor costs, but—especially in the context of today’s conscious consumer—adding value actually can offset higher pricing when a “source to story” framework is layered in.

Add to that the hidden costs of producing overseas that we’re not evaluating on our COGS (cost of goods sold) models, and in fact, our margins and bottom lines can actually be improved with local production.

With today’s fast-fashion mindset of faster-cheaper-more, consumer demand shifts rapid fire with ever-changing trends. With that cultural mentality, there’s a significant risk of liquidation and loss from the longer lead times and higher minimums when producing overseas. Working domestically—with smaller runs and quicker turnarounds—helps mitigate these risks and balance the ultimate last cost, increasing profit. This “updated” costing model must be considered, as companies are building today’s manufacturing strategies.

There is enormous opportunity for the USA textile industry to rebuild—and it starts with vertically integrated supply chains.

The factories of the future will be service-driven, proficient, tech-savvy, and state-of-the-art, embedded with traceability, sustainability and lean manufacturing. We need to start bringing all of the moving pieces together under one roof, or at the very least, under streamlined and connected entities that are working together efficiently and effectively. By doing this, we’re not only rebuilding a system that allows for transparency, quality and job growth, we’re also benefitting brands and retailers by creating lower minimums, quicker turnarounds and less risk of liquidation—to counter the exorbitant textile waste generated by today’s overseas production models.

As an industry, we’re in a time of rapidly shifting tides, trying to bridge our ideals and visions of what could be with the practical concerns of the current system. Industry stakeholders must come together and recognize that, while it may not be as easy as in the past, if we are patient and committed to finding win-win solutions, we can build the local, sustainable factories of the future and wear the change we wish to see.

Marci Zaroff coined the term “ECOfashion” and is an internationally recognized ECOlifestyle expert, educator, innovator and serial ecopreneur. She is founder of leading sustainable fashion lifestyle companies MetaWear, Under the Canopy and Farm to Home, Executive Producer of “THREAD Documentary | Driving Fashion Forward,” and co-founder of Good Catch, BeyondBrands and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.