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Has Protectionism Made Sourcing in America Great Again?

In more cases than not, protectionism carries with it negative connotations, but America’s increasingly strained trade relations may be giving Made in America sourcing a little kick in the pants.

Whether that’s for fear of border adjustment taxes or sudden and soaring duties for foreign dealings remains to be seen, but U.S. manufacturers exhibiting at Texworld USA had positive things to say for the potential of sourcing in the States.

For Jim Andriola, a sales representative for Texollini, a Long Beach, California-based fabric supplier, interest in Made in America at Texworld this year was reaffirming of a trend he saw shaping up in the years following the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Around 2010, he said, “A lot of low-tech industries began looking for sourcing locally. Not to change their platform in a dramatic way, but to consider their platform in a different way.”

From there, the entrance of fast fashion made Made in America an increasingly interesting option.

“It was the changing mindset of the leading retailers, like Zara, which is very fast fashion,” Andriola said. “You can’t do very fast fashion 8,000 miles away, but you do it in shorter runs and you do it more often.”

The U.S. can be considered among the more innovative in the industry and the country isn’t making a million units of cotton jersey T-shirts, Andriola explained.

“We make the product that you need in the store to separate you from the competition. That’s what I think our hemisphere is about,” he said.

More than offering compelling product to a consumer that will no longer settle for less, making in America has meant a peace of mind it hasn’t meant in recent years.

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“Our geopolitical moment that we’re in,” Andriola said, “I think that’s also going to keep people focused regionally as opposed to just globally. They have to be aware that things could change dramatically and they have to protect their business.”

Texollini has seen interest in U.S. sourcing growing slowly but steadily since 2010, and now the confluence of things like the financial situation, environmental awareness, Millennials’ desire for uniqueness and the shifts in how brands and retailers get product to the consumer has made sourcing in America great again—or at least it’s started to.

Companies that weren’t interested in U.S. manufacturing before are starting to partake, according to Andriola, and those early adopters who started putting their U.S. sourcing strategies in place between 2012 and 2014 now have factories in place and production is getting underway.

“This is the most animated I’ve seen our ecosystem in a long time and it seems like a very exciting time to be in the industry again,” Andriola said. “So factories and mills and yarn spinners, they should all be feeling that opportunity is knocking on the door and we should be poised to take advantage of that. And I think it’s happening.”

But what’s it going to take for greater uptake in U.S. sourcing? Amazon, of course.

“Amazon is going to lead a very strong resurgence in this hemisphere with their private label brands and their approach to manufacturing, and I think it’s going to be incumbent on the rest of the industry to pay attention to that and figure out how to participate. That’s going to be the game changer for the next 10 years,” Andriola said.

For David Sasso, vice president of sales for Samil Spinning Co. & Buhler Yarns, America needs more than Amazon if there’s to be any kind of sourcing here to talk about.

“What’s missing in the United States is diversity,” Sasso said. “We lost so much know-how in our industry and if you want to have some special finishes, you can’t do it because either the machinery is not there or the know-how is not there.”

American manufacturers may also be ill prepared to ride the wave in the direction that apparel’s going.

“U.S. mills don’t handle low minimums very well and that’s something they’re going to have to learn because that is the future of manufacturing,” Sasso said.

But beyond that, those interested in sourcing in the U.S. will have to readjust their perspectives on price and accept that U.S.-made is going to mean more money.

“People who are sourcing need to understand this thing of making to what demand is as opposed to ‘I need to have fabrics or garments that are the same price as what’s made in Asia,” Sasso said. “It’s about a healthy supply chain and what’s feasible. It’s about understanding that manufacturing to known demand has lower risk than sourcing far away. Product has to be on target—design, color, fit, all these things. If you know what you’re making, then you could sell first price. You see the rise of custom made products—what risk is there if you know what you’re going to make and it’s already sold?”

Whether people who are sourcing have all this figured out yet or not, they are at least looking to dip a toe into U.S. manufacturing.

Billy Park, sales manager for Los Angeles, California-based Silver Vision Textiles, an exhibitor at Texworld USA, said interest in what U.S. mills are doing is high.

“We’ve been getting a lot of reaction from people looking for U.S.-made fabrics. A lot more than before,” Park said. “It seems like last year a lot of people, startup companies, they reached out overseas to China and made the trial and error and it didn’t seem too positive I guess.”

Silver Vision Textiles has a wide range of knitters with different capabilities, and the company is producing thermals, sweaters and specialty novelty knits, among other things. Silver Vision counts Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Free People, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and American Eagle among its clients.

Though some Texworld attendees were surprised fabrics were even still being made in the U.S., those in the know were looking for quicker lead times, eco-friendly options and functional fabrics, according to Park.

The key in translating that interest into any substantial sourcing in America, however, will be increasing awareness and making sure no one in the industry is surprised about what’s still being Made in the USA.

“I think it’s more awareness of what capabilities we have, first of all, and then secondly, you may be paying a price at a premium,” Park said. “But there are also advantages to that even though you’re paying a higher price.”