Made in America: Foreign Appeal

Shoppers across the globe show interest in MIA.

By Jillian Sprague

American art and fashion have long had admirers abroad. More recently, some American brands that produce domestically have experienced sales growth in foreign nations. But do international retailers truly seek out brands because they’re made in the U.S.? Or are American-made goods simply trending as Americana and heritage styles enjoy popularity?

In the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland, The Bureau offers Raleigh Denim, New Balance, Post Overalls and Gitman Bros., among a handful of other U.S.-made brands and a few from Japan and the U.K. Co-owner Michael Hamilton says, “We intentionally seek out companies that produce in North America, Western Europe and Japan. At present quite a few of these companies are U.S. producers. We are very interested in the authenticity, simplicity and honesty of classic Americana (though many of the best, like Engineered Garments and Yuketen, have a Japanese eye behind them).”

Chris Olberding tells MR that about 30 percent of Gitman Vintage’s business comes from Japan, the same amount they’re doing here in the U.S. The U.K. accounts for another 10 percent, and they’re also selling to Scandinavian countries and Korea, with China starting to open up as well. “At Pitti Uomo I wrote orders from 27 different countries and opened six new international accounts,” Olberding says.

Growing interest in American made may simply be an extension of a broader interest in authenticity and quality. These factors are generally believed to play a larger role in the buying decisions of Asian and European consumers than they do for Americans, who are increasingly looking for the lowest prices, even if it means sacrificing quality.

“Made in America is a definite selling point, but for us it’s more about the fact that our shirts are still made in the original factory. It’s about the history and authenticity. Customers want a great classification product: the best button-down, the best belt, the best T-shirt. It’s more about that type of thing. And it’s important for us to own our own factory because then we’re able to personalize everything (change collars, cuffs, etc.) for our customers,” says Olberding.

Michael Fisher, men’s editor at Stylesight, a global digital trend forecasting service, agrees that the made in America catchphrase has a certain appeal, but quality is what drives sales. “The reality is that manufacturing costs are high in order to produce and distribute in the U.S. The consumer who doesn’t mind paying a bit more is rewarded with higher quality and the knowledge that his clothing came from a tried-and-true artisan. As we move forward, more men will demand authenticity and value over fast-fashion.”

But with plenty of brands hopping on the heritage bandwagon (many of whom offer lower prices than vendors who produce in the U.S.) why do international shoppers care if their American-inspired fashions are actually made in America? “I find that the Japanese have always appreciated made in America,” says Jason Schott of Schott Bros., which produces some of their outerwear in the U.S. There’s a certain character of American bravado that Japanese customers really romanticize and identify with.”

Hamilton says that at The Bureau, “We do not regard ourselves as a heritage store or someone jumping on this bandwagon. We were stocking Red Wing, Woolrich, Schott NYC leathers, etc. back in the early ’90s. We were the first European stockist of Engineered Garments, but this is out of a love for this look and their designs rather than following a trend at present.

“For us it is better to buy the American look from a U.S. producer but whether this is true across the general market I am not sure. Our customer is generally someone who appreciates product along with the story of the producer, and the people that we are working with from the U.S. fall in to this bracket. We are pleased with how all our American brands are selling.”

Ouigi Theodore believes that goods made in America offer foreign customers an authenticity that can’t be imitated. His store, The Brooklyn Circus, is a destination for many Japanese tourists who visit New York, while his wholesale line BKc is sold abroad by retailers in Stockholm and Tokyo. “I’ve asked some of our Japanese customers, ‘You guys produce some amazing stuff, and you can get everything you want in Japan. Why do you want what we do?’ They tell us they look for authentic American product and authentic American culture. That’s one of the only things that the Japanese—or anyone else in the world—can’t make, explains Theodore. “We live it, and we are it; you have to get it from the source.”

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