Bringing it home

If ever there were a good time to shout about U.S. apparel production, it’s now.

At Sterlingwear of Boston, Jack Foster sings the praises of his 350 dedicated employees whose cutting and sewing skills have created a highly successful outerwear business. At J.S. Blank, Barbara Blank proudly shows me around her third-generation Manhattan workshop, where she’s worked side by side with her dad (and her grandfather before him) producing beautiful neckwear in the heart of Manhattan. At JA Apparel, Tony Sapienza describes increased recruiting from new immigrant populations near his New Bedford facility and the impressive training programs set up in the factory. At Southwick, John Martynec rattles off some of the 15-plus different languages spoken on his production floor (Burmese, Vietnamese, Cambodian…) and describes recent visits from Japanese reporters and photographers who came halfway across the globe to do a magazine feature on the factory in Haverhill, Mass.

At IAG, Joe Blair attributes much of their recent growth to marketing local: basing the cachet of Gitman Vintage shirts around its roots in Ashland, Penn., and Individualized’s iconic white button-down oxford on homegrown New Jersey craftsmanship. “But it’s interesting,” Blair points out, “that the message resonates more intensely outside of the States than within: 70 percent of our Gitman Vintage shirts are sold to Japan; of our branded Individualized shirts (most of the business in the States is private label), 90 percent of the exports are to Japan. Our branded business is also strong in Korea, Scandinavia and Europe, especially the U.K.”

But just possibly, at least according to a survey by Boston Consulting Group conducted in September, American consumers might be starting to appreciate American-made products, even to the point of paying more for them. Based on more than a thousand responses, this survey found that 80 percent of U.S. consumers prefer made in the USA to made in China. For apparel and footwear specifically, 45 percent said they’d be willing to pay a 10 percent premium for an American-made item; 21 percent would pay a higher percent premium. Patriotism was cited as the primary reason: 93 percent said they want to keep jobs in the U.S. Quality was the secondary reason, with 85 percent believing that we make a superior product here. (And think about it: this survey was done before the recent deadly fire in Bangladesh emphasized the urgent need for improved safety standards in factories overseas.)

In this special Made in America section of MR, we walk you through some of the challenges and opportunities of producing and marketing American menswear and share a few success secrets from the retailers and manufacturers who are doing it well. Clearly, it’s an exciting time to be making beautiful garments in America!

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