A 2015 survey by Consumer Reports indicates that nearly 8 in 10 American consumers would rather buy a product made in United States than an imported one—and 60 percent of them would be willing to pay 10 percent more for it. But the sewn-goods industry faces critical questions about the “Made in the USA” label: Do the survey figures represent reality among buyers, and is the expectation for American-made specialty fabrics products different in the industrial and commercial marketplace?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Made in USA” means that “all or virtually all” of the product has been made in the United States. All significant parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin.
Industry trade groups are emphasizing the value of American-crafted products. SEAMS, the National Association for the Sewn Products and Textile Industries, has membership comprising textile providers, contract manufacturers, brands, vertical retailers and their suppliers and service providers. The organization’s mission is to strengthen the impact of “Made in America” in today’s global economy.
SEAMS employs several strategies to achieve this goal, including “supercharging” the supply chain by providing access to people, processes and products to move production back to the U.S., as well as creating a personalized and connected American “marketplace of knowledge” for SEAMS members.
Close to shore
“For us, the market in the U.S. for sewing has been good,” says Matt Boyt, head of sales for John Boyt Industrial Sewing, Urbandale, Ia. Among the products his company fabricates are custom covers, bags, strap assemblies and slings. “Many companies are looking to have their products come back to the U.S. for manufacturing, but sometimes it is not feasible to do so.”
Such is the case with apparel, most of which is still sewn offshore. “Before any change is possible, consumers in the United States must insist on purchasing items that are made here instead of just looking to buy the garment or item with the cheapest price,” says Joe Eller, vice president of JUKI America Inc.
While consumers do have the power to bring change, a shortage of experienced operators compounds the problem. Eller travels to many areas in the United States, including the furniture industries in Mississippi and North Carolina, where there are “plenty of jobs for sewing operators [but] companies can’t find skilled people,” he says.
Despite these ongoing challenges, some industry experts predict that the market will strengthen for products fabricated in the United States. “We have already seen that with customers that require their items to be made with American-made fabric and labor,” says Jim Kittle, operations manager at Jonco Industries Inc., Milwaukee, Wisc.
SEAMS’ executive director Will Duncan agrees. “It starts with the factories making changes in their culture, embracing lean manufacturing processes and practices, a commitment to formal worker training, and investing in automation,” Duncan says.
Brands and retailers must also change their paradigms regarding how they source their materials. “They must be open to evaluating supply chains based on performance at retail,” Duncan says. “They cannot continue to compare landed duty cost versus domestic manufactured cost that does not factor in many other costs such as mark-downs and stock-outs.”
Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer and editor based in Joshua Tree, Calif.