A white moto jacket with leather trim; a lacy, form-fitting dress; a red jasper and seed bead necklace: every piece made in the USA.
While label-conscious shoppers have been searching for the Made in USA tag for a while now, today they are more likely to find it in local boutiques, online and even the mall.
More emerging design companies like Lombardi Leather in Skaneateles and Daftbird in California are producing goods from concept to completed product on home turf. And even brand names like Ralph Lauren, Patterns of Kincaid, Frye and Alternative Apparel are producing a percentage of their pieces on U.S. soil.
“More apparel is being made in America,” says Melissa Aiello, co-owner of Melissa James The Boutique at Towne Center, in Fayetteville. “And that’s a result of the country becoming increasingly aware of the importance of making goods at home — and how that directly affects our U.S. economy.”
Shoppers, cognizant of their purchasing power, and also increasingly aware of the conditions that have been associated with mega-store fast fashion, including low factory wages, unsafe working conditions and environmental toxins and pollutants, are embracing the American name, and the surety and quality that comes with it.
“My customers generally gravitate toward U.S. brands, especially when I point them out,” says Heidi Keppeler, owner of Heidi Boutique, in Fayetteville. “Although my customers are patriotic, the craftsmanship and attention to detail are the qualities that bring customers back for more. … I think there is a flight to quality happening.”
Clothes have an intrinsic value relatable to material, time and work put into the piece. Designers and shop owners use terms such as tight weave, stitch-per-inch, invisible hems, fabric grains, etc. to associate with quality. A better garment generally costs more, yet factors such as worker production rate and transportation weigh into the final price. In opposition to fast fashion, consumers of sustainable, “slow” fashion are looking for pieces to wear for a lifetime, not just for a season.
“For so long, we’ve overvalued fashion and undervalued apparel,” says Laurel Morton, a Syracuse-area fashion designer and fashion design faculty member at Syracuse University who rents space at The Delavan Center. Morton defines fashion as being what’s trendy to wear at the moment, and apparel being the garments themselves. As a result: “We are not connected to the construction, science and history of what we are wearing,” Morton says.
What many fashion industry insiders, store owners and designers recognize is that fashion, and the market behind it, is slowly changing. Companies are also re-evaluating their social responsibilities and expectations.
“The idea that we can easily get things from thousands of miles away for a cheap price no longer makes sense,” says James B. Horan, owner of Designer Warehouse, in Syracuse. “The cost of materials, fuel, everything is going up as natural resources are being used. We will see more regionalism as people realize the necessity of using resources closer to home, they way we once did.”
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition formed by Patagonia and Walmart in 2009 has many goals for its members and the fashion industry, including the collection of supply chain information and a environmental sustainability measuring tool, the Higg Index, first released in 2012. The coalition’s hope is that full disclosure of how/where a product is made, and accountability for it, will help the industry as a whole, as well as fuel consumer desire and loyalty.
Patagonia also has embarked on a “responsible economy campaign” and has published online a footprint chronicle, allowing consumers to see exactly where materials come from and production takes place. Other brands like Amour Vert and Toms take on social causes, giving back to society. Buy a gold-rivet T-shirt at Amour Vert, and the company plants a tree in America. Buy a pair of Toms shoes, and Toms gives a pair to someone in need.
While not everything can or will be made in the USA, it’s good to know more companies are trying to do just that. And local shops are doing their best to get those items on the racks and in your closets.