A week has passed since America elected President Barack Obama to a second term in office. The President’s victory speech was less celebratory and more serious, focusing on forging ahead via the strength of the nation. The hope for many is that the President will focus on creating more jobs by increasing manufacturing at home, with less of a need for outsourcing to help bolster the economy.
Over the past five years, the fashion industry’s “buy American” movement preaches a similar doctrine and continues to gain momentum, especially among menswear brands and blogs. American brands, often referred to as heritage brands, that create smaller collections designed and manufactured in the U.S. are gaining popularity at home and in European markets. There are even trade shows like Northern Grade, in its third year, devoted to solely to American brands. Americana is hot all over the planet, but is it more of a trend and not a permanent movement in the market and minds? The trend needs to expand from more than just fashion bloggers, but to the bulk of consumers.
Socially conscious shopping consumers are not uncommon or new, but thanks to the internet, it’s easier for consumers to stay informed. The menswear movement is where the push for American made goods is most evident, as many of the popular goods pushed by influencers come from new American designers like Rag and Bone, Gant and Levi's. The brands embrace updated preppy and denim staples, as do companies rooted in tradition like Pendleton, Alden, and Carhartt. Menswear bible A Continuous Lean features “The American List” dedicated to stylish garments and accessories specifically to help customers “locate and buy domestically produced apparel products.” Menswear trends have dictated that men are dressing up and spawning both Americana appreciation and less directly, the nouveau nerd style.
Often "Made in America" branded gear seems to reek aesthetically of redneck, but brands are making a conscious effort to brand American clothing differently. Justin Lipsky, better known as Justin Hustle, is the owner of Another Enemy, a streetwear brand from Cleveland, Ohio. Garments on the Another Enemy website include the tagline “Made in America by Americans.”
Lipsky’s family ties to domestic production influenced his direction.
“Being a member of a generation that saw a drastic decline in American manufacturing plays a big role on what we do […],” Lipsky said. ”The fact that so many people are out of work, while we constantly send other countries orders for products that can be made here, isn't helping us recover during this economic downturn.”
Perhaps patriotism on your clothing label is the fresher, subtler way to wear your flag on your back.
Despite the demand for product, it’s difficult for many brands to do their manufacturing within the United States. Tyjuan Mathis aka Regular Ol Ty, is the owner of LDRS1345 and designer of his own All Things Regular line, says “finding someone to do what you need to be done is probably the biggest issue. Our production has been 50% percent abroad and 50% percent in the US. It will be that way unless someone local is able to produce the goods we need at a price where we can still make money.”
Lipsky echoes Mathis’ sentiments, “the benefits to keep production here are smaller runs, quicker turn around […] however we wind up paying far more than we would overseas, as well as the familiarity with certain items might give us a better product with production from China, Japan, etc.”
When surveying an American audience about shopping habits, price is always the deciding factor, followed by quality and overall style. For Sean Williams, host of the Obsessive Sneaker Disorder podcast and a PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy instructor, it comes down to quality, “being made in the U.S. is not instantly synonymous with quality product, so I'll need to see what I'm getting for [sic] patriotic sake.”
This trend among consumers can be felt at retailers as well, as Mathis has noticed at his store, “the efforts are there [by brands for American-made products] but it's also driving up the price and some consumers aren't willing to pay what it cost to get made in America pieces”
As a stylist, I always preach quality over quantity, whether it’s to students on a budget or NBA players who often shop without looking at a price tag. In opposition to the local movement, fast fashion mega brands are thriving and making clothing almost disposable. For instance, Zara has a production schedule that allows for new shipments twice weekly with constant turnaround, fueling the accessibility of goods at a reasonable price point. Not only is it wasteful, but it fuels addictive consumerism. However, many consumers are opting to buy less and buy better. A corporate media client of mine cited that he’d rather pay a bit more for investment pieces than stockpile cheap garments.
I advise clients to shop on the principles of quality style, fit, and cost per wear to justify purchases. If American-made brands can ensure quality, they can potentially steal consumers away from outsourcing mega brands. However, in a down economy it comes down to cost and pricing as the value of the almighty dollar always rules.