Editor’s letter: Making it here

by Karen Alberg Grossman

Made in America is having a moment. Maybe more than a moment.

In my 21 years as editor of MR Magazine, I’ve seen my share of domestic factories. I’ve seen suits made in Tupelo, Mississippi, Chicago, Brooklyn and New Bedford, Massachusetts. I’ve seen ties made in New Orleans, New York City, and Carmel, California. Pants in Brooklyn. Belts in New Orleans. Sweaters in Winona, Minnesota. I’ve seen high-tech machinery, digital design, intricate hand craftsmanship, tremendous pride. It’s America at its best: talented people from diverse ethnic backgrounds working together for a common goal. Or as Joseph Abboud (HMX president/chief creative officer) put it, “We don’t give our workers enough credit: what they do is extraordinary.”

There’s no denying the extent to which American apparel manufacturing has been decimated over the years: in 1965, 95 percent of American clothing was produced here; by 2009, the domestic share of market had dropped to 5 percent. Some blame NAFTA for giving Canada a huge advantage. Others blame cheap labor in Asia, the unions, an entitled generation of young people unwilling to take factory jobs or government refusal to impose tariffs on the endless barrage of cheap Asian imports.

But blame who you will, there’s change in the air. Be it our faltering economy creating a genuine desire to bring back manufacturing jobs, a long-overdue wave of patriotism, or a fashion trend toward heritage brands enhanced by authenticity, made in America is suddenly cool again. As neckwear maker Barbara Blank told me after returning from the trade show circuit, “There’s so much more enthusiasm this year for my “made in New York City” label. Retailers want American-made product; their customers are asking for it. We’ve been producing in NYC for 89 years; we never gave up on it, so this is truly gratifying.”

In this issue, we examine made in America from various perspectives: wholesale, retail and international (where, ironically, the demand is even greater than it is stateside). We include a few case studies (a domestic factory, an independent specialty store, an international chain store, a new domestic manufacturer) and our fashion pages feature only domestic product. We also present some guidelines for creating a made-in-America event in your store, and an online list of industry organizations promoting American fashion and lobbying to bring back jobs.

Perhaps Joe Blair from Individualized Apparel Group sums it up best: “Ever since the economy stumbled in ’08, Americans are realizing that as a nation, we need to go back to making things. Most understand that this is not a fleeting fashion trend or a hot button for a season or two. It’s about our country, and very much about our future.”