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US Clothing Designers Seek to Satisfy Demand for American-Made

Elizabeth Lee

Fashion experts in the United States say a growing number of American consumers want domestically-made clothing. Some designers are trying to meet the demand by bringing much of their manufacturing back to the United States. In Los Angeles, clothing manufacturing is one of the largest industries in the region.


For decades, U.S. companies, including many in the textile industry, moved production of their products overseas, where labor and other manufacturing costs were lower.  It became commonplace to see labels indicating a finished product was made outside the United States.  But that trend appears to be changing.

In southern California, more than 150,000 people work in one of the largest clothing manufacturing hubs in the United States. Ilse Metchek is president of the California Fashion Association. She says Americans are demanding more U.S.-made apparel, in part because of the perception that some foreign nations engage in poor labor or trade practices.

“All that stuff going on about China not adhering to the labor laws, China manipulating its currency. People are very, very conscious; they may not know the details, they hear the noise," she said.

Another factor driving demand is the U.S. recession and the high rate of unemployment. Kathleen Hudak, a local shopper, says she hopes buying domestically made products will help put Americans back to work.

“Especially with the state of our economy and the state of unemployment. I would like to see my money going towards helping workers in our country," she said.

A report by the California Fashion Association says Chinese wages are rising due to a shrinking workforce caused by China’s "One Child" policy.  Apparel workers are also going into other Chinese industries that offer better wages, hours and working conditions.  

Lonnie Kane, president of the Karen Kane brand, agrees that economic factors in China are having an effect.

“China as its living standards are moving up, its wages are moving up," he said.

That, plus increased shipping costs and problems with quality, prompted Kane to make more of his garments in the United States.  

Many designers and retailers agree that making products domestically makes doing business easier. Frank Doroff is vice chairman of Bloomingdale's, an upscale retail chain.

“I look for products that are made in the U.S.A. because of the relationship I can develop with the manufacturer and again the speed I can get it into the stores and then the reassurance that he’s right here, the quality will be there," he said.

But the California Fashion Association says the United States will never again be one of the leaders in manufacturing apparel, in part because too much machinery and skilled labor was lost when the industry left decades ago.

So if China gets too expensive, manufacturing will simply move to lower cost countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia.

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