Despite the fashionable label, 'Made in America' garments still struggle.
"The Garment Center alone accounts for more than 1.1 million square feet of manufacturing space. This space houses more than 7,100 manufacturing jobs, accounting for $2 billion of economic output and 3,500 indirect jobs. And this is as many factories in the area are working at half and quarter capacities...The Garment Center is more than just manufacturing space — it’s an incubator for American talent and innovation."
-Erin Skarda, Time Magazine
While the above quote describes a very specific sector of American manufacturing (New York City's garment makers), it also quite eloquently makes the case for the entire U.S. industrial sector. Manufacturing is not just assembly line jobs. It's innovation. It's supply chain. And it's an integral part of the U.S. economy.
That said, Skarda's look at New York City's garment district could not be more relevant than it is right now. Over the summer, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) released a poll that showed 97% of voters feel favorable about Made in America products. In the months that followed, companies like Apple, Wal-mart, Oracle and Ford have announced new jobs and sourcing initiatives in the U.S. Suffice it to say, 'Made in America' is having a moment.
And yet, as Skarda mentions in Time, as of 2011, only 3% of the clothing sold in the United States was also Made in the U.S.A. Conventional wisdom suggests that it's cheaper to make clothing overseas, and the savings are passed on to the consumer. However, the people at 'Save the Garment Center' disagree.
According to Erica Wolf, executive director of Save the Garment Center — an organization that seeks to preserve New York City as the capital of American fashion — the tradeoff for price is quality: 'People buy things now that they can wear for a season and then get rid of it. Maybe that’s not the answer anymore, with where our economy is.'
AAM's poll backs up the idea that many Americans believe the quality of products made in China has gotten worse, while the quality of American-made products has improved.
So why, with all this support for American-made goods, is the Garment Center in a precarious position with the City of New York, which has previously discussed transforming the area to make it more appealing to tourists?
The truth is, there are probably a lot of reasons. But one that certainly merits exploring is whether or not American attitudes and actions align. In other words, we say we want American-made clothing, but are we really trying to influence supply and demand with our purchase decisions?
As Erica Wolf told Time magazine:
If you want to make change, it comes out of your wallet. Every consumer has a voice with their money, whether it’s a $20 pair of leggings or an $800 dress. It’s your decision.
You hear that American consumers? The ball is at least partially in your court.
Learn more about the effort to Save the Garment Center.
Image by Flickr user Ben Sutherland, used following Creative Commons guidelines
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