The last few years have not been kind to American fashion. Cheaper international labor means that more affordable (and sometimes lower quality) products have flooded our shores.
Consumers are spending less and frequently buying what won’t break the bank, which means that as more manufacturing is done overseas, there are even fewer jobs in the local fashion industry.
An informal poll of some friends and colleagues had some staunchly supporting American-made brands, while some opted for lower price points as the major deciding factor.
My friend, freelance writer Rita Colorito, shared this story: “My mother used to work as a seamstress in a high-end coat factory in Cambridge, Mass. She retired early due to unrelated injury, but outsourcing cost many of her coworkers their livelihoods. So, I’m rather inclined to buy ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ for that reason alone.”
She continues, “Most of the workers in the factory were either first-generation Americans, or legal immigrants from Italy, Portugal or Greece. In the end, that coat factory got turned into a high-tech luxury condominium building.”
I was excited to hear about a new initiative on the part of the Accessories Council of America called USAmade, which promotes fashion goods made in the United States. Karen Giberson, President of the Accessories Council explained the inspiration behind the initiative: “We want to show people what ‘Made in the USA’ can be today.”
Giberson also explained the complicated process by which goods are sourced and manufactured and the complex federal laws involved in labeling products as USAmade.
Here is a quick and informal breakdown of the three levels:
- Purists: Every single aspect of the product is made in the U.S. – according to Giberson, a nearly impossible task
- Combiners: People who were indeed making the product in the U.S., though some components are sourced overseas. Giberson references Swarovski crystals, a popular jewelry mainstay made in Austria.
- Designers: While the products are designed in the U.S., they are assembled overseas.
While Giberson says she prefers the first two levels, even the last one listed still employs people in the USA. One of her craftspeople employs formerly homeless women to assemble jewelry, but the products can’t legally be labeled as “Made in the USA.”
So, why is there a sudden resurgence of locally produced products? According to Giberson, “In the U.S., costs had escalated to a point that drove the industry away. The reason that the factories shut down and moved was because labor overseas was so much less expensive. Now, labor overseas has gotten expensive, too, so people in factories here are reconsidering.”
At a recent event, I got to meet some of the new breed of USAmade companies and designers in person. I listened to their stories and admired their designs. I was blown away by their collective talent, the quality of their work and their overall commitment to doing their part to rekindle the economy by keeping and creating a steady stream of jobs in the U.S.
While the retail statistics have been bleak, women are still shopping and socializing. To that end, former HSN CEO Mark Bozek, along with partner Russell Nuce, were inspired to create a new kind of online shopping experience.
Evine.com, which launches in September, intends to provide a different kind of online shopping experience stressing quality and fun over mass-produced foreign made goods.
Bozek is excited about the project, which he believes will “give the notion of ‘Made in the USA’ respect. It will bring jobs and reinvent and reinvigorate the notion of style in America.” Bozek also firmly believes that “Style in America is rampant.”
According to him, it also means “getting over the fact that you don’t have to sing God bless America to love American products.” When asked about the competitive highly discounted fashion sites, Bozek expresses a collective weariness of sites that provide endless newsletters offering lists of designers and 75% off of last season’s styles.
Carla Marina, CEO and Creative director of Carla Marina jewelry, was born in Mozambique and raised in Portugal and the United States. Marina combines her international flare with timeless jewelry elements (Portugal’s royal treasures inspired part of her first collection).
After years of corporate life, first as the senior designer responsible for launching Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion jewelry and then as head of design for the Joan Rivers collection, Marina became frustrated seeing the world of jewelry in which “all the quality was chipped away and became all about price points.”
She describes her despair at walking into stores and noticing designs that seemed to be moving away from creativity, or the fact that cheap manufacturing seemed to inspire companies to look into magazines and copy what everyone else was doing. “That’s not why I chose to be a creative professional and make beautiful things for people.”
Marina doesn’t design with trends in mind. She says, “I don’t care about what’s hot now or three days or three months from now. It’s about how you feel when you wear it.”
Old School/New Style
Husband and wife business partners Bonnie and Larry Jonas of Jonas Studio have been creating jewelry together for decades. While their styles and designs have evolved over the years, their commitment to locally sourced design elements have not.
Some of their more interesting pieces are for men — funky tie tacks, bold cufflinks and intricately woven leather bracelets. I picked up an interesting tidbit from talking with them: while most women buy men jewelry as gifts, when choosing for themselves, men opt for an entirely different look. Who knew?
Wave the Flag
As for the continued challenge of matching price points and quality, Bozek says, “American designers don’t go to Europe or Asia because the food is great, they go there because of the economics. If you want to support products made in the United States, we have to provide products that are competitive. The quality of the goods and products has to stand up against the same goods anyplace.”
Giberson and the Accessories Council are trying to educate both consumers and retailers to the appeal of American made products — “quality is better and turnaround is quicker.” This means, among other things, that you have easier access to the newest styles.
According to Giberson, about 25 years ago, over 85% of fashion jewelry was made in the United States and now it’s a mere fraction. “We’re encouraging people to support the programs- even buying one piece tells the story.”
Rachel Weingarten is a huge fan of well-made jewelry and intends to make an even more concerted effort to support USAMade products and designers. She’s a style expert, marketing strategist & personal brand consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. Rachel is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool® and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s, and a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your burning style questions.