You are here
Home > Blog > ‘Made in America’ is fast losing lustre in the fashion world due to Donald Trump ?

‘Made in America’ is fast losing lustre in the fashion world due to Donald Trump ?

LOS ANGELES — Buyers from all over the world flock to Gitman Bros. to get a piece of timeless American style: oxford shirts, plaids and rep ties often cut slightly slimmer to appeal to the trendy and urbane.But when the company’s president, Chris Olberding, attended the venerable menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy this month, the brand’s “Made in U.S.A.” label was an unexpected liability.

Clients flung jokes at the then-president-elect’s expense. There was talk about avoiding travel to the U.S. during Donald Trump’s four-year term. And one of the Ashland, Pa.-company’s accounts was almost cancelled because a customer wanted to boycott American clothes.

“I felt like the wind got knocked out of me,” Olberding said in a phone interview from Florence. “I always thought it was a good thing to keep our production in the U.S., and all of a sudden the conversation changes because of this one person.”

By all appearances, Trump should be a boon for the “Made in U.S.A.” brand. The nation’s 45th president swept into office pledging to get American factories humming again.

“We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American,” Trump said during his inauguration speech.

But the negative reaction at Pitti Uomo underscores the pitfalls of these polarizing times. Trump by association can act as a double-edged sword.

A backlash against American brands would be a painful and ironic twist for the apparel and footwear companies that have fought to keep production stateside against innumerable odds.

Long before Trump campaigned on the promise of reviving domestic manufacturing, time-tested labels such as Gitman Bros., Filson and Red Wing Shoes were touting their “Made in U.S.A.” roots and encouraging customers to buy American menswear at a time when competitors had long fled to cheaper countries.

They rode a wave of popularity in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as trendsetters began rejecting fast-fashion brands like H&M and embracing traditionally stodgy ones like Brooks Bros. — an acknowledgment that it was better to buy pieces that lasted than support wasteful fads. With a modern cut and higher prices, the movement essentially made your grandfather’s clothes cool, at least among a certain subset of fashion-savvy men.

Now, some of those same companies, as well as more recently established ones, are wondering what the “Made in U.S.A.” label will mean under the new administration. Will it continue to stand for craftsmanship and style, or amount to an endorsement of Trump’s policies — or even the president himself?

It’s a question made all the more important because many of the labels’ new-found fans are ensconced in left-leaning enclaves like Brooklyn and Los Angeles’ Silver Lake.

“Is ‘Made in U.S.A.’ in danger of becoming ‘Make Made in U.S.A. Great Again’?” said Jonathan Wilde, editor of GQ.com, a men’s fashion bible that has been at the forefront of reviving interest in so-called heritage American brands.

Wilde sees a contradiction unfolding. On one hand, U.S. apparel makers could benefit from an administration that favours local producers and makes domestic manufacturing more cost effective. On the other, these brands could lose their cool among their prime demographic if Trump turns “Made in America” into a political slogan.

“He can support things that aren’t entirely wrong,” Wilde said. “But can you separate that from the rest of him? He could be your largest ally or your worst ally. He could make what was a very good phrase almost something of a third rail.”

It’s unclear precisely what Trump’s administration will do to bring jobs back other than to renegotiate trade deals or raise tariffs on imports. Fashion industry experts say that would be devastating for a broad swath of American apparel brands that either manufacture or source materials from overseas (including Trump- and Ivanka Trump-branded apparel). It would, however, shrink the gap between the cost of clothes made in the U.S. and those made overseas.

The fashion industry’s low margins have punished companies such as the recently sold American Apparel, which tried to sell affordable, mass-market clothes while offering its employees living wages. The share of domestically produced clothing in the U.S. in 2015 was 2.7 per cent, down from 10.2 per cent in 2005 and 46.2 per cent in 1995, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Over the same period, apparel consumption has grown more than 60 per cent.

“There’s absolutely no possibility of fashion making a re-entry to the U.S.,” said Bjorn Bengtsson, a professor at Parsons School for Design in New York. “The reason is labour. Most U.S. manufacturers are having tremendous difficulty finding skilled labour. We have to train people. But even then, salaries are not going to be as low as in countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar.”

Higher wages means higher price tags, and Americans have shown an unwillingness to pay more for their shoes and threads. A recent NDP Group survey found that 80 per cent of Americans considered “Made in U.S.A.” labels important to some degree, yet only 23 per cent said they would pay more for it.

Article credits -Los Angeles Times

Top