“Made in USA”: What It Really Means and How to Make the Most of It

Once you’ve settled on your final patterns and samples, there’s a big decision looming on the horizon for you and your brand. Where in the world do you go for your bulk production manufacturing?

Well, the options are as varied as points on a map. China, Bangladesh, Peru, Italy, Indonesia, Vietnam, Italy, Portugal, USA…the list of possibilities goes on and on. But before you make your manufacturing decision, there are some real considerations that can affect your brand’s quality, bottom line, and image in the eyes of your employees and your customers:

  • How does the manufacturing of my garments affect the environment?
  • What about the treatment of the people sewing my garments? Does the factory abide by fair labor practices?
  • What about shipping fees (and the impact of shipping on our ecosystem)?
  • What level of quality do my customers expect and deserve?
  • How do I want my customer to view my brand?

Environmental Impacts of Fashion Worldwide

Unless you are creating one-of-a-kind garments in your own sewing room, your garments will be made in a factory. It goes without saying that the environmental impact of factories worldwide is significant.

Consider water usage, as just one environmental example. According to Princeton University, “The fashion industry consumes one tenth of all of the water used industrially to run factories and clean products. To put this into perspective, it takes 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton or approximately 3,000 liters of water for one cotton shirt. Furthermore, textile dyeing requires toxic chemicals that subsequently end up in our oceans. Approximately 20% of the wastewater worldwide is attributed to this process, which accumulates over time.”

They go on to say, “The fashion industry is currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. If the industry maintains its course, an increase of 50% in greenhouse gas emissions is expected within a decade.” Yikes.

A majority of the factories overseas in countries like China are poorly regulated because there are no strict rules and regulations set in place by federal and local governments. Because they are poorly regulated (if at all), each factory is left to decide its own environmental policy.

We’re Human After All

As a business owner, it stands to reason that you’ll be looking for the best per unit price for your production. That’s only good business. Good business practice, however, means that the very lowest price may not be the best choice for your brand.

As said by Vegan Review, “Society’s obsession with fast fashion forces brands to keep costs low in order to undercut their competitors. As a result, garment workers’ wages are continually cut or they lose their jobs as factories move to [overseas] markets where production costs are even lower.”

We’re sure it comes as no surprise that the apparel industry predominantly employs women. These women are often denied maternity benefits, subject to harassment, often forced to work overtime, and frequently experience poor wages.

This is where your own diligent research comes into play. Before you choose a factory based solely on the price per unit, consider the human element as well. You can read even more at Human’s Rights Watch.

The Hidden Costs of Shipping

There are two costs involved in shipping. There’s the obvious one: what does it cost to get my goods from there to here? And then the hidden cost: what is the impact of shipping my goods on the environment?

Let’s first consider the former. Transportation costs are rising as fast, or maybe even faster, as every other cost-of-living expense. In fact, the price for a container of goods from China to the U.S. West Coast and European ports have hovered near record highs for several months, and conditions are ripe for more increases.

So before you produce your collection overseas, don’t forget to add the shipping costs, duties and taxes to your cost of goods (duties and taxes are tariffs that are imposed on goods when they are shipped internationally across borders).

Another consideration is the impact of shipping on the environment. According to SeaRates, “Modern technology has revolutionized the shipping industry by reducing fuel consumption, gaseous emissions, and shipping overhead costs for companies. However, there’s still much that needs to be done to conserve the environment and improve people’s health. International shipping has been responsible for a lot of environmental issues.”

It’s A Quality Issue

If workmanship matters to you and your brand (as it should!), remember that not all factories are created equal. Typically, you will find the highest quality and ease of production right here in the USA.

That said, there are parts of the world where the quality of manufacturing is on par with the United States. Italy (and a handful of other European countries) being one of those places. In fact, in certain categories, Italian clothing production is considered molto bene! If you’re looking into European production, there are things you should consider: Dollar vs. Euro conversion rates, communication issues (language and time zones), shipping, taxes, duties and holiday schedules.

Keep in mind that partnering with a far east overseas factory (especially ones located in China) does have its share of challenges. Foreign factories may not have the same eye for detail that you do. Some will use inexperienced pattern makers and graders (also, sizing can be an issue), and it may not be cost effective for you to visit the factory to check their work. They will most certainly have high minimum order quantities, and you must always provide a tech pack.

Made In USA Has Cachet

Bucking a 30-year trend, more and more small businesses are manufacturing in the USA, due to all the considerations discussed above. So not only is it often a sound business decision, it can be an excellent marketing decision as well.

Think about it. What does “Made In USA” conjure up in your mind? Chances are you’ll be thinking about quality of construction, environmental safeguards, fair labor practices, and more.

We encourage you to share the benefits of Made In USA in the marketing of your brand. Be it via Instagram, on your website, or on your labels; this lets your customers know that you care about the quality, the social impact, and the environmental impact of your brand. And that’s the kind of advertising money can’t buy!

We’d love to talk to you in more detail about Made In USA manufacturing and what it means to your brand. Feel free to reach out to us at https://tegintl.com/get-in-touch/ or call us at 800-916-0910.

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