Mainpoint: Finding clothes made in the USA within New York City – the fashion Capitol.
It has been said that what first occurs in New York City will eventually find its way to the rest of the nation. And this has been very true regarding fashion and clothes. So, clothingmadeinusablog went to New York City to see the state of nation in regards to clothing manufactured in the United States. And, in general, it is dismal. Clothing manufactured in the United States is about 2% overall. In New York City, it is no better. I can say this only in a general sense, because this unlike the time I surveyed every single store at Santana Row in San Jose and took a rough inventory of American clothes in each store. The reason for the change in methodology is obvious – there are not enough people, i.e. money and time that could map out Manhattan and their inventory of clothes.
For those of you who do not know New York city, it is divided into many unofficial districts: Times Square, Chelsea, Financial district, etc. I decided to start in Times Square, for its innumerable shops, its immense tourist density and because I was staying there. There are many people from Europe visiting New York. And these tourists are just salivating at the prospect of purchasing American clothes. There was this time I was going up in an elevator with a French couple and their two and a half children. The father and the two tweens were proudly wearing their polo shirts emblazened with “American Eagle” on the front. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to ruin their moment and tell them their shirts were all imported from China and not much of the shirts were American at all. The equivalent would be they are as French as French fries. I suppose to this family it was still buying American, using that funny American money and having to pay New York Sales Tax. But still, if you want to get a genuine American souvenir, you should buy one that is made in the USA. Why go to Amish country and then buy one of their cheaper Chinese versions? You didn’t need to travel all that way to do that.
It had been ten years since the last time I had been back to New York City and Times Square. It has gotten larger and there are much more lit up moving billboards. There, also, seem to be a lot more “Broadway” theaters than I remembered. Many stores have come and gone in that time – that’s just the way it goes in the big city. But, more than anything else, the most notable change is just a ton of chain type stores. Chain store here, chain store there, with the exception of an independent souvenir shop. There were Starbuck’s and Duane Reade Drug Stores almost every block. And none of these chain stores had any bigger selection than the stores everywhere else in the US, certainly no “anchor” stores or “flagship” stores – stores that sometimes carry more inventory and occasionally unique items in that particular store and no where else within the chain. So, as far as buying American – Times Square is a bust. The exception is a branch of American Apparel stores – everything is made in the USA – its anchor store is in Los Angeles. This chain of stores for the most part is designed for younger people and with the quality equivalent of a Kohl’s. But, at least it is 100% American. Hallelujah!
Uptown is the area where you go to spend too much money. We are talking: Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Bounce-a-check Avenue. Hold it. That is too much of an old reference, nobody uses checks anymore. Something more appropriate would be “Credit card limit extremely over and thus declined Avenue”. There reason to shop in uptown is as follows: there are different levels of quality and therefore prices within clothes. At the bottom, there are the sweatshop clothes – China, India, East Asia, Mexico, and Central America. The next level of clothing manufacturing is: Turkey, Poland, Peru, Romania and possibly Tunisia. The next level is clothing manufactured in the USA, possible exception – American Apparel. Then the very top level is clothes made in Italy and France. So, my hope was to find higher level shops that may carry American made clothing. This did not produce the results I had hoped for. I found many too expensive Italian clothes with just a smattering of too expensive American clothes. At Barney’s, I found a couple of American made brands I had not seen before: “Thom Browne” and “Band of Outsiders”.
I had found that in Uptown, there is no limit on excessive price gouging. Just when you think you have seen it all, there is another whole level that exists. When you get to two levels above outrageous, then you are just buying luxury. I have bought things that were priced outrageously, but in my mind, they were still worth it, quality products that will last for years. I suppose everybody has different levels of what is outrageous. For instance, what I buy now compared to when I was a college student would be considered two levels above outrageous from my “poor me” days. But, I make decent money now and still some of these prices just make my head spin. I guess there is a top 1% and then there is the top 0.1%.
In my walk uptown, I discovered a small store, Oxxford Clothes on 56th Street between 5th and Madison. I tried the glass doors and they were locked. Fortunately, the salesman saw me, decided I wasn’t there to rob him and buzzed me in. What I discovered is Oxxford Clothes are all made in USA, specializing in dress shirts. The shirts ranged in price from $180 to $325. There was a section of shirts that were 50% off as well. The Oxxford Clothes started way back in Chicago in 1916. It may be the only place to get a hand cut, hand sewn, custom made suit made entirely with American materials and American tailors. One thing that sort of put me off, is that I selected three shirts to try on, the salesman allowed me only to try only one on (I was wearing a T-shirt under my dress shirt as well), and then we could make the decision whether that fit was right. So, I tried the one shirt on, it fit well, and I purchased only that shirt. I might have purchased a second one had it not been that approach. The salesperson did say that Oxxford Clothes does send it shirts for sale at one place in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, CA – “Wilkes – Bashford”. I may have to visit Wilkes-Bashford again. You may want to visit the website of Oxxford Clothes at oxxfordclothes.com. They have a video of how they make their suits – which is quite interesting, especially in this age of automation.
I did go to Sak’s Fifth Avenue. I found some very nice Italian and French shirts. But, I did find something disheartening. “Ike Behar”, an American shirt manufacturer, had been purchased by a new owner last year, and now, no further American made shirts will be coming from Ike Behar. I guess I will scour some of the discount stores to see if they have any older Ike Behar, made in USA, shirts. I did end up purchasing an Italian shirt by Breuer, a shirtmaker making shirts for centuries. Other information from the salesperson: “Fanconnale” – a French company – was bought by Nordstrom’s and all their clothes now are made in China. BEST ADVICE: It is best to purchase a shirt from a shirtmaker that has been doing it for a long time – not a “perfume maker” – somebody just interested in making money. Shirtmakers pay special attention to details like the fit, the stitching and gossets – inserts to help the shirts from separating at the front ends. You will get the ultimate quality from a shirtmaker.
This is your best bet to find American made clothing. It is an eclectic mix of small shops, cafes and trendy boutiques. I found several stores in this district that make American made clothes. “Rag and Bone” – about 50 -70% American made clothes for the men. Clothes are made in New York, jeans, shirts, suits and shoes. The men’s store is on 100 Christopher Street, the women’s store 104 Christopher. They have two more stores (One Men’s and one women’s in Soho as well. “Freemans Sporting Club” has two locations: 327 Bleeker, also 8 Rivington, was founded in 2006 by a restauranteer, Taavo Somer. They make shirts, twill pants, jackets, neckties and specialize in suits. Everything is made in New York City sometimes using 100 year old sewing machines. Their motto is “Made Local, Buy Local” One interesting note, at the SOHO store, in the back of this store is a very busy barbershop. Freemans Sporting Club also has a store in San Fransisco. “7 For All Mankind” is a chain of stores that make US made premium jeans, actually they are based in Los Angeles. Just be aware that not everything including the jeans are made in the USA (so read the label). Not too far away is Ernest Sewn, 821 Washington Street at Gansevoort Street, since 2004 have been making premium jeans in New York. They also make a special pair of jeans for the Lacoste store chain. In the Ernest Sewn store, you can have your jeans custom-made while you wait.
There are some bright spots within New York City regarding clothing manufacturing in the USA: Rag and Bone; Freemans Sporting Club; Ernest Sewn; and Oxford Clothes. I did find some expensive American made clothing at Barney’s – Thom Browne and Band of Outsiders. Other than that, New York City is a huge city which is losing its character with its rampant expansion of chain stores that can be found in every suburb across the United States. Except for the high end stores along Madison Avenue and a few interesting stores in Greenwich Village, shopping in New York City has become very pedestrian. With regards to clothing made in the USA, I would say that New York is about average, only about 2% is made in the USA, and it doesn’t look like it will increase anytime soon unless their is a change in the population’s attitude or government intervention. There may be a silver lining, I have found that there is a movement to produce vintage clothes in the United States once more, stores like Levi’s and Eddie Bauer. One last tip, if you are visiting New York City and you purchase over $110 worth of merchandise, you may want to inquire about shipping them home, by doing that, you avoid their sales tax.
“Fashion for the most part is nothing but the ostentation of riches.” – John Locke