Mainpoint – Clothing made in USA – best tips to buying.
Congratulations on attempting to purchase clothing made in the United States. We welcome you for whatever reason swayed to start this difficult trek. We don’t know what convinced you, whether it was because of the “E’s”: environment, ethics, ecology, or economic, or because of the “P’s” – patriotic, personal health, or patronization of you favorite store or re-patronization of dollars back into the U.S. economy. Come join us, we have been expecting you.
Now here is the situation, the U.S. clothing manufacturing is on its deathbed, the U.S. makes only 2% of its clothing. Both clothing manufacturing and regular manufacturing are on life support. And mainland China is trying to pull the plug on the ventilator. You have arrived just in the nick of time.
The first item on your assignment, should you chose to accept it, is identifying which garments are actually made in the United States. It is not difficult, but sometimes it is tricky, especially for you newbies. The accepted protocol is to locate the manufacturing label, located inside the clothes. Avoid their well-known tricks: forget who makes the clothing; forget if it says American or US on the outside like: American Eagle, U.S. Polo Association, or John Varvatos, U.S.A. There is a 98% chance or higher that these garments are made in foreign, slave-labor encampments in East Asia or Central America. Note: there is one exception: American Apparel – all 100% in Los Angeles, CA.
Briefly, in order to locate the label, sometimes you will have to physically take the clothes off the hanger. On clothes that are designed for the top half of your body: shirts, blouses, tops, vests, coats and dresses – the labels are usually located on the collar, or if not there, usually along the left inseam. For pants, shorts, underwear, the labels are usually located along the waistband. You may need to bring a magnifying glass or reading glasses, because sometimes the writing can be very small. And make sure it says “Made in U.S.A.” For more details on labels, see my blog entry How to identify clothes made in USA. (Regarding the internet – the internet is not very reliable at providing the label information)
Types of Stores
Now that you are an expert at identifying clothing made in the U.S., the next challenge is where to find them, so we shall start with stores. Remember, my information is based on experience, and they are generalizations, there can always be exceptions.
Small Independent Stores
Traditionally, small independent have been the best bet to find clothing made in the U.S. The reasons for this: they are a small business. They live in the community and would rather support other local businesses and manufacturing. Because they are independent, they can select any company they want. These stores have been decimated by the “Wal-Mart effect”. The Wal-Mart effect is buying and using their aggregate wealth, money, political clout and volume – so that they are able to keep prices incredibly and artificially low for a long time, long enough for the other businesses to go under, and then, when the competition is gone, raise the prices. Wal-Mart was the first, now other businesses are using it everywhere. This has been a type of monopoly that has been thrust upon the public without much backlash or lawsuits. Now, it is nothing but chain stores competing with other behemoth chain stores on the American landscape. So, hats off to you small independent stores like: Mystyq in Mountain View, CA, Muldoon’s in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Khaki’s of Carmel, Carmel, CA, Freemans Sporting Club, in New York City, Pink Stripes, Smith Alder in Santana Row, San Jose, CA, and Unionmade in San Francisco, CA.
To find American made clothing in department stores, first we need to give you a little briefing. Clothing made in U.S. are considered medium to upper end, but, in general, they are not considered too high end, which is usually reserved for the very expensive Italian or French made clothing. So, we need to identify department stores that are medium to high end. The department stores can be categorized like this (from low end to high end):
Wal-Mart, Target < Kohl’s, Penney’s, Sears < Macy’s, Dillards < Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s < Sak’s Fifth Ave, Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf-Goodman, Barneys.
Your best bet is Nordstrom’s or Bloomingdale’s. And don’t forget to check out the Nordstrom Rack, sometimes the outlet will carry more U.S. Made clothing than the actual stores, but each store and outlet does vary quite a bit. I do believe that Nordstrom’s does make a concerted effort to carry U.S. made clothing versus Kohl’s which makes a concerted effort not to carry U.S. made clothes. Boo Kohl’s.
The Very Best Tip: Since Nordstrom’s has the most American made clothing of any of the department stores and their website is very accurate as to whether their clothes are made here or not, I would suggest that you visit the Nordstrom’s website via this link or type in: “shop.nordstrom.com”, then under search, type in “made in america”, and it will give you many items made in the USA. Then go to one of their brick and mortar stores, see if you can locate the item you liked, try them on, and if you like the item, buy it. Other websites either are not very accurate or do not allow the search for “made in america” or “made in u.s.a.”
Chain stores are lower on the list as far as locating clothing made in the U.S. The reasons for this, the larger the chain, the less the store manager is able to select what goes into the store. There is less local influence, and all decision come from up top. Malls, let’s face it, are mostly chain stores, are often limited in space, and quite often, do not carry different or more esoteric stuff than might their Anchor or Flagship stores. There are some mall stores like Basic and Demasqe (Valley Fair, San Jose, CA) or Francesca’s (Oakridge Mall, San Jose, CA) that carry a higher percentage of U.S. made clothes. And sometimes an American Apparel may be in a neighboring mall.
Anchor or Flagship Stores
These are the stores that the chain stores usually take pride in. They are larger, they carry different items that none of their other stores carry. And just sometimes they will carry more U.S. made clothing. Examples: Levi’s has restarted making a limited number of U.S. made jeans – usually found only in the anchor stores, like the one on Fillmore in San Francisco, CA (and occasionally in Nordstroms’); Ralph Lauren, in one of their anchor stores, also on Fillmore in San Francisco, carries “Retro” Ralph Lauren (RRL with the first R being reversed), some of them made in the U.S.; And Eddie Bauer, remaking some of their “retro” lines of jackets and clothing – some made in Canada, but soon to be manufactured in the U.S. as well.
Outlets malls of large chain stores have probably the smallest percentage of U.S. made clothes. Sometimes, if you are lucky, their might be an outlet of one of the small chains. But, if you had to go forth, and find American made clothes, this should be very low on your list. I think that trying to find a needle in a haystack is the appropriate analogy.
Semi-American Clothing Stores
100% American stores are rare. You have American Apparel – large chain, and Freeman Sporting Club – three stores. That’s about it. Then you have the ones that started as 100% American but have added other stuff (foreign made) to make themselves an entire store. These stores include: 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, Michael Stars, Blues Jean Bar,and Rag & Bone.
Types of Clothing
Now that we have directed you to the stores, we now need to find the clothes. Not all types of clothing are equal. Some types of clothing are not to difficult to find. The U.S. still makes quite a few sports jackets and suits. There are more than several U.S. manufacturers that make T-shirts, or tops made out of a T-shirty material, or a top with a “burned out” appearance. Also, several “brand” companies make socks here in the U.S. So, that is about it, everything else is hard to find (unless you are lucky, luck does help). For the more difficult items, I will give you some helpful hints.
Dress or Oxford shirts made in the U.S. used to be quite prevalent, now they are very difficult to find. Clothing manufacturing companies in the U.S. are closing down every month. Ike Behar, no longer makes shirts here. Hlaska, no longer makes apparel. Hickey Freeman, which makes many suits, has been having their shirts made elsewhere. So, now, what is a reliable American brand that makes dress shirts (besides American Apparel)? The answer is Brooks Brothers. This is a surprise because, you have to hunt fairly hard to find them in their stores, but they continue to carry them (for now). After Brooks Brothers, you will have to look for specialty stores like Freeman Sporting Club, Rag & Bone, and Oxxford Clothes. Other American made brands, but quite difficult to find are Thom Browne and Hamilton. Just a brief word about Hamilton, the shirt material comes from England, you are measured in the store where you are to purchase the shirt, they send the shirt to Texas to sew it, and then send it back to the store to see if it fits you. It’s kind of a long distance tailoring. My recommendation is if you are unable to find an American dress shirt, either purchase one on-line from one of the above companies or buy an Italian-made shirt, never an East Asian or Central American manufactured product – I really do not see much rationale to accept and condone slave labor, wherever it is occurring. One addendum: there is one more additional maker of American dress shirts – Gitson Brothers.
Underwear made in the U.S. is difficult to find. My recommendations are American Apparel, bgreen, or Bamboosa. The last two are organic, and can be found in stores where organic is important, such as Eco Goods, in Santa Cruz, CA. The other option is REI, which may carry up to two different brands of U.S. made underwear: Patagonia or the store, REI brand. For women, the choices are even more sparse: Hanky Panky, American Apparel and Zilke bras. (Unless, you want to include Spanx). See my blog entry regarding underwear for more information.
There are over 67 different manufacturers of U.S. made jeans found in retail stores, and 27 brands found on the internet. I will list some of them in alphabetical order: A/G, Agave, Blues Jean Bar, Citizens of Humanity, Cult of Individuality, Current, Divine Right of Denim, Doheny, Ernest Sewn, Fidelity, Hudson, Joe’s, Lacoste (made by Ernest Sewn), Levi’s (rare), Lucky (rare), Not Your Daughter’s Jeans, Paige (Premium), Postage, Rag & Bone, Raleigh Denim, R44, Seven for all Mankind, True Religion, and William Rast (rare). Your best bet to finding them (if they don’t have their own store) is Nordstrom’s or Nordstrom’s Rack. For more information: see my blog entry: Listings of American Clothing Manufacturers-Retail not only for jeans, but for all categories of clothing.
The best bet if you are looking for nice dresses would be an individual clothing store if you have one. If you don’t have that available, then a Nordstrom’s (or Nordstrom’s – like) department store. They may carry some lines of clothing that are made only or mostly in the U.S., such as Three Dots or Karen Kane. Macy’s carries a few U.S. made dresses such as Alex or Onyx or Betsy Johnson. With women’s clothing it is more of a hit and miss, as there are so many small manufacturers. A link like my blog’s “Black Friday link” put out by the Alliance of American Manufacturing would be phenomenal resource if there were such a thing present each month. It lists the American made clothes that are presently available in Nordstroms, Macy’s and Sears. I will see what I can do to make this a recurring feature to my blog.
Now That You Found Your Clothing Made in the USA, Now What?
You have searched high and low and finally you have found that elusive American made garment. Then what happens? You look at the price tag, and you know what, it is higher than you had hoped. You know why. Because we have been brainwashed, we have been out “Walmarted” by the Chinese, they are sending literally tons of clothing on us in America, in Europe, and the rest of the world because they want to run everybody else out of business. In order to do this they have their yuan very undervalued (less cost to us), the government directly provides money to companies (collusion) and manufacturers in China are running at break even prices in their sales to us. (The factories actually make money selling goods on the side much of the time). Have you ever wondered why is it that you can buy jeans in 2011 for less than you could in 1980, where everything else in the world has gone up 400%? That’s right we are being Walmarted right out of existence. So, try to keep in mind, what the real value of clothes is. I hope you don’t go the way that so many before have fallen prey to the: “Gee whiz, this is so cheap”. Yes, it is cheap. And you are falling right into their trap. Stay strong. Think and Shop smartly. Remember to continue to look for sales on all U.S. made clothes. For more information on the names of companies that make American clothing, see my blog entry:”Listing of American Clothing manufacturers retail.” Buy American! I am counting on you to spread the word.
“Fashion is a tool…to compete in life outside the home. People like you better, without knowing why, because people always react well to a person they like the looks of.” – Mary Quant