Archive Page 2


Beefcake Swimwear

Spring is here! Spring means it is time to buy your swimsuits for the upcoming season. And now fresh from its successful Kickstarter funding project, Beefcake Swimwear has opened its merchandise to the general public. Several things are remarkable about Beefcake: 1) There are made in Portland Oregon; 2) They are androgynous – equally for women or men; 3) the company is run by women and 4) their designs run in a more retro fashion.

Beefcake Swimwear

Hello, Beefcake

We believe beefcakes are confident, strong, stylish folks who want swimwear that combines fashion and function. We believe beefcakes can be any gender, so why should their swimwear be binary? And we believe that swimwear should be high quality, available in a wide range of sizes, and made in the USA.

Welcome, beefcakes. We’re here for you.

Beefcake Swag

Beefcake Patch
Anchor-shaped pin
Heart-shaped pin
Editor’s Note
Thanks to Barbara for pointing out this company.

Baseball Equipment Made in USA

Baseball Equipment Made in USA

Baseball is back!

From the bats to the hats, Made in America is a big part of baseball.

For a sport that’s been historically dubbed as our National Pastime, baseball still lives up to its atmosphere of patriotism. But is the equipment that our idolized athletes rely on to perform still Made in America?

With the nationwide breadth of activity and competition baseball commands, it’s harder and harder to find products that are made in the United States. Hall-of-Famer Leo Durocher once said, “There are only five things you can do in baseball: run, throw, catch, hit, and hit with power.” Here’s a quick guide of gear manufactured by companies that support American jobs to help you do just that.

Bats: This product is about as synonymous with baseball as ice is to ice hockey. The almighty Louisville Slugger and its Kentucky-born brand still operate and manufacture in the United States, helping MLB all-stars like Ryan Zimmerman chalk up hits. It’s also union-made, by United Steelworkers Local 1693.

Balls: Rawlings is the supplier of all baseballs used in the Major and Minor Leagues. Although founded and headquartered in Missouri, the company’s official game balls are now manufactured in Costa Rica.

Bases: Schutt makes all the bases used in the MLB in Litchfield, Ill.

Gloves: There’s a lot of choices here, but many pros use Rawlings’ gloves. While the company’s larger market production has diversified overseas, Rawlings’ pro and custom models are made in Missouri. You can even have your glove tailor-made to fit your hand, just like National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Alternatively, Nokona Ballgloves out of Texas offer handcrafted gloves that are 100 percent American-made.

Protection: This is another area where the mass market has opted to produce overseas. But Schutt Sports still sells helmets, catcher’s pads, and other gear that’s been made in the United States. Just make sure to check the label before you buy.

Cleats: New Balance, headquartered in Boston, boasts some of the best baseball cleats in the game. A company committed to making footwear in the USA, New Balance is transparent that some of their production is overseas. Like helmets and pads, check before you buy.

Hats: New Era Cap Company owns exclusive licensing rights to the MLB (and the NBA and NFL) and makes the official on-field hats for the league. Founded in Buffalo, New Era makes many of their hats in their city of origin. Some of the company’s caps are still produced overseas, so it’s another case of checking the label. If you want your hat guaranteed American-made, check out Americap Baseball Caps, produced in North Carolina.

Editor’s Note

Interesting this article didn’t mention the major league uniforms. Another relevation is that the American baseball is no longer made in America. Since mid 2015, Major League Baseball off-shored their baseball manufacturing to Costa Rica. So what happens, the balls are made cheaper, but also made differently. These “new and improved baseballs” have flatter seams and smaller circumferences which causes an increase of home runs by 4%, according to writer, Ben Lindbergh and  Mathematician, Mitcel Lichtman in fivethirtyeight. In 2017, 6,105 Home runs were hit in the regular season, eclipsing the previous record, in 2000, a product of the Steroid Era 5,693 home runs. Isn’t that great? Major League Baseball owners by using a cheaper baseball, made in Costa Rica, now have a Home Run barrage. I guess, it is better than when all the owners (and I mean every single one of them) turned a blind eye to the open usage of anabolic steroids. Of course, MLB owners deny that the baseball flies farther. Yea, sure. Why not just put a superball in the center of the baseball and put aerodynamic dimples on the cover? Happy Home Runs and Strikeouts!

Thanks to the Alliance for American Manufacturing for the article.


Harley Davidson Closing Down Kansas City Plant

Harley Davidson Closing Down Kansas City Plant

President Trump, right, and Vice President Mike Pence check out Harley-Davidson motorcycles at the White House in February 2017. | Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The company once promoted its American manufacturing footprint at the White House.

Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Almost exactly one year ago, executives from Harley-Davidson visited the White House as part of an effort by newly inaugurated President Donald Trump to promote American manufacturing. Trump thanked the Wisconsin-based company for building its iconic motorcycles in America and pledged to rebalance trade to drive more U.S. manufacturing.

On Tuesday, Trump gave his first State of the Union address to Congress, in which he continued to promise to act on trade to strengthen manufacturing (he hasn’t actually done much, but more on that over here).

Meanwhile, Trump’s big speech overshadowed an announcement by Harley-Davidson that also happened on Tuesday: The company said on a call to its investors that it will shut down its factory in Kansas City in 2019, leading to 800 layoffs:

“Tuesday’s announcement to investors was a complete surprise to employees, three fourths of whom are represented by one of two unions.

‘They didn’t even give us a call ahead of time,’ said Joe Capra, directing business agent for Local 778 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. ‘It is real devastation for these people who work here and work hard in the Kansas City area.’”

Harley-Davidson cited sluggish motorcycle sales as the reason for the closure; its worldwide sales fell 6.7 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, and U.S. sales specifically were down 8.5 percent. The company will shift some of the production at the Kansas City plant to its facility in Erie, Pa., which will create about 450 jobs there.

Analysts say the company faces an uphill battle in terms of sales, as motorcycle-loving baby boomers are getting older and millennials aren’t as interested in motorcycles.

But it’s also worth noting that while Harley-Davidson is shuttering an American factory, it is expanding its manufacturing footprint overseas – the company is building a factory in Thailand that is expected to open this year.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union represents some Harley-Davidson workers, called that decision “a slap in the face to the American worker.” The USW ended its two-decade partnership agreement with Harley-Davidson in September.

“This decision puts in jeopardy one of the few remaining genuine U.S. brands,” Gerard said. “Our members have been true partners with this company, working in good times and bad to make great products that fostered its growth and success. We remember the U.S. government stepping up in the 1980s to save Harley-Davidson and contributing to its revival.

“Harley owners and prospective buyers across the globe want to continue to enjoy machines made in America that provide quality rides and unique experiences. Harley’s potential outsourcing of production puts all of this at risk.”

Emil Ramirez, who represents USW District 11 that includes Kansas City, referenced the new Thailand factory in a statement about the factory closure, according to the Star.

“We cannot speculate about how the company plans to replace this production or to what extent these good-paying, family-supporting, American jobs will be outsourced to facilities the company has opened in Asia and other parts of the world,” Ramirez said.

There’s no doubt that Harley-Davidson’s decision is disappointing, to put it mildly. Not only will 800 people lose their jobs, but the closure of that factory will be a major blow to many others in Kansas City who depend on it for their own business.

Harley-Davidson also announced Tuesday that it expects to launch its first electric motorcycle within 18 months, part of an effort to attract new consumers.

Here’s hoping the company makes those motorcycles in the United States.



Million of Jobs Lost Due to Free Trade with China

Millions of Jobs Are Still Missing. Don’t Blame Immigration or Food Stamps

by Andrew Van Dam in The Washington Post February 22,2018

Millions of Jobs Are Still Missing, Don’t Blame Immigration or Food Stamps

Prisoners wait for breakfast at California Men’s Colony prison in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in 2013. Rising incarceration rates are one of a handful of factors that help to account for the United States’ missing jobs. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Where did all the jobs go? Well, we’re finally starting to find some satisfactory answers to the granddaddy of all economic questions.

The share of Americans with jobs dropped 4.5 percentage points from 1999 to 2016 — amounting to about 11.4 million fewer workers in 2016.

At least half of that decline probably was due to an aging population. Explaining the remainder has been the inspiration for much of the economic research published after the Great Recession.

Economists and politicians have pointed at immigration, China, video games, robots, opioids, universities, working spouses — everything up to and including the academic equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and muttering, “Kids these days.”

Until recently, there was no good system to untangle it all.

University of Maryland economists Katharine Abraham and Melissa Kearney built one. After reviewing the most robust research available and doing some rough-but-rigorous math to estimate how much job loss each phenomenon can explain, the duo discovered something surprising: pretty much all the missing jobs are accounted for.

Just as important, they pinpointed the culprits. In a draft paper released by the National Bureau for Economic Research this week, Abraham and Kearney find that trade with China and the rise of robots are to blame for millions of the missing jobs.

Other popular scapegoats, such as immigration, food stamps and Obamacare, did not even move the needle.

During this time, there were other changes in the labor force (particularly an increase in educated workers) that pushed the employment rate upward. As a result, their research needed to account for more than just the 4.5-percentage-point drop and offset those gains.

Factors that mattered

Competition from Chinese imports

The era of vanishing jobs happened alongside one of the most unusual, disruptive eras in modern economic history — China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 and its subsequent rise to the top of the global export market.

There’s a deep body of research into the manufacturing jobs that were lost to competition from cheap Chinese imports, as well as those that vanished from related industries. On the basis of that research, Abraham and Kearney estimate that this competition cost the economy about 2.65 million jobs over the period.


Automation also seems to have cost more jobs than it created. Guided by research showing that each robot takes the jobs of about 5.6 workers and that 250,475 robots had been added since 1999, the duo estimated that robots cost the economy another 1.4 million workers.

Minimum wage increases

Abraham and Kearney used previous research into how teens and adults respond to rising wages to produce a high-end estimate of the impact of minimum wages over this period. Other recent research has found either a small effect or no effect. In the end, they combined those figures to find that about 0.49 million workers were lost.

That number does not account for the benefits that the broader labor force derived from higher wages, Kearney said.

Social Security Disability Insurance

The number of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance nearly doubled from 1999 to 2016, from 4.9 million to 8.8 million. The population has aged, but that is still 1.64 million more people than there should have been, had rates remained steady for each age group, the researchers found.

Abraham and Kearney estimated that the labor force shrank by about 0.36 million as an increasing number of workers drew disability benefits.

Veterans benefits

The economists estimated that roughly 0.15 million people were not working because of the expansion of a disability insurance program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Between 2000 and 2013, the share of veterans receiving such benefits rose from 9 percent to 18 percent.

Mass incarceration

There were about 6.5 million former prisoners in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64 in 2014, according to the best available data. Assume that 60 percent of them served time as a result of policies implemented since the 1990s, account for their ages, time served, and pre-prison earnings, and you get a conservative estimate of 0.32 million lost jobs.

What did not reduce employment


Most research indicates that immigration does not reduce native employment rates. And even if it did, it is unlikely that it would reduce overall (native and foreign-born) employment. Immigrants’ employment rates are higher than those of native-born residents.

Food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

SNAP benefits average about $4.11 per person per day. Able-bodied adults are generally cut off from benefits unless they are working. Furthermore, the program itself did not change enough over the period in question to alter people’s behavior. It grew, but that was because of fallout from the Great Recession, not because of permanent policy changes that made nutrition assistance more accessible.

The Affordable Care Act

Obamacare went into effect in 2014 and has not had a noticeable impact on jobs to date. It is safe to assume it was not a decisive factor in the 1999-2016 period.

Working spouses who allow men to stay home

While this is a popular theory, the share of men who are not in the labor force but had a working spouse actually fell slightly between 1999 and 2015, according to a 2016 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The unknowns

Along with an aging population, the first six factors (competition from China and automation in particular) account for the majority of the jobs lost during the recession. But the U.S. labor market is colossal and complicated, and other explanations are out there, pushing and pulling the estimates in either direction.

It might be harder to change jobs now

Americans are not moving as often as they once did. It seems reasonable to assume, on the basis of recent research, that employment rates would be higher if people were more willing or able to relocate for work. But there is not yet enough evidence to state this conclusively.

Likewise, it is possible that the skills possessed by the available workers are becoming increasingly unrelated to the skills required by the available jobs. But this “skills mismatch” has not yet been proved over the long term.

Finally, there has been speculation that the rapid rise — from 5 percent in the late 1950s to about 30 percent today — in the share of workers in jobs that require a local or state government license has limited folks’ ability to switch careers and respond to labor-market requirements. We do not yet know enough to put a number on it.

Video games, opioids and changing youth culture

U.S. youth employment rates fell rapidly over the period. Economists have grabbed headlines recently by blaming the precipitous drop in young males in the workforce on a variety of factors including video game playing and prescription painkiller abuse.

But there is not yet enough evidence to prove that either phenomenon is a cause of low youth employment or a result of it. According to Kearney,  both issues could, at their root, be the result of shifting views of what is acceptable for a young man to be doing with his life.

“For whatever reason, these men seem more willing to stay home, live with their parents, live off their girlfriends,” Kearney said.

The paper’s most striking finding is not, however, speculation on idle American youths. It is that many of the topics that dominate political discourse about the labor market — such as immigration, food stamps and Obamacare — are unlikely to bring back lost jobs.

Instead, policymakers should be focusing on the forces that took those jobs in the first place: import competition, automation, incarceration and disability insurance.

“There’s not much we can do about the fact that our population is aging,” Kearney said. “But it’s pretty imperative that we figure out why younger individuals aren’t working at the rates they used to and do something to change that.”

The headline of this story has been updated.

Correction: A drop in the employment-to-population ratio of 4.5 percentage points would have been equivalent to about 11.4 million workers in 2016. An earlier version of this post put that number at 6.8 million.


Editorial Comments

It is good to get actual research numbers instead of just theories about the U.S. economy as seen in Abraham and Kearney’s article: Explaining the Decline in the U.S. Employment-to-Population Ratio: A Review of the Evidence.

This viewpoint is so much different than the Free Trade mania that is pushed by “Big Media”


Meet the Haverhill Duo Looking to Disrupt American Workwear Apparel Industry

1620 Workwear

Meet the Haverhill Duo Looking to Disrupt the American Workwear Apparel Industry

If superheroes get on about their business due to the proper-suiting by their very own Lucius Fox or Tony Stark, than the tradespeople, blue collar workers, and fans of workwear-as-fashion should get a little two-man outfit north of Boston on their radar.

Because tucked in a fourth floor corner office space, with views peering out over the neighboring faded brick industrial mill buildings and manufacturing plants dotting the Merrimack River in Haverhill, Mass., Josh Walker and Ted De Innocentis are single handedly attempting to disrupt the American workwear industry one tech and design-driven pant leg at a time at 1620 Workwear.

“In every single wearable category in the world, premium exists,” says Walker. “Technical exists. And for first time ever in U.S. culture, tradesman and blue collar workers making money are being celebrated, but for a long time workwear has been this crazy undervalued, looked-down upon shitty product category for wearables.”

1620 Founders Ted De Innocentis (l), Josh Walker (r)

The team originally launched the brand out of Walker’s family barn in Newbury in 2016, and since then have zeroed in on trends in American outsourcing both noticed after years of working separately in mainland China, managing garment and wardrobe manufacturing.

One glaring trend in existence since the railroads were built in America, is that tradespeople have been forced endure the same breed of simple, cheap work gear (essentially canvas pants and fabrics that anyone who has ever worn a pair while being active can understand their need to be faded out). When those fail (and they do with regular use) the solution later became “workarounds”, basically a hodgepodge of blue collar uniforms mixing cheap or go-to fabrics with more durable tactical gear found for hunting and outdoor gear and so on.

To solve this, 1620 partnered with Tweave, a Bay State cutting edge stretch-woven fabric manufacturer whose clients are the likes of Hollywood, the NFL, and even the U.S. Military. Their advanced proprietary technologies for spinning more durable, elastic and abrasion resistant yarn, and tech-driven spandex material was the perfect fit for the team’s vision. The gear they are crafting here at home is lighter, more natural feeling, breathable, and can take a beating when things like fatigue play (people getting tired on the job and hurting themselves) and durability are a matter of life and death.

“If you’re embedded in Afghanistan, your shit can’t fail,” says Walker. He says the fact that they are working with the most advanced material, workmanship and design elements used in military and professional sports gear, and the knowledge how to assemble all that, creates this premium product. That, and a regional proximity bonus.

“For us it just so happens that one of the best two or three fabric mills in the entire world is based in Norton,” says Walker. “We’re passionate about making stuff right here. It’s not a nationalist, flag-waving thing. It’s just a local community, local support, supporting your hyperlocal community. American manufacturing should exist here, and other countries are killing it.”

“Every single year more and more of the traditional all-American work brands [move manufacturing] offshore and none of the stuff is made here. Our customer is looking for premium, best in class, U.S.-made products,” says De Innocentis. “We’re making this for people who want this stuff.”

For now 1620 is producing all menswear, but as the company grows so will its offerings, and women are more of their key demographic than ever before, as it’s one of the fastest growing segments in the trades.

The company has also teamed up with local and national brand ambassadors to ensure that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Think: Daniel Lanigan, owner of Lord Hobo Brewing in Woburn and Cambridge, and even an Amesbury, Mass.-based professional BMW racing team, for which 1620 created custom special pit crew suits using core-spun spandex wrapped like fishing line for high tenacity and ten times as resistant to abrasions and cuts as your average pair of Carhartts or Dickies.

“We use military spec materials, so this is basically it’s our version of tactical Special Forces pants,” says Walker with a laugh. “The fabrics we get out of our Massachusetts factories, is comparable to the best of anything I’ve seen made anywhere. It’s small batch, high end American manufacturing. And it’s badass.”

Editor’s Comment

Forget Dickies. Get your best well-made, Made in America workwear at 1620.

Thanks to Alliance of American Manufacturing for pointing out this article.



State of the US Textile and Apparel Industry

U.S. Apparel Trade

If you really want to know the nuts and bolts about the apparel industry, this is your kind of article.

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output and Trade (Updated March 2017)

us textile industry 1

The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $17.98 billion in 2015, which was the highest level since 2009.

us T&A industry 2

Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.16% in 2015 from 0.57% in 1998.

us T&A industry 4

us T&A industry 3

The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for nearly 70% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2015, up from 58% in 1998. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber production by 2012, suggesting non-apparel textile products, such as industrial textiles and home textiles have become more important part of the industry.

us textile industry 5

us textile industry 6

us textile industry 7

Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. From January 2015 to December 2016, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 8,300 and 9,200 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one important factor behind the job losses.

us textile industry 8

us textile industry 9

U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. However, the U.S. trade surplus in textiles significantly dropped to only $68 million in 2016 from $347 million a year earlier. More U.S.-made textiles are now exported than a decade ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel reached $81,754 million in 2016, which was slightly smaller than $86,311 million a year earlier.

Sheng Lu

Additional readings:  The Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports

Discussion questions:

#1 Is the state of the U.S. textile and apparel industry consistent with the stage of development theory? Please specify your answer.

#2 Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.

#3 Based on the statistics, what is the impact of trade on the development of the U.S. textile and apparel industry: positive, negative, mixed or you need more information (please specify) to evaluate?

#4 Overall, do you think the U.S. textile and apparel industry is in good shape? Why or why not?

Editorial Comment

This article is part of a course about the Global Apparel Industry given by Instructor: Dr. Sheng Lu, Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies, University of Delaware

About FASH455

cover picture



Study of economic, social and political dimensions of the textile & apparel sector in a global economy; implications for production, distribution and consumption of textile & apparel products in major world markets.


•FASH455 reading packet


Textiles and Apparel in the Global Economy(3rd ed) by Kitty Dickerson, Prentice-Hall (1999);

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy (2nd ed–released in December 2014) by P. Rivoli, Wiley;

Global Sourcing in the Textile and Apparel Industry (2nd ed) by Dr. Ha-Brookshire

Sewing Success? Employment, Wages, and Poverty following the End of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (2012) by Gladys Lopez-Acevedo and Raymond Robertson;    

Going Global: The Textile and Apparel Industry (3rd ed) by Grace Kunz and Elena Karpova


Upon completion of the course, the student will be able:

  1.  To comprehend the worldwide importance of the textile and apparel industry (including production, distribution, consumption, and trade) from economic, political and social dimensions;
  2.  To understand the composition, restructuring, major development trends and competitive status of the U.S. textile and apparel sectors and to consider the domestic complex within the context of a global economy;
  3. To understand the textile complex in major regions of the world, including their stages of development, functions in the global apparel value chain and key market conditions;
  4. To analyze the unique trade policies for textiles and apparel and understand how they affect various segments of the industry (including manufacturers, retailers and consumers) at multiple levels (including multilateral, regional and bilateral);
  5. To increase awareness of major cutting edge issues facing the world today and comprehend their potentials impacts on the future landscape of the textile and apparel sector;


The textile and apparel industry is a thick textbook study far beyond fiber, yarn, fabric and clothing.  It is THE industry that triggered the first Industrial Revolution, among those sectors that embraced globalization early and still plays a critical role in the global economy with cross-cutting economic, social and political influences in the 21st century.   Some key facts about this sector today:

  • Textiles and apparel remains one of the world’s largest and economically most influential industries in the 21st century. Globally, the market value of textiles, apparel and apparel retailing totaled $2,000 billion annually. In the United States, sales of apparel and accessories contributed $255 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015.
  • The textile and apparel industry plays a unique critical role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. Globally, over 120 Million people remain directly employed in the textile and apparel industries today, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. Particularly, for most developing countries, the textile and apparel sector accounts for 60%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provides one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization.
  • The textile and apparel industry remains strong presence in the United States in the 21st century, although the industry has been critically different from the past because of globalization and advancement of technologies. Across the supply chain, the U.S. textile and apparel industry directly employs more than 4 million people, who undertake positions ranging from textile mill workers, warehousing, sourcing managers, wholesalers, retail floor associates, merchandisers, buyers, technical designers, and marketing professionals, just to name a few. According to the World Trade Organization, the United States is still the fourth largest textile exporter in the world.  The U.S. textile and apparel exports in 2015 totaled nearly $23.7 billion dollars which destined more than 50 countries around the world. U.S. branded apparel also can be found in almost every corner of the world marketplace.
  • The textile and apparel industry might be the only sector other than agriculture that is so heavily regulated by trade policies. Because of its global presence and the complicated social, economic and political factors associated with the sector, textile and apparel industry actively involves in almost all critical bilateral, regional and multilateral trade policy debates nowadays. This is the case no matter for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enforcing stricter labor & environmental standards, launching initiatives to open new overseas markets, renewing the, African Growth and Opportunity Act(AGOA), trade adjustment assistance (TAA) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) or restricting imports in the protection of domestic textile manufacturing sector.

The Death of Clothing

The Death of Clothing

The Death of Clothing

in Bloomberg Magazine February 5, 2018

By Lindsey Rupp, Chloe Whiteaker, Matt Townsend and Kim Bhasin

The apparel industry has a big problem. At a time when the economy is growing, unemployment is low, wages are rebounding and consumers are eager to buy, Americans are spending less and less on clothing.

The woes of retailers are often blamed on Inc. and its vise grip on e-commerce shoppers. Consumers glued to their phones would rather browse online instead of venturing out to their local malls, and that’s crushed sales and hastened the bankruptcies of brick-and-mortar stalwarts from American Apparel to Wet Seal.

But that’s not the whole story. The apparel industry seems to have no solution to the dwindling dollars Americans devote to their closets. Many upstarts promising to revolutionize the industry drift away with barely a whimper. Who needs fashion these days when you can express yourself through social media? Why buy that pricey new dress when you could fund a weekend getaway instead?

Apparel has simply lost its appeal. And there doesn’t seem to be a savior in sight. As a result, more and more apparel companies—from big-name department stores to trendy online startups—are folding.

The ingredients for this demise have been brewing for decades. In 1977, clothing accounted for 6.2 percent of U.S. household spending, according to government statistics. Four decades later, it’s plummeted to half that.

Share of personal consumer expenditures

Apparel is being displaced by travel, eating out and activities—what’s routinely lumped together as “experiences”—which have grown to 18 percent of purchases. Technology alone, including data charges and media content, accounts for 3.4 percent of spending. That now tops all clothing and footwear expenditures.

Several reasons are behind this shift. Some are beyond the control of apparel companies, as societal changes drove different shopping behavior. But missteps by these companies along the way have hastened the death of clothing.

No one needs to buy a separate work wardrobe anymore.

It used to be that office workers needed suits and ties or pleated pants, long skirts and heels to get through the week. By the early 1990s, that seemed to change. The genesis is debatable, but many chalk it up to tech firms in Silicon Valley pushing a business-casual look dominated by khakis. That trickled into other industries, as casual Fridays became common. Now, office apparel is just as casual on Monday as on Friday for many workers.

Over the past five years, there has been a 10 percentage point spike in employers that permit casual dress any day of the week. The upshot of this is that Americans increasingly need just one wardrobe, because there is so little differentiation between what people wear to work and on the weekends.

Share of U.S. employers that allow casual dress every day

Allow 45%
Don’t Allow 55%

in 2017

Source: Society for Human Resource Management

Neckties are disappearing, even in industries such as finance. Sneakers can be worn to any occasion, including weddings and religious services. And about half of Americans say they can wear jeans to their professional offices, according to a survey by NPD Group.

It’s easy to see why this is bad news for apparel companies. When you cut out an entire category of attire, there’s less need to buy new clothes when fashions change. When there’s a hot new color or pattern, maybe a twentysomething buys one new blouse to stay on trend and wears it to work and out at night. Before, she might have purchased two pieces, one for each setting.

Fast-fashion companies and off-price retailers are putting pressure on prices.

There’s been general deflation in the clothing industry. Apparel has become cheaper to make in recent years, especially as more production shifts to less expensive labor markets.

Take a pair of men’s Levi’s 501 original-fit jeans. The price of this wardrobe staple used to steadily climb, but no longer. They cost $58 in 2009, then rose to $64 three years later, only to fall back down to $59.50 last year.

This downward price pressure coincides with the emergence of low-cost, fast-fashion retailers in the U.S. Walmart and Target have long conditioned Americans that they can get items they want without spending a lot. Now, retailers such as H&M can mimic runway fashions for $35, or men’s jeans for $25, and can typically beat other retailers to market with trendy designs.

For years, this seemed like a recipe for success. The chain expanded rapidly in the U.S. and generated $3.2 billion last year. Its growth coincided with the rapid expansion of fast-fashion competitors Forever 21 and Zara, too.

Number of H&M stores in the U.S.

H& M stores have grown exponentially from a few stores in 2000 to 525 stores in 2017.

But cracks and chasms are emerging in fast-fashion’s success story. While the number of U.S. H&M locations is still growing, the pace of new store openings is at a two-decade low. The retailer has struggled to clear out products that shoppers didn’t want, in part because customers are skipping messy stores in favor of a streamlined online experience.

Retailers and traditional fashion trendsetters are losing influence to social media celebrities.

The fashion industry used to have a lot of sway over how people dressed. Retailers, magazines and high-end designers were fashion kingmakers. From their lofty perches, they dictated a season’s trends, and shoppers largely abided. A decade ago, teens wore Abercrombie & Fitch from head to toe.

But in today’s consumer-driven economy, social media influencers often call the shots. These online personalities build followings with posts of their outfits, makeup routines and lifestyles. And they’re less loyal to upscale brands.

An Instagram celebrity might combine Tory Burch, T.J. Maxx finds, consignment wares and basics from Target. Consumers have discovered they can invest in certain pieces and buy runway knockoffs to put together a unique, selfie-worthy look. With smartphones, these same shoppers easily compare prices, even using apps to snap a picture and find a cheaper alternative.

A navy tee for every budget

Sources: Company websites, Farfetch, listed price on Jan. 30, 2018

Retailers are devoting more of their marketing spending to digital ads, developing a social media image, paying for promoted posts and conscripting influencers to endorse their products. The hope is that these ads seem more authentic and intimate than a television ad featuring a celebrity.

But because there are now millions of tastemakers online—with a hodgepodge of aesthetics—it’s harder for new trends to really break through. That’s made many apparel brands gun-shy and less prone to taking design risks. Designers used to spend months working on a collection of boundary-pushing styles in an attempt to make a statement for the brand. The variety came with the risk of sinking a lot of time and money into a design that flops. To cut costs and speed up products that are known to sell, many brands now buy fabrics in bulk that can be made into multiple designs and patterns, resulting in fewer, “safer” options for consumers. With fewer fashion changes, there are fewer reasons to replenish wardrobes.

Micro-trends tend to flare up and flame out quickly, leaving larger trends in place for a longer time. Take skinny jeans, which roared onto the fashion scene in 2006 and haven’t left. They’re more distressed than ever, but the silhouette remains the same.

Companies claiming to be the future of retailing have struggled.

When you consider all these varied pressures on the clothing industry, it’s not surprising that apparel store closures peaked last year. This doesn’t simply reflect a shift to online shopping. E-commerce startups were founded to take advantage of the disruption in retail. But even they have stumbled, a sign of the deeper problems plaguing apparel.

Announced apparel store closings


* Data through the third quarter of 2017
Source: International Council of Shopping Centers

Online darling NastyGal went bankrupt in 2017. Others have sold out to established retailers, rather than making it on their own. That includes Bonobos, the once-hot menswear brand that was bought by Walmart last year.

Stitch Fix Inc., an e-commerce clothing seller that was founded in 2011, has been an exception. The retailer pairs algorithms and data to select customized outfits for its subscribers, giving shoppers a feeling of personalization and an easy, at-home experience. The company had its debut on the Nasdaq Stock Market in November, and the shares have gained 34 percent. Experts have said more retailers should learn from Stitchfix’s ability to leverage technology for customization, though they face the added challenges of a store base that e-commerce companies largely avoid.

Even if retailers can thread that needle, the underlying problem of weak demand is expected to dog the apparel industry for years, meaning more store closures and more bankruptcies lie ahead—with or without Amazon.

“It’s a time of transformation, and it ain’t pretty. It never is,” said Jan Kniffen, founder of the consulting firm J. Rogers Kniffen Worldwide Enterprises in New York.


May 2018
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