Made in America: Not Just a Menswear Thing

For years, all that "made-in-America" buzz seemed to be centered around menswear. But now, women's brands are proudly promoting their local status, too.
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For years, all that "made-in-America" buzz seemed to be centered around menswear. But now, women's brands are proudly promoting their local status, too.
Alabama Chanin's factory in Florence, Alabama.

Alabama Chanin's factory in Florence, Alabama.

The current hoopla around "Made in America" seems so closely connected to menswear that women's brands are almost never mentioned in the conversation. Which is too bad, because there is fantastic US-manufactured womenwear out there, from Clare Vivier's made-in-Los-Angeles handbags to Edith A. Miller's Pennsylvania-milled stripey tees.

"It started with the heritage thing, the urban woodsman," explains Katherine McMillan, designer of Minnesota-based haberdashery brand Pierrepont Hicks. Since launching in 2009, McMillan—alongside her husband/business partner Mac—have rolled out new categories including men's blazers and shoes, as well as women's shoes and outwear. Everything is made in the USA: McMillan works with factories in New York, Minnesota and even Seattle. "There became almost a stigma, that Made in America meant Americana, meaning jeans, boots and buffalo plaid. When we know that's just one category."

The women's chukka from Pierrepont Hicks.

The women's chukka from Pierrepont Hicks.

McMillan, who also runs Northern Grade—a traveling market dedicated to Made in America menswear brands—is doing her part to bring American-made women's designers to the forefront. In the spring of 2014, the New York stop on Northern Grade's market trail will feature a section dedicated to women's product. "I've seen chattering online—women want to find good American-made clothing," she says.

Alabama Chanin designer Natalie Chanin, who has been producing goods—and sourcing materials—in the US for more than a decade, reiterates McMillan's sentiment. "There is an iconic image of the American male and that man looks a certain way, drives a certain truck, and has a specific set of values. I think that, for that reason, men began to embrace the idea of Made in America first," Chanin says. "It was easier to market to men than women because there was a built-in cultural acceptance of these values." But again, she sees that changing. "I think that with the new awareness of 'fast fashion' and ethical manufacturing, more people are looking at labels, asking questions, and generally becoming aware of how products are made," she says. "Women are not as shallow as stereotypes will have you believe. Companies may not be marketing to women using the Made-in-America tag, but I believe that women are looking for and they are buying American-made items."

An adorable Dusen Dusen dress from Need Supply.

An adorable Dusen Dusen dress from Need Supply.

And retailers are taking notice—to the extent that it makes sense. "We do carry many brands and goods that are American-made; though they are more selected for the designer’s vision, aesthetic, quality and style, and how they’ll fit into our overall mix," says Krystle Kemp, the women's buyer at Richmond, Virginia-based store Need Supply, which carries American-made brands including Collina Strada, Dusen Dusen, Baggu and Thom Dolan. "We love finding new brands and designers and being able to showcase them, their stories and their products to larger audiences than they have been unable to reach previously. So, much of our American-made goods selection happens that way...from great designers who care about the products that they are making—good people with good stories and products that we love."

What do you think? Are you more likely to buy something if it's locally made?