There's no occasion quite like the Fourth of July to celebrate all things American. Here at Fashionista, we'll be spending the week examining the fashion industry in our own backyard, from the state of U.S. apparel manufacturing to American-born models on the rise. You can follow all of our coverage here.
In 1993, more than half of the garments sold in America were made in America, too; by 2013, that number was down to 2.6 percent. As "Made in America" went from being the norm to being a rarity, it's taken on a sort of vague glow in the minds of many US citizens. Whether that glow is derived from national pride, a connotation of higher quality and craftsmanship or something else entirely, it means that American citizens are increasingly interested in brands that are created on domestic soil.
But where exactly in the country is that domestic soil? We talked to two experts to find out: Shannon Whitehead Lohr, founder and CEO of sustainable fashion accelerator Factory45, who has worked to help numerous clothing companies in the US get off the ground, and Kathryn Hilderbrand, who heads up Massachusetts-based factory Good Clothing Company and its in-house line Good Apparel. Read on to see how they break down the US fashion industry by regions of production.
LA has the largest concentration of garment laborers in the United States, with an estimated 40,000 people employed in the sector at the end of 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times. The industry in the City of Angels is bolstered by the high population of immigrants, who make up the majority of the garment workforce and whose presence counteracts the shortage of labor common in other parts of the country. LA's proximity to the coast has impacted its participation in the garment industry, too.
"The reason that LA is so well known and has grown so big in the manufacturing industry is because of its great port systems," claims Hildebrand. "It makes connections and shipping to the rest of the world easier."
Overall, LA is best known for its cut-and-sew operations on both a large batch and small batch scale, and it also takes national leadership when it comes to fabric printing.
"The Carolinas were once called the 'Textile Belt of America' and have been known for their handlooms and cotton fabrics for hundreds of years," says Lohr. Though the widespread off-shoring of much fashion production has impacted the two states' formerly famous textile production, Lohr says that North and South Carolina are still known for producing some of the best denim in America.
Hilderbrand adds that the Carolinas are the most likely states for onshoring to happen in the US as they're constantly working to perfect new textile production technologies that make them competitive with overseas facilities.
"Many companies are reshoring their textile production in the region because of its deep rooted history, access to cotton and close proximity to ports," she adds.
New York City
Because New York is still where so many American designers get their start — some of the most prestigious design schools are located there, as are the CFDA, NYFW and many established designer headquarters and flagships — it continues to have a small but vibrant manufacturing center in spite of rising real estate and production prices.
"NYC was the original hub that, in the Civil War era, began producing ready-to-wear clothing," claims Hilderbrand. "The trend of purchasing clothing rather than individuals making their own kicked off with innovative thinking and efforts [there]."
Today, NYC's garment district still serves as an epicenter for smaller-batch cut-and-sew operations, with a special emphasis on working with indie designers who may require more specialized techniques or smaller order sizes.
In spite of all the things that can be and are made consistently in the US, there are still some things that are hard to get produced stateside. The first is anything that needs to be extremely low-cost: when it comes to slashing prices, the US still can't compete with the likes of India or Bangladesh.
The other is intricate detailing like embroidery or beadwork. "We are a much less ornate country in aesthetic, so as an overarching component of the industry it is not terribly missed," says Hilderbrand. "But when you do attempt to find those services domestically, you will be hard pressed."