Made In the USA Making A Comeback In 2016
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of new manufacturing facilities in the US and a move toward domestic production. One example of reshoring came from performance wear giant Under Armour and their Lighthouse project, an epicenter for process and innovation to connect designers and manufacturers and advance the creation of product using 3D.
The project, which focuses on shoes and apparel, is based in Under Armour’s manufacturing hub, and will connect to other domestic factories across the country. The vision behind the Lighthouse is to allow product to be made in the US by combining manufacturing and technology, while still staying competitive.
US manufacturers cannot compete with the labor rates in places such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and India, so adopting technology is key for US brands to stay competitive. US manufacturers who have been successful in growth are using the most advanced machinery, new production methods involving batching and modular setups, and 3D prototyping technology to create true-to-life digital samples that can be leveraged from design and development all the way to sales and marketing.
Reducing the number of samples in the development stage clearly saves time and money. If you look at current sourcing models, it is rare to see a first sample approval rate. Often, there are 3-5 samples before production approval. Overseas, the production cost is costly, but imagine the increased costs by doing the same process domestically.
By adding virtual product development to the workflow and creating 3D photorealistic images, decisions can be made faster and approved way before needing to order fabric and make physical samples. In a digital workflow, you can actually make more samples, see more styles, view all desired colorways, and even drop items entirely, all without even sewing the sample physically.
Currently, high end apparel and the couture market dominate in domestic production as their elevated price points help absorb the higher domestic costs of manufacturing. Manufacturers of product that is sublimation print driven are also producing domestically. These companies offer a customized product such as ready-to-wear apparel, athletic uniforms, cheer, gymnastics, and cycling. As fabric is printed to order and bought as prepared for print, there is less commitment to print fabric ahead of orders, and therefore can be done on a local level.
Fashion denim production also continues to expand domestically. While higher prices on jeans can allow manufacturers to produce locally, it is not only price that makes American made jeans popular. The denim manufacturers in LA are excellent craftsman who use high level fabrics from the US, Japan, and Italy coupled with great washes, treatments, and stitch details.
Made in the USA movement is clearly making a comeback and expanding, but not all companies will join. Most likely, those manufacturing niche products who produce higher price point apparel, knits, and custom clothing, will choose to manufacture domestically. Other products will be best served being made offshore to accommodate the mass market and price point driven retailers.
However, even if manufacturing will not be to 100% USA made, there may be a shift for larger companies to invest more in US facilities. For example, factories, knitting and weaving mills. The more fabric capabilities that exist domestically, the greater the product range that can be produced domestically. One of the key business values for making apparel in the US is quick turn times. That quick turn time disappears when we have to ship in the fabric and trim from Asia or Europe. The government may even become more involved in expanding US made product with special tax breaks and incentives for companies that left the US to bring manufacturing back.
While the Made in the USA movement may be limited in those manufacturers who produce domestically, what is sure is that technology will be incorporated more to help cut time and costs dramatically.