Why is "Made in America" so expensive (And how we can make it affordable for everyone)
Well, first let’s talk about what we mean when we say expensive.
I’ll use an example that was used in a costing workshop I did.
This particular example was using a sleeveless crop top as an example of the garment.
A front. A back. Two armholes, neck opening and bottom hem.
No hoods, drawstrings, buttons, monograms, etc.
Just a plain crop top.
This crop top did have fabric printed specifically for this design.
Since the design only uses about half a yard of fabric, it was estimated that the fabric cost about $7 (since the cost to get fabric printed averages between $13-15 a yard).
Once you factor in pattern development, grading, marking, cutting and labor to sew the shirt, this shirt would retail for around $165!!!!! That’s right, $165 retail.
Why is something SO simple, SOOOOO expensive?
If you follow any of my social media, you already know the bigger part of the answer to this question as I post pretty regularly about the virtues of having our clothes “Exquisitely Made in the USA.”
But there is another reason it can cost more to have our clothes “Made in America.”
And the reason is small batch manufacturing.
Many small fashion lines opted for domestic manufacturing but being small they aren’t selling thousands of pieces.
Dozens is more likely.
And it takes quite some time to set up a production line to be able to sew the garments efficiently and well.
Machines have to be calibrated to the settings for each garment.
For instance, different parts of the garment require different stitches and different fabrics require different stitches.
Stretchy fabrics require a different kind of stitch than a fleece fabric.
The thread has to be changed to match the garment.
And these industrial sewing machines can take some time to re-thread.
This ain’t your mama’s sewing machine we are talking about here.
And then of course, it has to be tested to make sure its sewing correctly.
And again, all of this takes time.
So if a manufacturer has to stop every 100-200 pieces and re-do all of this, it adds to the cost.
But if they complete the machine set-up and then sew 1000 pieces this cuts down on the cost significantly.
Because the time taken to calibrate the production line to specifications is a fixed amount of time, when that time can be distributed among 1000 pieces vs. 100 pieces it helps to offset the cost.
But the good news here is that if we can get a lot of small fashion lines to the 1000 piece threshold, then the price drops significantly for the consumer.
Remember the crop top in the example above?
If we manufactured and sold 1000 of them the price drops to around $45 retail.
Huge difference actually.
(I interrupt this blog post to take a minute to get on my soapbox.
I just have to say that we should be helping these brands out.
Having goods manufactured in other countries is REALLY easy and REALLY cheap.
These brands, including myself, have accepted the challenge to keeping their clothes “Made in the USA” even though it would be much quicker and cheaper to go offshore.
If we want to keep companies that sell products “Made in America,” then we need to support them however we can.
This includes following on social media, liking their posts and sharing with friends and family (all free to consumers too I might add).
Even if you don’t share the same style as a particular brand, liking and sharing will help them find the customers who ARE looking for their type of clothes.
End of soapbox moment.)
But back to the reasons it cost more to have clothes “Made in the USA.”
There are all the issues we say we care about to consider.
The issues we care enough to pass laws on here, for our workers and our economy and them promptly outsource/buy from countries who do NOT have the same laws on the books.
A few of these issues include providing healthcare for workers, providing sick time, maternity leave, paid time off, safe workplaces, environmental regulations and the big one, child labor and forced/exploitive labor.
And all of these things are good things.
REALLY good things.
But it costs money to provide all of that; money that gets added to the cost of production which ends up in the bottom line of products.
And that’s really it in a nutshell.
It costs more to make things in America so the end product costs more.
But as I’ve stated in other blog posts and on social media, these costs are well worth it.
Not only are we creating a better workplace and environment by buying clothes “Made in the USA,” but we are securing our independence as a country.
Let me explain what I mean by that for those who haven’t heard me talk about this before.
There are THREE FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS FOR EVERY SINGLE PERSON ALIVE.
They are FOOD, CLOTHING, and SHELTER.
It doesn’t matter who you are, you require these three basic things to survive.
(Note: I’d argue that I need a few more things like high thread count sheets, a hair- dryer and mascara but I digress… we are talking bare bones needs here.)
If a country isn’t providing the three basic needs for its citizens, if a country is dependent on outside sources for ANY of these three needs, guess what?
We aren’t independent.
Which means, when you get down to the brass tacks, we aren’t free.
Just like when you lived at home with Mom and Dad, you didn’t pay the bills, so you weren’t in charge.
Same idea here.
Independence is born of being responsible for yourself (or your country as is the case here).
And with our current apparel manufacturing at 2%, I think its safe to say we aren’t independent.
This matters to EVERYONE who cares about our way of life.
And by that I mean being free.
So, there’s a lot riding on our ability to be able to provide for ourselves.
But the good news is that we can do this!
You can help make “Made in America” affordable for everyone.
Find and support your small fashion lines.
Share the news of smaller brands even if you don’t like their products, you may know someone who does and could be a customer.
We can ALL help raise awareness of the small brands who are committed to keeping their brand Made in the USA (because like I said, it is really easy to go elsewhere like so many have done).
We’ve got this.