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Age Gap Revealed in Made-in-U.S. Surveys

Older Americans tend to care more about American-made goods.

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Age matters when it comes to the Made in America push.

This story first appeared in the September 4, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As retailers and brands step up their domestic sourcing, one key finding is that the older the consumer, the more they care about where their apparel is made. The finding indicates that fashion brands looking to justify a higher price for domestically produced apparel might have a marketing challenge on their hands, especially if they target the Millennial consumer.

An April telephone survey of just more than 1,000 American adults by Gallup Inc. revealed that 45 percent of respondents had made a “special effort” over the past several months to buy products made in the U.S., versus 55 percent who said they had not. When broken down by various demographic attributes, including income and political affiliation, no single factor affected the focus on U.S. origin more than age, with interest in U.S.-made merchandise in direct, and somewhat dramatic, proportion to year of birth.

More than three in five — 61 percent — of those 65 and older indicated they’d made a special effort to buy Made in America products, a figure that dropped to 53 percent among those 50 to 64, and to 45 percent among those 30 to 49. Among those 18 to 29, the number dropped to just 20 percent, less than a third of the figure for seniors.

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Those results mirror a study conducted for WWD by The NPD Group last year, in which 89.2 percent of those 65 and older said they “always or usually” pay attention to where the products they purchase are made, a number that fell to 70.9 percent among those 18 to 24 and was just slightly higher — 72.9 percent — for those between 25 and 34.

“Older people tend to be more patriotic, but people aren’t going to tell you that they’re not,” said Jeffrey Jones, managing editor at Gallup. “Could it be that older Americans have witnessed the erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base and are paying more attention to questions about country of origin? Perhaps.”

Jones also suggested that, unlike their older counterparts, younger Americans are simply more accustomed to buying imported products, from cars to coats, and were raised during a period when free trade was the order of the day.

Younger individuals also might lack the financial resources of their elders and gravitate toward less expensive imports as they more directly confront the realities of a tougher job market, the need to pay back student loans and other pressures on the pocketbook. Yet Gallup’s data provided no suggestion of likelihood to “buy American” based on wealth, with 46 percent of upper-income individuals saying they’d made a special effort to purchase domestic merchandise, versus 41 percent for middle-income respondents and 43 percent among those identifying themselves as lower income.

Nearly two-thirds of the sample — 64 percent — said they were willing to pay more for U.S.-made products. Among those who’d made a special effort to buy American, 88 percent said they were willing to pay more — and even among those who hadn’t made that effort, 44 percent said they were willing to pay more.

Among those saying they’d make a special effort to buy domestically produced products, 32 percent said they would do so to support the country, be patriotic or simply “Buy American,” versus 31 percent who selected “keeps or creates jobs in the U.S.” and 20 percent who simply said that doing so was good for the U.S. economy. Those equating U.S. manufacture with better quality and better products constituted 13 percent of the sample, and those saying they didn’t trust products made abroad or were afraid to buy them just 3 percent.

Although Gallup hadn’t previously polled the public about its feelings toward buying American, it had surveyed sentiments about U.S. manufacturing before. This year, 19 percent said they thought U.S. production was “a lot better” than a few years ago, and 52 percent said it was “a little better,” versus 21 and 46 percent, respectively, in an October 1990 survey.

Bayard Winthrop, a former investment banker who was previously president and principal of the accessories firm Chrome, last year founded American Giant based on his belief that Americans were hungry for high-quality U.S.-made sportswear and that such merchandise could be priced more affordably if it were sold directly to consumers on the Internet — at american-giant.com — rather than through stores, which would add their own margin requirements into the price. The idea has caught on, and the firm has broadened its product range and moved into women’s.

 

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To explore his customers’ attitudes, he collaborated with WWD on a survey of 112 of his active American Giant clients and found that e-commerce and Made in America might be more of a match than some had expected.

While 42 percent of respondents said that they always or often go out of their way to buy American-made clothing in stores, that number rose to 56.7 percent when they were asked if they’d gone out of their way in their online shopping. More than three in five — 60.3 percent — said they’d used the Internet to find American-made clothes or other U.S.-made merchandise.

In addition, just 11.7 percent said they wouldn’t pay a premium for U.S.-made apparel, while 22.5 percent would pay up to 10 percent more, 42.3 percent indicated they’d pay up to 20 percent more and 23.4 percent said they’d pay more than 20 percent more.

“I believed when I started the company and believe even more strongly now that there’s a significant opportunity,” he told WWD. “If you can fulfill the expectation that U.S. quality is good, you can drive brand equity and loyalty in a way that’s not common these days. At the end of the day, you have to deliver on your core values. For us, it’s fit, quality and value, and we’re getting it done here.”

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