By and and and  on September 4, 2013

It's starting to matter again.

While the vast majority of apparel sold in the U.S. continues to be produced overseas, the fashion industry is a key part of the growing Made in the USA movement, joining everything from auto manufacturers to refrigerator makers in the push to boost domestic production. While industry executives say the apparel industry is unlikely to ever get to the scale it was in its heyday of the Fifties and Sixties, in July, U.S. apparel employment fell 800 to 140,700 jobs compared with about 900,000 jobs 20 years ago, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the increase in wages in China, controversy surrounding producing in Bangladesh and a host of other factors are all contributing to some production moving back to these shores.

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While they acknowledge that the production costs are higher than they would be overseas, many designers and stores believe that when transportation costs and turnaround time are factored in, there’s less of a cost differential. Retailers and brands producing or buying in the U.S. said they rely on the convenience, speed to market, high quality and ability to keep a close eye on their production as important aspects of their business. The stumbling block is the inability to buy high-quality fabrics in the U.S.

The Made in USA movement got a major boost earlier this year when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pledged to source an additional $50 billion worth of goods in the U.S. over the next 10 years. Made in the USA accounts for two-thirds of all products Wal-Mart sells, including food.

Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of home, who’s been tasked with spearheading Wal-Mart’s Made in America initiative, conceded that much of the $50 billion pledged will come from food, “but we won’t get to the $50 billion commitment without doing new and different things,” she said. The retailer has said it will source apparel, home, games, pet supplies and high-end electronics to start.

“There becomes a volatility in producing overseas: minimum wage, freight, reliability, dependability, cost of holding the inventory and Customs,” Gloeckler said. “One of the benefits of having production closer to the point of sale is it allows you to chase something that’s hot and trendy in fashion.” Also, “research shows that customers have a strong affinity for products made in the U.S.,” she added. “We don’t believe they should cost more. Our goal is high-quality products at everyday low prices.”

No nonsense, a division of Kayser-Roth Corp. said last week it will expand its Made in America “sock initiative” at Wal-Mart in early 2014. A $28 million cash infusion will be implemented by Kayser-Roth to increase production by 30 to 40 percent for the women’s sock program at Wal-Mart, as well as bolster technology and machinery at manufacturing facilities, said Kevin Toomey, president and chief executive officer of Kayser-Roth.

Toomey said the move should create at least 100 jobs, adding that 90 percent of the 120-year-old company’s products are produced in the U.S. The company, which has invested more than $100 million in domestic production over the years, operates plants in Dayton, Tenn., and maintains three facilities in North Carolina: Burlington, Lumberton and Asheboro.

But far smaller companies are boosting domestic production. Here, a look at what some brands are doing.

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