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The movement toward “Made in America” means different things to various companies, but there are some commonalities.
A diverse trio of executives illustrated those points when they explained why their companies and brands choose and are committed to U.S. manufacturing. For Filson, a key point is brand heritage and integrity. For Freemans Sporting Club, it’s about creating an image for the brand that includes a “Rockwellian,” all-American persona, while for Billy Reid, it’s a strong commitment to quality and creating American jobs.
“In my mind, Made in the U.S. comes at a price,” said Maurizio Donadi, chief creative officer of Filson, the Seattle-based outdoor apparel company. “Made in the U.S. is a commitment for something to be well made. At Filson we call it luxury. It’s the DNA of a company like Filson to be made in the Unites States. We’re a 116-year-old company, and if we don’t take Made in America seriously, then what’s the point?”
Kent Kilroe, managing director and co-owner of Freemans, said, “Made in America is fundamental to what we are. When we started, the concept was to reimagine what it means to be a man in America. For us it was a very organic process to start. I’d like to think at the time we were pioneers in the rebirth of the Made in America trend. But we didn’t think of it as a trend. For us it was a practical way to execute our vision of what we wanted to do.”
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Billy Reid said, “When we started in 2004, our production runs were very small…manufacturing in Florence, Ala. We weren’t making any money, but we had a taste of it, and it was something we really believed in. We saw so many jobs lost, certainly in the Southeast in the textile industry. Just trying to bring just a little bit of that back is something we believed in, so the more we kept expanding it, we found ways to make it profitable and make it a business.”
Beyond each company’s core approach, there are specific issues that drive them to manufacture in the U.S.
“We have a social responsibility as brands to say something to the consumers that has meaning, that’s honest — delivering higher quality is very important,” said Filson’s Donadi. “America is about utility, about building things that will last a long time. There’s no reason why in the United States we shouldn’t be building incredible companies.”
Kilroe of Freemans, a New York-based men’s retailer for handmade goods made locally, specializing in custom suiting, said a difference he sees in recent years is that men are more interested in how something is made and its value, as opposed to just the price.
“They are more interested in an investment than a disposable trend, and are more willing to spend the money on something with a perceived value and that is supporting the local economy,” Kilroe said.
Reid, whose upscale company has nine boutiques and collections of men’s and women’s wear and accessories, said, “I absolutely think the perception of what Made in America means has changed. For us it’s basically the luxury wing of the collection. Anything we make in the United States is going to have the integrity of the make, whether it’s a hand-tailored suit or a hand-cut bag from Tennessee….It all has the quality of the make, and the consumer gets it. It plays well in America, but it plays even better, in some cases, overseas.”
For Freemans, speed to market and proximity are also key.
“You can bring things to market in six weeks, as opposed to six to eight months in Asia,” Kilroe said. “You can also respond to what’s happening in season, and you’re not saddled with that inventory commitment.”
Filson’s Donadi, who is also president of Bedrock Creative Office, said there is also a shifting concept of what makes a successful company.
“Small and profitable is great, and making sure to continue to be relevant,” he said.
There was some difference of opinion on whether there are enough skilled workers in the U.S.
Donadi said, “There is a lack of skill and training. The only way to get it back is creativity, and the government, the big companies should train people how to make things.”
Kilroe said from his experience, “There are an amazing amount of skilled artisans and laborers in New York. There are challenges in areas such as footwear and sweaters, but Maine footwear factories are coming back. It’s also true that in areas such as technical outerwear, facilities don’t exist in much scale in the U.S.”