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Men Seek Heritage, Craftsmanship in U.S. Product

On his Men’s blog, A Continuous Lean, Michael Williams has compiled an authoritative list of brands that manufacture in the U.S.

On his Men’s blog, A Continuous Lean, Michael Williams has compiled an authoritative list of brands that manufacture in the U.S. It’s full of heritage names such as Pendleton Woolen Mills, Woolrich Woolen Mills and J. Press, along with newer designers like Alexander Olch, Ernest Alexander and Rag & Bone.

“I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t know how to make anything,” said Williams of his fixation on domestic manufacturing, which reflects a similar increased interest in the topic among men in general.

Williams pointed to a confluence of factors for the trend, including the recession that glaringly highlighted the loss of American manufacturing jobs here, a natural backlash to the spread of mass-produced fast fashion, heightened environmental and workplace concerns among consumers and a masculine zeitgeist that embraces a genuine interest in authentic craftsmanship.

Men are often interested in the history and functionality of garments, added Williams, which has helped drive the ongoing popularity of heritage brands. That trend parallels the uptick in interest in American manufacturing, as many heritage brands produce domestically. Further, newer brands that aim to capture the veneer of heritage are finding that producing in small quantities in the U.S. is economically and logistically sensible while appealing to the sensibilities of consumers newly conscientious of where their suits, jeans and leather goods are made.

At the most recent Project men’s show in New York in July, the centerpiece of the first floor was an installation of independent, hand-crafted product that was made in the U.S., such as Julian Boots footwear, Westbrook Maker hats and Etwas leather bags.

This Sept. 15 and 16, the next edition of Northern Grade will be held in Minneapolis, a three-year-old pop-up men’s fair dedicated solely to American-made goods. Participating brands include Red Wing Heritage, Leather Works Minnesota, Aurora Shoe Co. and Defiant Bicycles. The show has expanded this year to Chicago, which will host a Northern Grade fair on Oct. 27.

As Detroit heralds the revival of American-made automobiles, it’s not a stretch to say men’s wear is enjoying a renaissance in American-made clothes, shoes and accessories. Individualized Apparel Group, which owns 12 tailored clothing and furnishings brands and makes 95 percent of its product in the U.S., will grow sales over 25 percent this year, said chairman and president Joe Blair.

IAG owns seven factories in the U.S., which produce tailored clothing and furnishings for its brands such as Oxxford Clothes (made in Chicago), Gitman Bros. (Ashland, Pa.), Corbin (Shippensburg, Pa.) and Individualized Shirts (Perth Amboy, N.J.). The company calls its Westminster, Md. factory, which produces between 400 and 500 custom suits a day for its English American brand, the largest custom suit facility in the world.

“We do many trunk shows and we hear from consumers how important it is to them that we are made in America,” said Blair.

The biggest challenge to IAG is the high labor costs at its 100 percent unionized plants. However, Blair noted the company has been profitable for every one of the past 34 years and it plans to further invest $10 million between the next three and five years, upgrading its manufacturing capabilities.

Other tailored clothing brands that produce in the U.S. include Hickey Freeman in Rochester, N.Y., Hart Schaffner Marx in Chicago and even Germany’s Hugo Boss in Brooklyn, Ohio. The JA Apparel Corp. has made its Collection suits and sport coats in its company-owned New Bedford, Mass., factory since the Joseph Abboud brand was founded in 1986. The 350,000-square-foot facility employs 500 people and churns out 1,200 tailored jackets and 700 pants a day.

The facility also enables Joseph Abboud to operate a made-to-measure program with Nordstrom, where a salesperson using an iPad app can show a customer all the available choices of fabrics, styles and details and send an order directly to the factory, which can make the requested suit in 10 working days, between $845 and $1,300.

“To do a made-to-measure suit from Italy would take six to eight weeks,” said Anthony Sapienza, chief executive officer of JA Apparel.

“We’re always looking at ways to make things faster and more efficiently, while maintaining our level of quality,” said Sapienza, noting that while labor costs are higher than overseas, those are offset at least in part by savings on shipping costs, import tariffs, insurance and quality control.

Carhartt has manufactured in America for 120 years, and this fall has created a special label and marketing initiative to identify some of its most iconic pieces, including its classic ring-spun cotton duck jackets.