WASHINGTON — Men’s wear companies found themselves in the spotlight and at the center of the presidential race after Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a buyer’s guide of U.S. manufacturers for Donald Trump, calling him out for aiming to make America great again while his own signature suit line is reportedly produced abroad.
The owners of some of the companies listed said they were unaware the Clinton campaign planned to use their names in the guide, but said they were glad the presidential candidate was putting a spotlight on firms that make products in the U.S.
In a “Made in America: A Buyer’s Guide For Donald Trump,” the Clinton campaign said: “Trump couldn’t be bothered to find manufacturers in America, so we did it for him.”
“Despite his repeated claim and desire to put ‘America First’ time and time again Donald Trump has told us he has to manufacture his products abroad. He says ‘it’s very hard to have apparel made in this country.’ Or that, ‘They don’t even make the stuff here.’ No, Donald. Just no,” the campaign claimed.
The campaign went on to say it didn’t take long to find over 100 examples of U.S. manufacturers and businesses “ready and able to produce the same goods he makes overseas.”
Trump had his ties made in China but could have made them in the U.S., Clinton charged, listing the names of 25 manufacturers it said produce American-made ties.
The campaign also said Trump makes his suits and shirts in China, Bangladesh and Honduras but could have made them at 33 U.S.-based companies. Some larger well-known labels included in the guide were a Brooks Brothers factory in Haverhill, Mass., a Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester, N.Y., and a Joseph Abboud factory in New Bedford, Mass. The “guide” also listed 61 furniture and frame companies in the U.S.
One of the companies named in the guide, Blade + Blue, is a small men’s wear collection based in San Francisco. Peter Papas, founder and owner of the label, has a full-time job with a major apparel firm and designs his small sportswear collection on the side in his basement.
He said he was contacted by the Clinton campaign “out of the blue” a week ago and told they were interested in shining the spotlight on small American brands that make their clothing in the U.S. to contrast it with Trump.
Papas, who said his designs are made in the Bay Area by contractors, said there is “definitely a possibility for him [Trump] to consider making his suits in the U.S.”
“He just has to decide how much margin he is willing to sacrifice,” Papas said. “I still make a great margin on those neckties. You just have to work hard to find the right people and make the sacrifice on margins here or there.”
The contact from Clinton’s campaign enabled him to establish a relationship, something he said is important for a small entrepreneur who values knowing the people who make his clothes and neckties.
“I’m one little guy in my basement making shirts and bow ties,” Papas said. “How am I supposed to compete with big companies? What they wanted to do was shine a spotlight and give brands like mine a little bit of a bigger voice.”
And if it was also used to make a political point?
“For me it’s not even political. This is the American dream to me. My parents came here from Greece and sacrificed everything so I could go to school…I think that is the message they want to let people know about.”
Papas said it is Trump’s claims to “Make America Great Again” and attacks on immigrants on the campaign trail – not the fact that he outsources his suit collection – that don’t sit well with him.
“If you are going to get on stage and say you are going to make America great again and also say disparaging things about people from other countries, yet you don’t make anything here and you are making a lot of money on it, there is something a little disingenuous about that,” Papas said “Perhaps that is their [Clinton campaign’s] angle. To be honest, I totally agree with them.”
Read Wall, who has a ready-to-wear men’s wear collection and store by the same name in Washington, D.C., said he was completely unaware that the Clinton campaign was going to list his company in the guide but said “any publicity is good publicity.”
Wall said he preferred not getting into the politics of the issue or discussing the candidates.
He said his suits are made at a factory outside of Boston, his custom shirts are made at two factories in New Jersey, and his ties and trousers are made at two separate factories in Brooklyn.
“The argument of American-made, especially for clothing, is much more complicated than people make it out to be. The easy knee-jerk response is bring it all back here and we can do it all here but there are a lot more factors involved,” Wall said. “I think it is a complicated discussion and one that doesn’t lend itself when you get into the nitty-gritty of it to these kinds of gung-ho reactions.”
He said he doesn’t believe the U.S. can “realistically” compete at the lower end price points, but said he has built his business on higher price points based on a quality and value standpoint.
Raising awareness about American manufacturing is important to Clay Rayborn, owner of Blackland Clothing Co. in Denver, Colo., whose men’s casualwear company and store was also on the Clinton campaign guide.
“Some of those companies on the list are bigger obviously but there are a lot of small companies like me on there that are trying to bring Made in America back and getting some publicity like that is great,” Rayborn said.
He said being a small business owner and apparel manufacturer has been challenging.
“For a little guy like me it is quite challenging, but we keep continuing to raise awareness to keep jobs here. A seamstress can make between $13 and $17 an hour. Not a fortune, but in a small town that can still buy you a home and put kids through school,” he said. “I’m glad to see it becoming part of current events and part of the discussion to raise awareness. There are many people who had no idea that companies like me are producing here. I tell them why it is important to support manufacturing here.”
As for the reports of the outsourcing of Trump’s suit collection, Rayborn said outsourcing makes sense when it is something like an iPhone. But for apparel, he said the U.S. has a long history of garment production and a “skill base of people who would love those jobs.”
“I haven’t followed the two campaigns with regard to where they stand on this particular issue but let’s make it part of the discussion,” he said. “I’m glad to see that. If Donald Trump wasn’t aware that these companies like me are doing this and trying to build this base in this country, maybe this type of conversation will raise that awareness and be good for all of us little guys.”
Bradley Rhyne, owner and cofounder of the menswear collection and store Ole Mason Jar in Charlotte, N.C., said while he did not get involved in the political campaigns from either side, he welcomed the attention both candidates are giving to U.S. manufacturing.
“I would hope both of them actually hold up their end of the bargain on that. There are so many small towns — take North Carolina, for instance. They were built on textile manufacturing in the Thirties, Forties, Fifties and Sixties and you drive through them today and it’s a little depressing to see that because things are being made overseas these towns that were better once upon a time are no longer what they were,” he said.
Rhyne, whose men’s wear collection of suits, shirts and pants are made in different factories in the U.S, including in Massachusetts and North Carolina, gives a portion of the proceeds to local philanthropic groups dedicated to feeding children in need.
He, like the other makers, said he imports some fabrics, particularly wool, from Italy, but takes pride in the “extra steps” he takes to construct the suits and other items in the U.S., often with U.S.-made fabric. And he has found a company that is producing wool fabric in the U.S, which he plans to work with in the future.
“We’ll go to factories and literally our orders might be keeping the lights on,” he said. “I would hope that we can return America to how it was. I think manufacturing in general is sort of the lifeblood of those smaller towns throughout America where towns can revolve around one manufacturer, can employ a large piece of that town and really drive that local economy.”