STARS AND STRIPES, FOR NOW
FROM AN UPTICK IN DEMAND FOR RED, WHITE AND BLUE ITEMS TO AN INCREASE IN DOMESTIC PRODUCTION, PATRIOTISM IS SWEEPING THE INDUSTRY.
Byline: Katherine Bowers
What now? What next? As the nation searches for answers to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, local contractors and manufacturers are facing their own questions about how the tragedies have affected business.
At issue: Will patriotic sentiments encourage shoppers to look for Made In The USA tags? Will delays associated with increased border security cause manufacturers to retool sourcing strategies in favor of domestic shops? Or will plummeting consumer confidence and retailer cancellations further erode an already beleaguered local production base?
While none of these questions have clear answers yet, the industry is beginning to take stock of significant shifts in public sentiment and political reality impacting their business. Reports have varied from requests for immediate goods to across-the-board cancellations of outstanding fall orders.
All Style Apparel, which produces blank T-shirts for screen printers, saw its orders for red, white and navy items quadruple in the weeks following the attacks, said Tony Castillo, vice president of business development for the Anaheim, Calif.-based firm.
“They’re being bought by people promoting Made in the USA goods in their stores or nonprofit organizations or people who are setting up [charitable] funds,” he said.
Castillo said the company is looking to continue the momentum by marketing to government agencies looking to buy domestic goods.
Bob Reed, president of Stitches Inc., a contracting shop located in City of Commerce, Calif., characterized new paper since Sept. 11 as “principally huge orders from mass retailers for T-shirts with patriotic screens on them.”
Since then, Reed has added about 50 workers to his 175-employee operation in order to crank out a massive order of T-shirts for Wal-Mart. He learned from a subcontracting manu-
facturer that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer was looking to get about 300,000 units of T-shirts from local producers.
Reed said he believes patriotism orders will ebb in favor of bottom-line business.
“The reality is, orders of this nature are supplanting the regular seasonal merchandise that retailers might have ordered or may be cancelling,” he said. “So, an overall business upturn? I don’t think so.”
In fact, there have been a flurry of local layoffs, as shops cope with order cancellations. Several owners said that in the weeks following the attack, they’ve been approached almost daily by unemployed sewers.
“I get about 10 to 12 people a day looking for work,” said George Simonian, owner of dress contractor GS Fashion in Huntington Park, Calif.
Anna Margiotta, who runs Anna & Maria Sportswear with her sister, said her business has dropped by one-third, causing her to lay off seven of 30 employees in her Pacoima, Calif.-based shop. She said she’s trying to postpone additional cuts a few more weeks in hopes retailers will begin placing orders again.
“We’re hoping we can stretch things for another month, but then we’ll have to deal with the bills coming in,” she said.
An upside for local producers may be coming, in the form of reworked sourcing, but it might take several months, said Randall Harris, executive director of the San Francisco Fashion Industry, which has 190 members in Northern California.
“This is a relatively new event, and it takes a certain amount of time to remodel your sourcing strategies,” he said. “But I think some of the more sophisticated manufacturers will be looking to source in politically safe locations, which just may be domestically.”
Joe Rodriguez, executive director of the 200-member Garment Contractors Association of Southern California, said he expects manufacturers to “start hedging their bets and reestablishing contact with domestic contractors.”
“When you factor in travel expenses required to ride herd on factories several times a week, shipping expenses and delays — all those issues — we can be an attractive alternative,” he said.
Mitchell Quaranta, president of $120 million manufacturer Swat-Fame in City of Industry, Calif., agreed with Rodriguez.
“I think retailers are nervous about supervising production. There’s a lot of work done in countries close to where we might see fighting.”
Quaranta sources 70 percent of production overseas and south of the border, but he’s monitoring the situation and may consider keeping a larger percentage of orders local.
“If the market requests faster turn, but isn’t as worried about getting absolutely the bottom line cost, we will shift production,” he said.
Louie Lujan, owner of 35-year-old contracting shop Lujan of California Inc., said he’s heard patriotic talk before, but doesn’t believe it will result in real relief for an industry already weakened by the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Any time things get rough, they talk about coming back,” he said.” But it doesn’t happen.”