Be it Independence Day weekend or not, there‘s a growing portion of people who -- literally -- wear their patriotism on their sleeves year-round.
Efforts to promote made-in-America apparel and accessories and to produce more designs in the United States have morphed into a movement that’s gaining support from fashion designers and consumers alike.
“Designers and consumers understand the importance of American-made apparel and accessories,” Nanette Lepore, a New York City-based fashion designer, said in an email interview. “We‘re seeing major support from American fashion companies, the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] and the city to revitalize and retool New York’s clothing manufacturing hub.”
Ms. Lepore, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, has been a longtime proponent of domestic garment production and credits it with helping her launch her career.
“I didn’t start my company with a big investor or lots of money. It took my husband and me a long time and a lot of hard work. We did everything on our own, and we could not have done it without the resources available to us here,” she said. “If we lose local production, New York will lose new young talent. The future of American fashion depends on it.”
Politicians such as U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are doing their part to help bolster clothing manufacturing in the United States. Earlier this year he introduced in the Senate the Wear American Act of 2014 that, if passed, would require federal agencies to buy apparel that‘s wholly made in America. (Under current legislation the textile products federal agencies purchase can be only 51 percent from U.S. makers.)
“Our government needs to take the lead in recommitting our resources to American manufacturing,” he said in an email. “That begins with the products it purchases and the businesses it supports.”
He tries to practice what he promotes (“most days, I’m proud to wear American-made shoes on the Senate floor and a suit made by union workers in Cleveland, Ohio, from Hugo Boss,” he said) and has introduced other bills with “buy American” goals. In 2012 after it was discovered that Ralph Lauren‘s Team USA parade uniforms for the summer Olympics in London were made in China, he helped the Senate in urging the U.S. Olympic Committee to utilize the services of domestic clothing producers for future Olympic games, which Ralph Lauren did for outfits for this year’s winter games in Russia.
Highly publicized incidences like these have stirred public awareness concerning where their clothes come from.
“Consumers are seeking a closer connection to the brands they support,” Ms. Lepore said. “They are interested in a company‘s story and how ethically it’s run.”
In Pittsburgh, Emily Slagel opened the Mid-Atlantic Mercantile boutique in Lawrenceville a year ago as another option for locals seeking ethically sourced, sustainable fashions and home decor. Ninety percent of the store‘s inventory is made in America.
“I definitely get customers who seek the store out because they‘re trying to buy things made in the United States,” Ms. Slagel said. For others, thinking about where -- and how -- their clothing is created when shopping still is unfamiliar.
“There‘s a lot of growing consciousness in how we grow our food, but there still wasn’t that shift in retail,” she said. “It‘s definitely a lot of education. ... In a small boutique setting you’re able to have that conversation with customers, show them how a piece of clothing is made.”
The Mid-Atlantic Mercantile stocks American heritage brands such as Woolrich clothing and blankets and Schott NYC outerwear, plus selections from independent designers. On average, pieces go for about $50-$300, higher than what‘s typical at the fast-fashion retailers such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21 that have become staples of many people’s shopping diets. But the heightened price points often equate to better quality of clothing, Ms. Slagel said, and better wages for American manufacturers and craftsmen. (But not all American production jobs are good ones. Some employ immigrant workers who are underpaid or work in poor conditions, so do your research.)
“You don‘t need 10 favorite shirts,” she said. “You need just one really good one.”
Some brands have recognized this stirred interest in American-produced apparel and are tapping into it -- but not always for genuine reasons. It‘s a marketing ploy for some, Ms. Slagel said, and sometimes brands churn out and advertise one line or a small capsule collection of U.S.-made pieces while the rest of their collections come from elsewhere.
“I think consumers are smarter than that,” she said, encouraged by the growth she’s noticed in options for American-made selections for her store that weren‘t around even just a year ago.
“While it’s still a small movement, the growth for it is pretty rapid.”
For more from PG style editor Sara Bauknecht, check out the PG‘s Stylebook blog at www.post-gazette.com/stylebook. Follow her on Twitter @SaraB_PG or email email@example.com.