Where Have All the Made-in-USA Brands Gone?

A number of Made-in-USA labels have recently moved some — or all — of their production overseas. We wanted to find out why they left, and what their move could mean to the American garment industry as a whole.

Over the last two years, a number of brands that were once 100% Made-in-USA, including Taylor Stitch, Buck Mason, Corridor NYC, Outdoor Voices, and Topo Designs, have moved some – or all – of their production to Asia.

While it would be easy to attribute those moves to a desire for cheaper labor and higher profits, it turns out that in most cases, it isn’t that simple. Yes, labor in China, India, and elsewhere, is less expensive than American labor, but according to those who’ve made the jump, the quality of that labor is far more consistent than what they had stateside – and it isn’t as cheap as it once was, either.


[image via Taylor Stitch]


“China is not the cheapest place to make product anymore and I totally hear you, it naturally sounds dirty because of it’s history,” says Michael Maher, cofounder of Taylor Stitch. “[But] the truth is, it’s one of the most advanced manufacturing countries in the world with some of the most skilled workforce.”

“[The] product is so much better,” adds Dan Snyder of Corridor NYC, in regards to their recent move to India, though he’s quick to add that the styles Corridor is still making domestically “continue to be very good.”

Construction quality isn’t the only reason some brands have relocated. Factories in China and India are also ruthlessly efficient and precise, which makes it much easier to add new styles to a collection.

“In the past, we have worked hard to keep our prices down by using value textiles,” says Snyder. “But I wanted to design my own textiles [and] the US has almost no textile industry… shirting textiles cannot be designed and milled here at an attainable price.” Now that Corridor is working with more dexterous factories, they can incorporate new “beautiful weaves” into their line without increasing the cost of their shirts.


[image via Corridor NYC]

And though pollution is still probably the most glaring pock mark on an industry that’s covered with them, and some factories in those regions have been notoriously problematic in that regard, others are actually leading the way in environmentally-friendly production.

“I set a goal to get virgin cotton out of our supply chain by 2020,” Maher says. “We’re already making all of our heavy bag tees out of 100% recycled content and are working a lot of hemp, tencel and organic cotton into our manufacturing wherever we can. We need these raw materials to be efficient to source… which means we need it to be close to the manufacturer. The place that’s pioneering these efforts is Asia. The factory we partnered with is Oeko-Tex 100, Blue Sign and GOTS certified.”

Maher also says he worked with Patagonia’s director of product to find factories where workers are treated equitably and humanely. And Snyder of Corridor made an equally concerted effort to find ethical suppliers: “all of our new factories are certified by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), SEDEX and OSHAS.”


[image via Gustin]

But even with Asia’s lower prices, more capable factories, and eco / ethical advancements beckoning, not everyone is giving up on making here.

“Producing in America has always been one of the core elements of our company, and something that we haven’t strayed from in over 10 years of developing and making products,” says Stephen Powell, of Gustin. “I think customers see that we haven’t joined [the other companies moving to Asia], and appreciate that we’ve stuck to our principles.”

For Carrie Hasagawa, of Battenwear, proximity is paramount. “It would never work… to move everything. We wouldn’t be able to walk in to our factories, be a part of the community like we are now. And that’s as important to us as anything.”


[image via Save Khaki]

David Mullen, of Save Khaki, also remains committed to producing domestically, even if it forces him to reduce the brand’s product offerings. “We built a business model where we’re making [only what] we need and if we hit on something, we make more,” he said.

While all three remain steadfast, they also admit that accepting limitations is par for the course when you manufacture in the US.

“From a quality perspective, US production can be challenging,” says Mullen. “It took us a while to find someone that could handle our pants. Sometimes, there are 40 sewing operations in a chino, which is a lot of labor and, ultimately, makes the wholesale model harder.”


[image via Battenwear]

For Hasagawa, however, the slight flaws sometimes found on American-made garments are indicative of a more intimate production process. “Those flaws are part of the integrity [of the garment],” she says. “They make each one unique, which lets you learn more about it. Old machines, slanted floors, variance between pieces, those things are part of a piece’s identity, and those flaws are important.”

Important or not, inconsistent quality and limited production capabilities are making it increasingly harder for brands that want to scale to stay here. And, like a snake eating its own tail, as more brands move away, more factories close, further lessening the industry’s proficiency and capacity.

So ultimately, it’s a question of whether a brand – and its customers – are willing to accept the American garment industry’s shortcomings, for the sake of keeping it alive.

  • Warland

    As far as I’m concerned, US manufacturing is the key factor that differentiates these brands and their products in a crowded clothing market. If they forfeit that differentiation, they will have to compete with a much larger pool of lower-priced brands made overseas for customers who do not care where, by whom, or under what conditions their clothing was made. Those of us who do care about country of origin, treatment of workers, and stewardship of the environment will have to look elsewhere.

    • Svender

      Agree 100%
      And Cheers to Powell/Gustin for sticking with it. Damn shame these others are moving. OTOH, has anyone tried training a workforce here? Seems it would be a good investment. I have a hard time believing that we can no longer do this here.

    • T. Chiesa

      Completely agree.

    • probs

      My gut reaction is to agree, but on the labor rights and environmentalism front, it seems like a lot of the companies are getting good certifications. As reported here on Well Spent, labor abuses also occur in US production facilities. A lot of my clothes are US made, and these move rub me the wrong way- but maybe it’s not that simple? Idk. I’m definitely with you that the only reason we’ve ever heard of a lot of these brands is that the US-made aspect served as a point of distinction from competitors.

    • Peter

      These companies literally said that they could not produce what they wanted to here in the US, at the level of precision and quality that they could accept. Why would you put the actual craftsmanship and level of quality below a “Made in the USA” tag? I never bought Taylor Stitch products because every jacket I saw had wonky stitching, unclipped threads everywhere, and the fabric wasnt great for the price.Just because something is made in the garment district in Manhattan by Asian or Mexican immigrants (No disrespect meant here) or in LA made by the same immigrants working insane hours in hot factories doesnt mean that there arent labor abuses or proper stewardship of the environment

    • Carter Wright

      Very well said. I’m willing to pay a premium to buy some confidence that the people who make the garments are paid better. I will be much less willing to pay that kind of premium if that goes away.

      • NICHOLAS JONES

        pleased to hear that Carter as im starting a new made in England sportwear range so happy to hear people still appreciate provenance and the quality of goods.

    • davidklor

      Sadly, I don’t think treatment of workers in the US garment industry is automatically anything to trumpet. There is plenty of wage theft and mistreatment of workers stateside. Don’t get me wrong, I support manufacturing in the US but to think that we are devoid of mistreatment and, conversely, that China and other countries are not capable of responsible manufacturing is a false narrative.

      Case in point, LA’s garment industry where most high end denim is manufactured, suffers from slavery, and all under the banner of “Made in USA”: https://www.scpr.org/blogs/multiamerican/2011/04/06/7314/the-gripping-tale-of-a-garment-industry-slave/

  • probs

    Funny- a few weeks ago I commented on this very site about noticing that Taylor Stitch was no longer producing much or any of their garments in the US, and wondered about whether that production move was a permanent change.

    I will say that I personally am mostly concerned with whether a company’s supply-chain workers are treated well, impact on environment, etc., and country of origin is no longer a great shorthand for those concepts, if it ever was. If a person in China can have a decent job on which they can afford to live, that’s not a step down to me from someone in the US getting the same. If it meant that a company’s profit margins were much higher without proportionate benefits to the consumer and/or workers, I might, but that’s not clear here.

    Still, a lot of these brands marketed themselves very, very hard for many years on the USA! USA! train. I wonder if getting rid of that will hurt them in the long run.

  • disqus_0ORkZeL75U

    The funny thing is that a LOT of those Made in USA brands are being manufactured in sweatshops in Los Angeles where all workers are underpaid Mexican immigrants. Manufacturing in China still has bad name, but I can name a couple of factories where workspaces look like laboratories. Where workers are having a good laugh. Where the carbon footprint is close to zero.

    So yes, I’m defending a brand like Corridor who is moving abroad for production, because the quality is better. And I’m getting sick and tired of everybody defending Made in USA as it is the holy grail. It’s not. There is a very good chance that your Made in China shirt was better made, from production to ethics, that your average Made in USA shirt.

  • I’ve seen an increase in ‘conscious shoppers’, wether it be for environmental reasons, the treatment of workforce, or simply, wanting to make sure their money is an investment and not a purchase (buying a high quality product that will last a while and knowing that they got their money’s worth). When brands go overseas, there is still a massive (and increasing number at that) that will stray away from the brand to find something new, something local, or something pridefully crafted.

  • Prof Anon

    as a Brit, there is the hope that US product is produced to higher labor and ethical standards than elsewhere in the world. And say what you will (and for me, I would say a lot), the USA is a democracy ( flawed) and China nothing near. I know where I would rather live and work.

    There is also the thing that ‘Made in the USA’ is so very cool, and wearing US made denim in particular you are connecting to a tradition born in the country, with Levi, Wrangler and Lee. Brave Star is my favorite.

    Working conditions in the UK are good too. Check out Huit jeans, and for a non-denim interesting pair of pants, the Hebden Bridge Trouser Company, aka hebtroco, https://hebtro.co/

  • NY District

    Thanks for this piece WS. As a label owner of New York brand that producers in the city, I have a couple of additional comments.

    In New York, there are plenty of good manufacturers and cut and sew shops still around. They are making for all types of clients, sportswear clients all the way to high end luxury fashion. They do good work. Some are not great, but that’s the cost of doing business. They screw up, you have to pick up and find another one, you have to eat that cost.

    There are little to no factories making domestic fabric anymore. It’s typically from Europe, India, China, or Japan. Go to something like a Premier Vision fabric fair and look for domestic fabric producers, there might be a few, but they’re most certainly not making flannel or or anything like that.

    And that’s my next point, one thing that is missing from this piece: When you see a Made in America shirt, most often than not, it’s fabric from across the world. Transparency is key here. I’m not speaking on any specific brand, just observations across the industry, but some companies (incorrectly) go with Made in America tags, that is not correct.

    It’s a frustrating thing as a label owner, you don’t want to deter someone who is looking for domestic when you tag “from imported fabric,” but see them reach for something that has certainly sourced fabric and buttons from over seas but has an american flag tag.

    The key here as a brand is to tell an authentic story, walk people through your sourcing decisions and hope they are down with what you’re doing.

  • Consoomer

    Good Riddance. I’ve never been very interested in any of those brands.