SPECTRAUSA OPENS UP MADE IN USA APPAREL LINES
With Asian production mills undercutting and dominating global production in almost every sphere, it is hard to find a product where the words “Made in America” still apply or are even close to the truth. Addressing this ever-widening gap in the apparel industry, Chino-based apparel giant SpectraUSA is taking the rather unprecedented step of dedicating itself to expanding its range of active-, and casual-wear apparel to include 100% made in America garments.
Do the words “Made in America” even mean anything in this late stage of late-capitalism?
The short answer is yes, and no. The US Trade Federation regulates the label “Made in USA”-under the watchful eye of the FTC-and, under their watch the words, “Made in the USA” literally means “all or virtually all” of the product needs to be made in the United States of America. But what does “virtually all” mean? Well, as far back as 1996 the FTC tried to adopt a ruling which would have seen around 75% of the production costs of a product going to American business and workers. However, the ruling never passed, and, like many other industrialized nations, the “percentage of” requirement by the FTC remains a little fuzzy, with some recognizable brands attempting to slip under the FTC’s radar by assembling products in the US, where their parts are entirely or partly imported.
SpectraUSA has taken a decidedly different approach to this problem of people vs off-shore profits and is currently producing t-shirts in their classic and market-proven styles in two, rather patriotic made-in-the-USA flavors. Both include garments, created entirely in the USA, from raw cottons and spun yarn through, cutting, stitching and shipping, each and every component of these garments are expertly crafted with the United States.
Rather than attempting to offshore the labor or undercut workers’ wages, SpectraUSA has thrown their weight behind the American worker in an effort to support the local economy and put their money where their mouth is; adding their considerable production shoulders to the wheel of American production. What this means is, of the ten million or so units SpectraUSA currently carries on its warehouse floor, a substantial portion of these goods have been hand-crafted in America. It’s the kind of dedication and patriotism which ought to bring a tear to your eye, given how global politics and offshore profits have devastated much of the proud tradition of “American made” goods, not to mention the battered pride of the American workforce.
What is the toughest challenge to apparel companies manufacturing their garments in the USA?
According to a US Fashion Industry Benchmarking report, the list is short, with protectionist policies implemented by the US government being top of the list and the foremost concern for apparel makers. As the Trump administration’s sweeping tariff increases on imported goods have been implemented, so too did allied countries respond with increases in tariffs on US-made goods, this included tariff hike from traditional partners such as Canada and Mexico. These international pressures have changed the landscape of apparel manufacture and shaken up the market somewhat, requiring manufacturers to become more inventive with both production choices and market placements for their goods. Although one might expect that Chinese manufacturers would see the biggest benefits here, according to a report from the US Department of Commerce: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) report, the unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China dropped by 1.6% between January and April 2018, whilst we saw an increase of 1.7% for products imported from other parts of the world in the same time frame. From a sourcing standpoint, it seems likely that the manufacturer’s concerns about an ongoing US-China trade war is the principal driver behind their inventiveness and rush to lock down alternative, cheap, manufacturing sources.
SpectraUSA’s solution to this is unique in the marketplace. Rather than aiming production at the cheapest labor markets in the world (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and a host of African and South American options where workers live and operate well below poverty levels), they turned their attention back to the US and, specifically, to what could be achieved through domestic fabrication. The approach seems disingenuous at first; after all, how does one remain competitive by pushing labor costs up, not down? The inventiveness of the SpectraUSA team has been in coming to terms with simply accepting a lower profit margin in exchange for a more finely constructed product, with fewer defects, complications and hidden expenses which typically eat away at the promise of offshore-sourced products. Add to this the built-in benefits of a domestically produced garment, not subject to the wiles of highly volatile international trade politics and open to import/export via traditional NAFTA partners and suddenly the Spectra premise seems a lot stronger than one may first anticipate.
There remains one further aspect to SpectraUSA’s domestic production option which, as senior partner Brian McLaughlin has it, was a real “game-changer” for his hands-on approach to production: Domestic production affords the manufacturer a much closer link to the design and production process than any off-shore manufacturing option. For McLaughlin at least, this meant simply picking up the phone to discuss a production detail with a local team at a reasonable hour; nothing lost in translation, nothing lost to oversight or manufacturer’s being less than transparent about production limitations or delays. This is especially useful given the convenience of being able to drive to your factory and enjoy some face-time with the production team and the workers. The margins a manufacturer thinks they have to give up in shifting their production base to better-paid US workers, seem to be more than compensated for by the improvement in the other less-obvious elements of the manufacturing equation.
“It’s chalk and cheese,” quips McLaughlin when describing the difference in this approach to adopting domestic manufacturing over profits-only myopia behind the need for offshore manufacturing. “There is more to this game than just profit,” he adds, and it seems that quality, delivery, speed to market and peace of mind seem to rate very highly for him in this regard. He cites a list of things one would never imagine coming into play for him to create the “game-changer” experience of working with domestic manufacturing; from an unforeseen ability to implement design changes and product improvements yielded from working closely with US-based manufacturers to turn-on-a-dime speed to market which has been unprecedented.
While SpectraUSA’s focus on domestic production has yielded intrinsic benefits beyond profit margin, there remains something special for McLaughlin in being able to print the words “Made in USA” on his numerous lines of domestically produced apparel. “There’s an incredible heritage behind the American textile worker, and especially the Californian textile industry,” he offers, “to be a part of that is a great privilege, not to be taken for granted.”
SpectraUSA now produces a variety of garments all exclusively made in the USA; from their 31USA monochrome t-shirt, to their 5004 and 5006 Unisex Heritage short-, and long-sleeve tees. For McLaughlin, this is a manufacturing success story because it gives him a market edge and even a little good-karma. He offers me the option between paying the same amount for a made in America garment or an imported from Bangladesh t-shirt; “I’ll buy it for you he says, jokingly, which one do you want?”
It’s hard not to see his point. I guess I’m a Made in the USA kind of guy too.