Outsoucing and “Made in USA” An Ongoing Debate

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The following questions are proposed by students enrolled in FASH455 Spring 2016. Please feel free to leave your comment and engage in our online discussion.

L.L Bean: A Business Model for “Made in USA”?

L.L. Bean has been a strong business for hundreds of years, yet recently their sales of Bean Boots have skyrocketed because they are now seen as trendy. Even though L.L. Bean’s orders and demand has gone up, they still somehow manage to have their products being handmade, sourced locally, and all in the US.

#1: Can L.L. Bean become a model for other businesses looking to manufacture in the US? How has L.L. Bean managed to keep this business model up for so many years and why have they not changed or decided to outsource? 

#2: Why doesn’t L.L Bean look into other American cities for manufacturing options so they do not lose productivity by being exclusively made in Maine?

#3: Do you think it would be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for their manufacturing? Would there still be as high of a demand if these boots were manufactured abroad?

Outsourcing v.s. “Made in USA”

#4: It is said that one reason why American brands choose to offshore their manufacturing is because there isn’t as many cutting edge machines readily available in the States as in other countries. Is it realistic for the American manufacturing market to invest in these machines for domestic manufacturing? If so, how can America make sure to stay relevant with these technologies and not fall behind as we have currently?

#5: One aspect commonly mentioned throughout these readings was the lack of skilled labor in the US in the fashion industry. Is the decrease in skilled areas, such as shoemaking and needle trade, due to the increase in skilled labor overseas? Are these professions considered outdated for young Americans to be learning? How can we jumpstart a desire for young people to take up these skills once again?

#6: One major problem the US has been facing regarding keeping production domestic has been the lack of skilled workers to work in factories. Is the cost of providing training to interested workers too high? Should it be required that all fashion majors should take a sewing class? Where does the decision to train apparel workers begin?

#7: Many American manufacturers refrain from manufacturing in the United States because it is too expensive because more people are formally educated and are not willing to work for a low wage, but only 15% of respondents actually are working towards that. Is it realistic to reach out to homeless communities looking to get back onto their feet to see if they would work in factories? Would this help promote American manufacturing and decrease importing?

#8: In today’s fast paced fashion world, trends come and go rather quickly. The striking disadvantage of manufacturing overseas is the slow turnaround time which could be up to 3-5 months. By manufacturing domestically, turnaround can be as quick as 2 weeks. Why do the majority of fashion companies still choose to manufacture overseas when there is a possibility the trend could be over by time they reach store shelves (Thus, a lack in profit)? When will trend pressures become too much for overseas production?

#9: Is it even worth it to bring manufacturing back to America if it is not benefitting the workers and creating jobs? If manufacturing in the US is simply machine based, what is the point of doing so when it could be cheaper elsewhere and benefit countries that need the jobs?

[Discussion is closed for this post].

Made in USA: A New Reality?

Video 1: Panel discussion on “Made in USA”

Recording of a seminar on “Made in USA” hosted by the Texworld USA in January 2015. Panelists include:

  • Pete Bauman, Senior VP, Burlington Worldwide / ITG
  • Joann Kim, Director, Johnny’s Fashion Studio
  • Tricia Carey, Business Development Manager, Lenzing USA
  • Michael Penner, CEO, Peds Legwear
  • Moderator: Arthur Friedman, Senior Editor, Textiles and Trade, WWD

Video 2: Standing Still-The real story of the North Carolina textile industry

It may also be interesting to link this video with the article How a U.S. textile maker came to embrace free trade from page 3 to 9 in the reading packet.

Video 3: Panel discussion on apparel “Made in NYC”

The video is a recorded panel discussion hosted by the Texworld USA in July 2015 on the topic of apparel “Made in NYC”. Most panelists have years of experiences working in NYC as a fashion designer, including:

  • Eric Johnson, Director, Fashion & Arts Teams Center for Economic Transformation, NYC Economic Development Corporation
  • Erin Kent, Manager of Programs at The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
  • Michelle Feinberg, NY Embroidery Studio
  • (The event was moderated by Arthur Friedman, Senior Editor, Textiles and Trade, WWD)

What’s your view on the future of textile and apparel “Made in USA”?

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Textile and Apparel Sector in the 2016 U.S. Trade Policy Agenda

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In the recently released 2016 President’s Trade Agenda, the textile and apparel (T&A) sector was mentioned four times (up from only once in 2015*):

1.Trade enforcement

“THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION has a record of trade enforcement victories that have helped to level the playing field for American workers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers. In 2016, we will continue to aggressively pursue a robust trade enforcement agenda, including by using new and stronger tools under the bipartisan Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 to hold our trading partners accountable.

Ongoing disputes include challenges to:

  • China’s far-reaching export subsidy program extending across sectors and dozens of sub-sectors, including textiles, industrial and agricultural products.”

2.Trade preference programs

“Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE) pro­gram, which supports nearly $900 million in garment imports from Haiti, is an essen­tial support for Haiti’s long-term economic growth and industrial development. HOPE supports thousands of jobs in Haiti’s textile and gar­ment sectors, while providing important pro­tections to workers. Early extension of this program will provide the necessary stability and continuity for companies to continue in­vesting in Haiti’s future.”

3.Benefits of trade to the American people

“More recent trends are similar, with families steadily gaining purchasing power as the price of traded goods, such as smart phones, apparel, and toys, falls. While all households benefit, the gains from trade have predominantly benefited lower-income Americans, who spend a greater portion of their incomes on highly-traded staples like food, shoes, and clothing.”

4.Trade and labor

Our engagement has produced an Imple­mentation Plan Related to Working and Liv­ing Conditions of Workers that is helping to address concerns about workers’ rights and working conditions in Jordan’s garment sec­tor, particularly with respect to foreign work­ers. Jordan has issued new standards for dormitory inspections, submitted new labor legislation to its parliament and hired new labor inspectors. USTR and Department of Labor continue to work with Jordan on the issues under the Plan.

Overall, it seems:1) Reflecting the global nature of the sector, T&A is a topic that involves multiple trading parties for the United States; 2) Economic development and foreign aid are important elements in the U.S. trade policy for T&A. 3) Social responsibility and labor practices in the T&A sector remain a grave concern and need further improvement through international collaborations. 4) The T&A sector is involved in some topics with divisive public opinions, such as the impact of imports.

* Textile and apparel mentioned in the 2015 U.S. Trade Policy Agenda:

Our engagement has produced an Implementation Plan Related to Working and Living Conditions of Workers that is helping to address concerns about workers’ rights and working conditions in Jordan’s garment sector, particularly with respect to foreign workers. Jordan has issued new standards for dormitory inspections, submitted new labor legislation to its parliament and hired new labor inspectors.

[Discussion is closed for this post]