Made In America: Can We Spark That Consumer Flame Again?

Thoughts on the future of American-made goods, as so much manufacturing moves overseas

by karenmathis • More.com Member { View Profile }

New Retail Trend

Christmas selling season isn’t very far away as retailers get their inventories beefed up and extra help hired for the next few months.  The big question is lurking in the minds of merchandisers…what should we expect?  How much inventory to avoid expensive markdowns?  After spending years in merchandising and asking these exact questions, I believe things are different this time! There is a pattern of change retail spending.  It is a difficult one to read. However, if you tune into trends of the shoppers in the most personal way, such as their financial challenges, there is one obvious solution. Shoppers need to get the most for their few dollars, now, more now than ever before. 

Buying Down & Meltdown

I confess I am not an economist, however I  have taken note that this current economic climate is not the usual recession.  I see a pattern in which shoppers are “buying down” a level from their normal choices.  At the same time, options abound now for anyone with a computer or who can get to a library. There is growth of online shopping both in shoppers and offerings. Great selections of quality goods can now be had daily at discount prices. There is also a meltdown of our fashion industry as businesses find it difficult to compete. In order to survive, they are sending their manufacturing overseas and laying off US workers. This meltdown began slowly with five percent imports in the ’70s.  Unfortunately that number escalated greatly over the last few years until it hit ninety five percent! That means the sewing, cutting, fabric design and other manufacturing jobs are no more! Now most merchandise is shipped to China, then to India and back to China to finish before coming back to the USA to sell to the customers. As the NYC garment center has shrunk, there are new hotels moving in. What do we do?  Embrace this huge change?  Will this dissolve our middle America and, if so, who will be the customers in the future?  In a perfect world we shoppers and merchants might say, let’s have another go at  “Made in America.” Somehow this shift seems too big.  Is it already a permanent change? As a matter of fact, it does resemble the retail mall movement of the 60’s and 70’s where suburbia malls replaced our downtown shops.  

Is Los Angeles the Future Fashion Capital?

This trend towards export/imports has expanded beyond New York. In Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Apparel Mart, I found the last international fabric show vacant as compared to the size it was just a few years ago. There were always so many fabric resources from the USA and Europe with some Asian vendors sprinkled in the mix. At the last show it appeared to me that the Chinese vendors were in the majority. I spent an entire day outside the mart to see what was happening with the street vendors. I couldn’t believe the new growth in the outlying area. There were new wholesale malls and store fronts open for wholesale business! They were also all imports and most from China and India. Apparently as government regulations were lifted the last few years, it caused a paradigm shift—actually a Tsunami!  The once #1 business in New York has dwindled while the Los Angeles area is growing in numbers of new vendors.  They are selling direct to buyers and clients of all sizes.  From individuals selling on Ebay to department and discount stores contracting big orders.   

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