What Trump Is Promising?
Trump made manufacturing and trade a large part of his campaign’s platform; delivering sharp criticism on companies that manufacture overseas, especially those under NAFTA and TPP. He has also promised to punish companies that outsource their jobs.Given what we already know about manufacturing, it’s very unlikely jobs will be brought back to the United States. Trade and economic experts have previously stated that manufacturing jobs are very unlikely to come back on a large scale.
Which is why I was surprised to read a piece published by Fast Company’s Elizabeth Segran, where, at the end, she claimed that 2017 could be the year of “Made in the USA” for the fashion industry. Of course, as Segran admits, it’s unknown that Trump will follow through on his promises. It is unclear if Congress will work with him either.
Both Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence have rewarded a company who has promised to keep some jobs in the US with tax credits. This could lead many to believe that the new administration could pave the way for aspiring fashion designers or those considering returning home to manufacture their products in the United States.
However, it’s not exactly easy to manufacture clothes in the United States, whether you’re an immediately recognizable brand or a start-up. While cost is certainly a factor in production abroad, it is much more nuanced than that.
It Takes Skill
Being a garment worker isn’t an unskilled job. It requires knowledge about various textiles and fabrics and the ability to cut and sew them. In an interview with Fashionista in 2015, Hanky Panky founder Gale Epstein explained that talent became very difficult to find as the workforce shrank and moved overseas. With fewer employees domestically, that means fewer people will have the ability to train new hires. It could also mean less of an incentive for people who are interested in the industry to seek out such opportunities. This raises the question of how many people who are about to enter the workforce actually know how to use sewing equipment or have any knowledge about making clothes. Companies opening up shop in the U.S. might have a very hard time finding people who can make clothes to their standards.
Will They Pony Up?
In addition to finding the right employees, fashion brands would have to trust that their (potential) customers are willing to shell out the extra money. Yes, surveys reveal that consumers care about where their purchases are from. However, what people say they do is sometimes very different from what they actually do. Consumers on a budget aren’t particularly interested in where the product they’re buying was made; when presented with a cheap, foreign-made item and an American-made- albeit more expensive- item, consumers leap for the bargain.
Let’s discuss the ethical component of moving to the United States, as it’s always the first line of defense against companies like Gap. Many point to sweatshop conditions – or even the Rana Plaza collapse specifically- in order to highlight that American manufacturing is not only better but more ethical. I’ve even read blogs where people who boast that their clothes are more ethical because they were made in the U.S. Sadly, it’s very likely they’re being misled.
It’s important to note that clothes with a “Made in America” label are more than likely made somewhere in the Los Angeles region. In December 2016, the University of California at Los Angeles released a report revealing that conditions in many factories in the L.A. garment district were dangerous, hostile and unhealthy. In September 2016 – eighteen garment manufacturers in the L.A. area were faced with lawsuits regarding having “no workers’ compensation insurance and for garment registration violations.”
We still have to hold the fashion industry to a high standard when and if they decide to open up shop in Garment Districts. In fact, I’d challenge everyone to hold them to a higher standard because we’re paying more for a supposedly better option.
Everyone should do their part in supporting US-based companies and/or those that are transparent about their practices. But let’s not promise fashion-forward folks that there will be a rise in domestic (or ethical) manufacturers in the next coming years, regardless of political affiliations. It’s dangerously misleading; they definitely have their work cut out for them.