Gear Shed
November 14, 2012

Mountains test your resilience. Cliffs and cold and striving for the summit push your physical and mental limits. Gravity and fear pull you down, while passion and determination push you higher. It is for these moments, these experiences, that the climber/mountaineer founders of American Mountain Co. design apparel.

Driven by a desire to make products with fortitude and inspired by passion for the experiences unique to the magnificient peaks, the company makes mountain wear reminiscent of a time when climbing was in its purest form and excellence was found in all aspects of a product—when performance and quality were as important as style and design.

American Mountain Co. uses high-tech materials combined with classic style for its products, all manufactured in the United States. Every single stitch of their wears is sewn by a craftsman who takes personal pride in each pass of the needle. And every garment is arduously tested to ensure you can rely on it for a lifetime. When a product is finally deemed perfect, the crafter signs the garment before it’s sent to you with American Mountain Co.’s lifetime guarantee.

The company is launching on Kickstarter now with two products: the No. 907 High-Altitude Hardshell Jacket and the No. 307 Mid-Altitude Windproof Fleece Jacket.

The company took a ground-up approach to design these pieces. The made-in-the-USA fabrics are the best available, and the jackets have innovative features, like a system to keep the base of the jacket tight around your waist, which is far superior to the ubiquitous elastic waist drawcord used in most other jackets. And American Mountain Co.’s hightop collar offers increased wind protection and heat retention. 

—Berne Broudy

Available February 2013, $325 for the  #307  and $625 for the  #907 at

Check out American Mountain Co. on:

American Manufacturing Loses Another Member


Photo of Fessler USA CEO Walter Meck standing in front of idle sewing equipment at the Orwigsburg, Pa., plant. | AP Images


Kelly Holt
November 13, 2012 

The graveyard of American businesses is receiving another occupant. Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania-based apparel manufacturer FesslerUSA, over 100 years old, is closing its doors. The company, founded in 1900, began by producing cotton underwear, and most recently has marketed private-label fashion knitwear. Its all-American approach to business reflected the values and ingenuity that made American capitalism thrive.

Third-generation owner Walter Meck and other family members bought the company back from the Fessler family after Meck’s father had sold it in 1960. After the advent of “free trade” and NAFTA had claimed its three biggest customers, the company shifted from high-volume mass-market apparel to higher-end products made with more expensive fabrics produced quickly in small quantities. The company adopted a policy of offering organic cotton, and fabrics made from bamboo.

FesslerUSA thrived. So much so that five years ago the company doubled its capacity and moved into a new factory. But it finally fell victim to the Great Recession with its tighter credit standards, Asian competition, and weak consumer spending.

The Detroit News, itself a part of a dying industry (the printed newspaper), quoted Meck as observing, “We knew that it was change or die. We had to reinvent ourselves.”

So reinvent they did. Meck laid off half his workforce and maintained a leaner, more profitable company until 2010, when sales again plummeted. New markets and new product proposals were promising, but not in time to avoid the bank calling the company’s loan.

Meck noted that his company could have survived had he been able to find a lender, but that tightened credit is a common problem for small manufacturers. Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, told The Detroit News,“Many of [the member companies] have complained to me that the standards for borrowing have become a lot more strict since the recession. It’s much tougher to get a loan today than it was in the past.”

In particular, new lending standards, a casualty of the country’s bailout policy, are what have made it much more difficult for struggling companies to get a loan. That, along with a national program of increased taxation and regulations on producers, has resulted in jobs and production going overseas. Meck also blamed part of his company’s problem on lack of investor interest — not surprising to analysts, given that the economy is scaring investors into hanging onto their money.

Fessler was one of the few remaining vertically integrated companies, meaning that all aspects of production remained under one roof. The company wove its own fabric, and did its own cutting and sewing.

Los Angeles-based American Apparel is an example of a highly successful clothing manufacturer using the vertical integration model, having carved itself a good chunk of a niche market. It has bucked the system. According to The Detroit News report,
Though domestic production has ticked up recently, more than 97 percent of the 19 billion pieces of apparel sold in the United States last year were made somewhere else, primarily in China and other Asian nations, according to Labor Department data compiled by the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Employment has declined 75 percent since the late 1990s, from 621,000 jobs in 1998 to 151,800 today.
At Fessler, that job loss has a face. The News continued,
Cutting room manager Gloria Bambrick, has worked in the garment industry for 32 years. Her previous two employers also shut their doors. With Fessler set to join them, she’s not sure what she will do.

“’It’s going to be tough for me to get a job because of my age,” said Bambrick, who became the sole breadwinner for her stepdaughter and elderly mother after the recent death of her husband. “I am very strapped. I will need a good job.”’

Bambrick mourns the disappearance of so many textile jobs: “I am an American girl and I wish more people would think like me and would have left the industry here and not sent it overseas.”

Americans still do have choices, although they are shrinking. Though die-hard label-readers are finding fewer and fewer items made anywhere but China, analysts note that perseverance can pay off. In addition to American Apparel, “Made in the USA” labels can still be found at Munro ShoesFinley ShirtsUnis, and Patricia Wolf, among others.

For Fessler, however, the run is over. Production will shut down in November after nearly 113 years, leaving 130 employees out of work. Meck commented,
I don’t want people to be sorry. I want people to be proud we lasted this long. I want people to be proud we tried. We did good work. There is nothing to be upset about. In today’s economy and today’s world, it didn’t work.
Now more than ever, critics say, Americans should step up the efforts to Buy American, to prevent more Fessler stories.

New U.S. Address in Foxconn's Future? Don't Bet On It


Foxconn employees working on Apple products. | Photo Credit: Apple


 Charles Cooper
 November 9, 2012

The contract manufacturer for many of tech’s biggest companies — including Apple — tells CNET it is not expanding its North American presence.
With unemployment close to 8 percent, you can understand why this headline would grab peoples’ attention. A story in Digitimes reports that Foxconn is scouting prospective sites in the United States for future manufacturing plants.

I was skeptical about this story — which talks about production of LCD TVs, not iPhones — and that might have been the end of it.

But maybe it’s not quite as crazy as it seems. A spokeswoman for Foxconn told me in an e-mail that the company “already has multiple facilities based in the U.S.” but she also went on to say that “there are no current plans to expand our operations there at this time.”

Suppose, however, you want to make the case that once the camel gets its nose under the tent, why should it stop there? I’d imagine Exhibit A could include the comments offered up the other day by Foxconn’s Chairman Terry Gou, who revealed just how badly the company was straining just to keep pace with current iPhone production demands. Any extra manufacturing capacity coming online would go a long way to help relieve that crunch. Then there’s the political benefit of turning out products with “Made in the U.S.A.” labels stamped on the back, no small benefit given the touchy state of U.S.-Sino trade relations these days. And it is entirely possible that Foxconn is getting prodded by one of its major customers because of those same political considerations.

And more jobs equals good politics. The two cities mentioned by Digitimes are Detroit and Los Angeles where both Mayors Dave Bing and Antonio Villaraigosa would be eager to put out the welcome mat: Los Angeles, with an 11.2 percent unemployment rate and Detroit, where 18.1 percent of the labor force is out of work, are doing far worse than the national average of just under 8 percent.

“If you want to make things in America, we know how to make things,” said Ned Staebler, formerly of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and now Wayne State’s vice president for economic development.

Michigan business circles have indeed been buzzing about “a big announcement” related to technology, according to Staebler, though it’s still unclear whether we’re talking about Foxconn or some other company. Word has it that the site in question might ultimately wind up in one of Detroit’s suburbs. The announcement also may have more to do with software than hardware. We’ll know more in a few weeks.

Now to the question whether Foxconn would ever employ Americans to put together iPhones or iPads in the U.S. The skeptics will note that while Foxconn has already crossed the Pacific to Brazil — last year it began operating an assembly plant not far from Sao Paulo in a the bedroom community of Jundai — average wages in Brazil remain lower than in the U.S. This becomes a case where math really matters. Foxconn — and by extension its bigger clients, like Apple — rake in fat profits from Chinese sites where hourly wages and production costs are much lower than those in the United States. (Foxconn pays its assembly workers a monthly wage of 2,500 RMB ($400).) It’s hard to imagine that tax breaks from Detroit, L.A. or Oshkosh would be enough to compensate for taking lower margins just for the “benefit” of being on U.S. soil. Economists have estimated that paying a U.S. labor force to make the devices” would add between $65 to $100 to the cost of an iPhone.

“It would be a positive if Apple made at least some percentage of their products (here) and I would like to see them do that,” notes Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a Washington D.C.-based labor rights monitoring organization. “But it would be a huge leap from their current manufacturing policy… and would be a radical change You cannot replicate Chinese working conditions in LA.”

Foxconn would also have a tough selling job to win hearts and minds given its spotty labor history, which is rife with complaints about worker conditions in factories making iPhones and other high-volume tech products. As much as Foxconn would want to keep the unions out, a new U.S. factory would still have to conform to local labor standards. Would it be worth the hassle?

Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities, but those aren’t the sorts of jobs that the political class says America ought to invest in for the future. As President Obama noted during his third debate with Mitt Romney, echoing what the late Steve Jobs told him during a dinner in Silicon Valley in 2011, “There are some jobs that are not going to come back, because they’re low-wage, low-skill jobs.”

And in this case, it may be a good enough reason not to invite them back. To be continued.


Popular Wrench Fights a Chinese Rival


November 8, 2012

Last Christmas, Sears had a brisk seller in the Bionic Wrench, an award-winning, patented tool with spiffy lime green accents. This holiday season, though, Sears has a special display for its own wrench, in the red and black colors of its house brand, Craftsman.
One customer who recently spotted the new Craftsman tool, called the Max Axess wrench, thought it was an obvious knockoff, right down to the try-me packaging. “I saw it and I said, ‘This is a Bionic Wrench,’ ” recalled Dana Craig, a retiree and tool enthusiast in Massachusetts who alerted the maker of the Bionic Wrench. “It’s a very distinctive tool,” he added.

The tools have one significant difference, Mr. Craig noted. The Bionic Wrench is made in the United States. The Max Axess wrench is made in China.

The shift at Sears from a tool invented and manufactured in the United States to a very similar one made offshore has already led to a loss of American jobs and a brewing patent battle.

The story of the Bionic Wrench versus Craftsman, which bills itself as “America’s most trusted tool brand,” also raises questions about how much entrepreneurs and innovators, who rely on the country’s intellectual property laws, can protect themselves. For the little guy, court battles are inevitably time-consuming and costly, no matter the outcome.

Still, the inventor of the Bionic Wrench is determined to fight. He is Dan Brown, an industrial designer in Chicago who came up with the wrench after watching his son try to work on a lawn mower. Mr. Brown says he believes that the Max Axess wrench copies his own and he is planning to file suit against Sears, which declined to answer any questions about the wrenches for this article.


John Gress for The New York Times | Dan Brown, inventor of the Bionic Wrench, is defending his patent rights against the Max Axess, made in China.


William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times | The Bionic Wrench is made in America by Penn United Technologies. Sears sells the Max Axess, sourced from China.

The Bionic Wrench is distinguished by its gripping mechanism, a circle of metal prongs that, inspired by the shutter in a single-lens reflex camera, descend evenly to lock onto almost any nut or bolt.

Since Sears has halted new orders, the Pennsylvania company that makes the Bionic Wrench has had to lay off 31 workers, said Keith Hammer, the project manager at the company, Penn United Technologies. “And that’s not to mention our suppliers,” he added.

Mr. Brown sees a broader issue than just the fate of his wrench. “Our situation is an example of why we’re not getting jobs out of innovation,” he said. “When people get the innovation, they go right offshore. What happened to me is what happened to so many people so many times, and we just don’t talk about it.”

Inventors typically spend $10,000 to $50,000 to obtain the type of patent Mr. Brown has on the wrench, said John S. Pratt, a patent expert at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in Atlanta. Though he said he could not comment on the merits of Mr. Brown’s potential suit, patent infringement cases can be especially difficult in the tool field, where many improvements are incremental, Mr. Pratt explained.

A defendant in such a case would most likely argue that either the tool did not warrant a patent in the first place, or that its own product did not violate the patent.

The fact that Sears made some changes to the wrench’s design, like making the grooves that allow the metal prongs to slide back and forth visible instead of hidden, will make the case more challenging, he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine that Sears isn’t particularly careful about breach of patent, so there’s probably another side to the story,” he said.

After patenting the wrench in 2005, Mr. Brown formed a company, LoggerHead Tools, to bring it to market, making a point of having it made in the United States.

The Bionic Wrench was greeted with enthusiasm at trade shows and in industrial design competitions, and the company survived the downturn in 2008. Mr. Brown resisted overtures from large chain stores that wanted to sell the tool under their proprietary brand, he said, and rejected the lure of cheaper manufacturing in China. “I was raised a different way,” he said.

The tool sold fairly well on its own — LoggerHead has shipped 1.75 million of them — but Mr. Brown, 56, who teaches industrial design at Northwestern University, says LoggerHead operated on a shoestring and he plowed much of the profit back into the company. “You cannot have big offices and fancy cars and everybody with an administrative assistant, because we are competing with China,” he said.

In 2009, LoggerHead hit pay dirt when Sears agreed to do a test sale. The product sold out, Mr. Brown said, and Sears ordered 75,000 Bionic Wrenches the next year. In exchange Mr. Brown agreed not to sell the wrench to Sears’s competitors, including Home Depot and Lowe’s.

In 2011, sales at Sears increased again, far outpacing LoggerHead’s other outlets like the QVC shopping channel and smaller hardware stores. But LoggerHead’s profit margin remained small, in part because it produced a television commercial and paid Sears to show it.

The Sears Holdings Company, which owns the Craftsman brand, declined multiple requests to comment on the Bionic Wrench or the Max Axess Wrench. The company would not answer questions about patent infringement or the volume of sales.

But in a string of e-mails provided by Mr. Brown, the buyer at Sears who had the LoggerHead account wrote, making liberal use of exclamation points, that the wrench’s holiday sales last year exceeded its target by 23 percent.

In the manufacturing world, lead time can determine price, and from the beginning cost was a particular issue for the Bionic Wrench, because of the competition from China. A 2006 article in The Wall Street Journal was headlined, “Wrench Wins Awards, but Is It Priced Too High to Be a Hit?”

According to Mr. Brown’s account of his dealings with Sears, the chain was pleased with the tool’s performance and agreed to place an order for 2012 in plenty of time to keep the cost low. Then his buyer at Sears changed and that agreement seemed to get lost in a new round of haggling. When the order for Father’s Day
finally cam
e, Mr. Brown said, it was too late to guarantee the lower price. He refused the order.

Sears responded by agreeing to the higher price. But when it came time for the Christmas holiday order, negotiations stalled once more, again pushing LoggerHead past the deadline to get the best price, according to Mr. Brown.

“We were sitting there going, ‘Why do they want Father’s Day so bad but they won’t commit for Christmas?’ ” Mr. Brown said. Now he believes that the company had already placed its order for the Craftsman version.

In late September, Mr. Brown said, his suspicions were confirmed. LoggerHead got a “customer feedback” e-mail from Mr. Craig, the tool connoisseur, describing the new Max Axess wrenches. “Sadly, they are made in China,” Mr. Craig wrote. “Can you tell me if LoggerHead has authorized these?”

Craftsman has come under fire before, accused of misleading customers into thinking that its tools are made in America and for stealing intellectual property. In one case, Sears spent two decades defending itself against a claim by Peter M. Roberts, who as a young Sears employee had, on his own time, invented a type of socket wrench.

Mr. Roberts told the court that Sears had played down the value of his invention, paid him $10,000 for the rights, and then made tens of millions of dollars. He eventually received settlements of less than $10 million, according to news reports.

In another, more recent case led by Lee Grossman, Mr. Brown’s lawyer, a judge awarded $25 million to the maker of a tool called the Rotozip who said he had disclosed trade secrets to Sears in an attempt to get the store to carry a new version of the tool.

Sears, a jury decided, took the trade secrets and had the tool made abroad for Craftsman.

“You have LoggerHead out, Dan Brown out, and dozens of American workers laid off — all in the name of profits for Sears,” Mr. Grossman said.

LoggerHead’s lawsuit, Mr. Brown said, will most likely include claims that Sears interfered with the company’s ability to do business with other stores.

“I’m in favor of free trade,” Mr. Brown said. “The person who’s out-innovated loses. But it’s destructive when someone competes but doesn’t out-innovate, they just produce it in a different market without regard to safety codes and human conditions.”

The company that makes the Max Axess wrench and other tools for Craftsman, the Apex Tool Group, is being acquired by Bain Capital, the company founded by Mitt Romney, in a $1.6 billion deal.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Bain was criticized on the grounds that it encouraged outsourcing by companies it buys at the expense of American workers. Apex makes many of its tools overseas. A company spokesman referred all questions to Sears.

Mr. Brown and his lawyer say they believe they have a solid case against Sears, but it could take years to litigate. “What happens to us in the meantime?” Mr. Brown asked.

Mr. Brown is also concerned that while he fights in court, Sears can undercut the price of his wrench.

For now at least, Sears still has some of Mr. Brown’s wrenches in its inventory. On the Sears Web site, the Craftsman and the LoggerHead wrenches are listed at the same regular price, $24.99 for the 8-inch version, and today both are on sale. But for at least a few days in recent weeks, only the Craftsman version was on sale, for $19.99.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 9, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: An Innovator vs. a Follower.

How New Parents Can Bring Back ‘Made in the USA’


Gary Osborne
Founder & Creative Director, Oliver & Adelaide

The Presidential election is over, but the campaign’s number one issue, jobs, lingers on. In today’s economy, as we heard time and again in the debates and countless ads, a huge part of that issue has been the question of how we can return manufacturing jobs to the United States. From a policy point of view, the U.S. trade deficit remains a vexing, complex problem. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some simple, commonsense actions that consumers, retailers and citizens can take on their own, irrespective of who sits in the Oval Office.

As an online retailer of baby and toddler products made exclusively in the U.S., I am in a position to see an area where American manufacturing is trying to make a comeback.

Manufacturing American-Made Values

The word “manufacturing” tends to conjure images of industrial assembly lines and heavy machinery. But it’s worth remembering that the word means, at root, “to work by hand.” The vendors I work with range from a retired schoolteacher who crochets blankets to savvy, garment-industry veterans who have struck out on their own with smaller design ventures. Whatever the size of their respective enterprises, these are true businesspeople; I would not be able to work with them if they weren’t capable of delivering products on time, season in and season out.

They are also people who are operating from a system of core values — paramount among them, that “Made in the USA” still matters. It matters for a country where that label remains a source of pride. It matters for the environment, when it makes a real difference whether a product needs to be transported 200 miles versus 6,000 miles. And for parents, it matters perhaps most of all in terms of quality and safety.

What’s at Stake

My own background is in the fashion industry. I’ve lived in China, overseeing production at factories there, and seen firsthand how impersonal and indifferent that process can be. As a parent of two young children, I know that what I buy for them ends up in their hands and, inevitably, their mouths. So for every piece of clothing, each doll and toy I purchase, I want to know exactly how it was made, what it is made of and where it’s been. My experience tells me that when something comes from half a world away, you simply cannot know where it’s been sitting, and for how long, on what warehouse floor, in what cargo ship — and, to me, that’s unacceptable. When scarcely a week goes buy without a recall of a foreign-made product, that’s unacceptable, too.

What “Made in the USA” Means in a World of Choices

Being a new parent can be, let’s face it, intimidating. We are presented with an overwhelming list of products that we are told we need to buy in order to be a “good parent,” and then faced with thousands of choices from scores of brands. My company, Oliver & Adelaide, grew out of my own process of trying to separate the things a parent really needs from the marketing hype, and trying to find the very best manufacturers making these products here in the USA.

Very few parents have the time to undertake this kind of research, and fewer still have the opportunity to visit studios and factories. I have made it my business. In seeing for myself where the products are designed and made and inspecting the raw materials used to make them, I have discovered an impressive group of businesses that put a very personal degree of care and concern into every step of their manufacturing processes. And in meeting these suppliers, I have also discovered that they also bring real passion and pride to what they do.

Small businesses like Loop, which was founded in 2010 by two knit designers to create heirloom quality children’s clothes and blankets, or Zuzii, which uses the highest-quality materials and employs traditional cobbler techniques to handcraft shoes for babies and toddlers, are making outstanding products here in the United States, and doing so with love. But without the huge sales forces and marketing budgets of larger companies that outsource manufacture overseas, they face an uphill climb when it comes to connecting with parents. And because they insist on making American products with American labor and materials, they are unable to take advantage of the mass manufacturing that drives down costs for major brands.

Good for Baby, Good for the Economy

These are the kinds of manufacturers who depend on small retailers to spread word of their products. I’m proud to play a part in that. More than that, though, they depend on parents who will make it a point to buy American — even if it means buying fewer items, but of significantly higher quality. Births, aside from being a joyous experience for each family, are also tremendous drivers of the economy; much like house sales, they set in motion a cascade of purchases. If parents commit to supporting manufacturers who believe in the USA, I believe we can take a real step towards bringing jobs back to this country. In doing so, we may find that the answer to fixing the trade imbalance lies not with any particular policy — or any particular candidat — but, rather, in our own hands.

It’s an approach that could benefit all sectors of our economy. Why not start with the purchases that end up in the hands of our children?

SOURCE:  Huffington Post

Carhartt's Patriotic New Made-in-USA Line, Old Made-in-USA Line


Abe Sauer
November 7, 2012 

During the now concluded contentious presidential election, the subject of manufacturing — specifically, the geological location of it — was a major topic of battle. One story to come out of all of the China-stealing-US-jobs talk was “reshoring,” or the common declaration of “the return of manufacturing.”
Maybe because of its fashionable profile, the garment industry has been in particular focus. Newsworthy instances include the US Olympic team’s made-in-China uniforms by Ralph Lauren and conservative pundit Glenn Beck’s launch of 1791, his flag-waving denim line.

But clothing brand Carhartt has been making its clothing in the US since, well, forever. And now its is working to make this fact more a part of its message.

Carhartt’s tan, swirly wave logo on its characteristically tan garments is probably familiar even to those who don’t count on the brand for work wear. But construction workers, truckers, welders, farmers, and just about anyone else in America who works outside an office have a special appreciation for the brand.

“Best for wear” and “From the mill to millions” have been a couple of the mottos the brand has used since it was founded in 1889 by its namesake, Hamilton Carhartt. The “Made in America” tags on its clothing was more or less an afterthought. But now, Carhartt has released a “Made in the USA” line featuring some of its most iconic products. The line, Carhartt says, is “stitched on American soil for any person that believes in hard work.”

“Rather than follow trends, our goal is to always design and manufacture premium work-worthy apparel at a price that respects our consumer’s hard-earned dollar,” Carhartt Vice President of Marketing, Tony Ambroza, told brandchannel when asked about the new line’s timing. When asked any Carhartt chose now to stress its “Made in America” bona-fides, Ambroza said, “Our Made in the USA line of apparel was created in response to consumer feedback; they told us they wanted to know exactly which products we make and source in the U.S. We were able to shift some product to other manufacturing facilities in order to accommodate production of these popular styles.”

With the rough economy driving some to pay more attention to buying domestically-made products, Carhartt’s move is a wise one, especially since the brand can back up its marketing. “Made in America” marketing can backfire, as Gap learned in 2010 when its much-touted “made in the USA” products were revealed to have been “made in China.” Plus, since Carhartt was already manufacturing in the US and known and revered far more for its high quality, the line is simply a smart bit of existing brand identity boosting.

But a recent study published by the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal argues that American consumers overvalue US-made apparel. From the study:
“Jung Ha-Brookshire, an assistant professor in the textile and apparel management department in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at MU, surveyed American consumers to determine the value they place on apparel produced in different countries. She showed participants a cotton shirt, told them it was made in China, and said it sold for $40 in retail stores. She then showed them the same piece of clothing and told them it was made in the U.S. with U.S. cotton. The study participants valued the U.S. cotton shirt at $57, which is more than 42 percent higher than the same shirt produced in China.”
Meanwhile, asked if Carhartt has ever considered a “retro,” more fashionable line, Ambroza replied, “Our commitment is first and foremost to serve the needs of the American worker on the job. That said, we do recognize that providing products that can be worn on-and-off the job site is a benefit to the workers who purchase Carhartt products.”

With this in mind, Ambroza hinted that the line was not yet complete, suggesting Carhartt fans “look for additional USA-made exclusives this holiday season.”

SOURCE:  BrandChannel

Made in America Markets Create Communities of Like-Minded Consumers


Emanuella Grinberg
November 5, 2012

(CNN) — They could’ve gone shopping much closer to home. Instead, Tomo Adachi and Lauren Kennedy packed up the car, drove six hours from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, got a hotel and made a weekend of it.
This wasn’t your typical outlet mall excursion or antiquing road trip. The pair of 20-something graphic designers were in the market for quality American-made clothing and accessories, and they wanted to meet the people behind the goods.

They arrived in town late Friday night and were among the first to show up on a recent crisp October morning at a warehouse in Chicago’s Fulton Market area. Music by Band of Horses played softly in the background, giving the airy, white-washed loft space an ambiance equal parts gallery opening and trade show. A large vintage American flag looming over the showroom signaled the common domestic origin of the clothing, accessories, shoes, bicycles and skin care products for sale.

Adachi and Kennedy were already fans of some of the brands at NorthernGRADE, a pop-up menswear market of American-made goods making its Chicago debut two years after launching in Minnesota. Meeting the crafters, designers and small-business owners behind the brands added to the appeal, they said.

“I like the idea of craftsmanship. I feel like the brands are doing it because they care and there’s something about that that’s very commendable. I’d rather support that than go to the mall and buy something made overseas,” said Adachi, 25.

“We had to come, especially since events like this don’t happen much in the Midwest,” said Kennedy, a 23-year-old self-described “made in America freak” who was turned onto the concept by her boyfriend. “It’s so awesome to see people doing what they love. It’s evident in the quality of their products.”

About 800 people turned up for NorthernGRADE Chicago, according to organizers’ estimates, from across the Midwest and beyond, underscoring the growing popularity of the made in America movement in style and fashion, especially among younger consumers.

The markets are fueling the movement beyond the country’s major fashion markets, where the concept has proven successful. NorthernGRADE is modeled after New York City’s annual Pop-Up Flea, which began in 2009 as a showcase of brands mostly from the United States known for their quality goods. The creators of NorthernGRADE adopted the model for a Midwestern audience by focusing on brands from region. But the focus on quality brands hasn’t changed, said Katherine McMillan of men’s accessory line Pierrepont Hicks, which co-founded NorthernGRADE.

“I would not feel comfortable producing this market if I didn’t believe in all of the brands we invite to take part,” she said. “We all have similar philosophies and ethics about our products. If someone’s products don’t turn out to meet (our standards), we don’t invite them back.”

Shoppers browse American-made clothing at a pop-up market in Chicago. | Photo Credit: Jessica Koscielniak/Getty Images for CNN

It’s a phenomenon that draws comparisons to the slow food movement, farmers’ markets and food and wine festivals as venues for showcasing artisanal approaches to crafting goods. By allowing consumers to touch the materials and talk to vendors about where the products came from, brands can educate them on why they’re worth the markup.

“The Midwest has long history of manufacturing, but no one was cheering it on until now,” said fashion and brand consultant Noah Zagor, who showed up at the market dressed the part in a vintage denim Levi’s jacket and Alden “Indy” boots, both of which were made in the United States.

“There’s a new generation of men learning about basics of getting dressed, and they want knowledge. They want to know where their stuff comes from.”

It’s tempting to want to stereotype supporters of American-made apparel as either a bunch of trendy urbanites who want to look like lumberjacks on the weekend or blue-collar workers expressing patriotism through their work boots. But this event brought in visitors of all stripes. Teenagers dragged their parents along for their wallets while middle-aged men scanned the displays for unadorned pairs of jeans and silver-haired couples, who remembered the days when manufacturing plants dotted the Midwest, tried on trapper hats.

One thing they all seemed to share was nostalgia for an era when clothing and accessories were made to last, regardless of whether they were actually alive during that time.

One man came from London in search of “a few bits of inspiration” for a potential American-made and UK-made retail concept in England, which is also experiencing a wave of nostalgia for a time when clothing was made closer to home.

“People like me want to stray from goods made in the Far East,” said David Swetman, a 27-year-old freelance designer who resembled a menswear model in a Barbour jacket and fisherman’s sweater over a flannel shirt, JW Hulme duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

“We’re swinging away from fast fashion, and we’re willing to invest and spend more on quality,” he said. Sure enough, he left the market about an hour later with a $300 Archival waxed cotton vest, a $195 shawl-collared Pendleton sweater and leather shoelaces of different colors. “A nice way to accessorize your brogues,” he noted.

For anyone who might use the words “classic,” “structured,” “Americana” or “heritage” to describe their personal style, there was plenty to covet: colorful racks of Oxford cloth button-ups, thick shawl-collared sweaters, jeans from some of the hottest names in premium denim and all manner of vintage.

Footwear fanatics had their choice of leather boots and shoes in every imaginable color and texture from Red Wing and Oak Street, two boot makers representing old and new school establishments. Tables displayed unisex accessories, from sturdy canvas rucksacks, shoulder bags and pencil cases to wool trapper hats and candy-colored assortments of neckties, bow ties and blankets.

Like other market-goers, Adachi was dressed as though his outfit had come from the showroom: Red Wing Heritage boots (made in America), Raleigh Denim jeans (naturally), flannel shirt (no) and Hill-Side scarf (yes) over a henley (no).

Kennedy also looked the part in dark jeans, vintage pullover sweater and boots, though none of it was made in America, underscoring arguments that clothing made in America can be prohibitively expensive or hard to find.

What would make her wardrobe more patriotic, so to speak? “More shows like this would help,” she said. “It’s hard to find this stuff in person.”

Chicago retailer Sir & Madame sell socks at the NorthernGRADE pop-up market. | Phto Credit: Jessica Koscielniak/Getty Images for CNN

Maybe it’s the election season or the state of the economy or the approaching holiday season, but industry insiders agree an increasing amount of products and services are coming out with the made in America tagline.

Radio host Glenn Beck last month announced his line of American-made jeans, which gets its denim from the same North Carolina mill used by many premium jean brands. Made Collection, an online flash site sale, launched this fall offering American-made products at discounted prices. In time for the holiday season, luxury and mass market retailers such as Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Barneys are continuing the trend of partnering with independent brands and designers who make their products in America.

It’s also been a busy year for pop-up markets. The Chicago show marked NorthernGRADE’s first incursion into another city, two years after it was started by Pierrepont Hicks and J.W. Hulme. Another show is scheduled for Minneapolis in December, which will be its third there this year. In 2013, it plans to expand to San Francisco, Nashville, Denver and Moscow.

Another pop-up, American Field, debuted in Boston the weekend before NorthernGRADE Chicago and featured 40 vendors, organizer Mark Bollman said.

“It’s one thing to read about companies making things in the U.S. or to check a label, but I think it’s a whole other thing to have a physical representation of like-minded companies in one place,” said Bollman, founder of Boston-based outfitter Ball and Buck. “You can directly see and understand the growth of this movement and really understand the impact of a purchase, be it big or small.”

The markets featured a combination of businesses that use American factories and workshops to produce their goods along with artisans and crafters who, by virtue of living in the United States, make their product here. Across all categories, the raw materials may or may not be domestically sourced depending on availability, with hardware such as zippers, snaps and woven fabric among the materials in shortest supply in the United States.

The growing hype has some worried that “made in America” is on the precipice of becoming a passing style trend before it actually has a chance to realize its oft-cited underlying goals.

“The initial made in the USA message was about bringing jobs back to the country to stimulate the economy, ending the dependency on other countries for goods and bringing back the education and know-how that comes along with the industry. All that’s being diluted and boiled down into the message of buy made in the USA. The bottom has been taken out and become a selling point,” said Chicago-based menswear blogger and digital strategist Brad Bennett, who helped coordinate NorthernGRADE.

It’s unclear whether interest in American-made clothing correlates with an increase in industrial domestic manufacturing of clothing, which declined by 0.7% from September 2011 to September 2012, according to the Federal Reserve’s numbers on industrial production. However, preliminary numbers for September showed a 1.6% increase over the previous month.

That’s where the markets come into play, to create a movement by bringing together consumers, brands and retailers who are doing their part to raise the profile of American-made fashion.

“It’s definitely a celebration of things made here but also a celebration of the people making it,” said Bennett, whose blog, Well Spent, features “obtainable, honestly crafted goods” from the United States and abroad.

“It’s a pretty cool thing to pick up a bag knowing it’s going to last the rest of your life and then shake the hand of the person who made it,” he said. “You’re not just coming to NorthernGRADE to spend money, you meet people and it’s sort of like, here’s your community.”

Nick Rokosz, 16, looks through vintage coats from MidNorth Mercantile. | Photo Credit: Jessica Koscielniak/Getty Images for CNN

It’s a doggedly enthusiastic community of people who are obsessed with craftsmanship and design. They’re not only entrepreneurs but experts and storytellers who can spin a loooong yarn on the virtues of selvedge denim, waxed cotton and Chromexcel leather. Like Tony Patella, co-founder of Tellason jeans, who explained in an hourlong phone interview why the weave and dye of his denim makes it more expensive per yard compared to denim used for jeans in the mass market.

A big part of selling made in America is educating the consumer on what they get from their investment, said Lesli Larson, co-founder of Archival Clothing, whose best-selling roll top backpack goes for $220.

“You pay upfront, but you buy sparingly and wisely with the idea that you’re going to use this piece for many seasons and eventually you get pennies per wear,” she said.

Her business grew out of her blog, which documented “long-lost artifacts” from Montgomery Ward catalogs and Americana-inspired fashion being produced in Japan with old machines and equipment purchased from the United States.

“The shift of moving past a state of nostalgia to what can we do to make this a reality using available resources has been the challenge,” said Larson, who has kept her job as an archivist at the University of Oregon-Eugene even as her business has grown.

Larson relishes the opportunity to share her knowledge, which she did with fans including Adachi, who spent more than three hours floating around the showroom before deciding to drop $300 on an Archival vest. His girlfriend’s big-ticket purchase was a pair of Tellason jeans for $198. They were confident that the purchases were worth the money, not only for their quality but because of the stories behind them.

It reminded Adachi of a TED Talk by Simon Sinek who put forth the idea that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

“I’m the type of person who’s more interested in why,” Adachi said.

For others, though, the origin of the goods was not nearly as important as their quality.

“I came to the event for the uniqueness of the collections,” said Jeff Medchill, a mortgage industry auditor who also picked up a pair of Tellason jeans. “American-made is not a strong point, I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid or buy American-made.”

Collin Moody said he was drawn to the event because he supported Chicago-based retailers Haberdash and Penelope’s, which were showing at the market. Normally, not everything they carry in their stores is domestically made, reflecting a commonly held position among consumers and stockists that buying made in America is secondary to sourcing high-quality products made responsibly regardless of their origin.

“We’re interested in
ethics of the products. We try to be conscious of where they come from and who’s making them,” said Moody, 21, also a student. “It also helps us not be wasteful.”

For retired carpenter Paul Hortenstine, the market was simply an opportunity “to find quality products made in the USA.”

He and his wife made the trip from Shorewood, Illinois, after learning of the event on Twitter. He had his sights set on a Stormy Kromer trapper hat, but stopped on his way over to quiz George Vlagos, proprietor of Oak Street Boots, on the origin of material for his footwear (Horween Leather of Chicago).

“This guy from Oak Street Bootmakers, he’s making quality product. I’m all for seeing people succeed making quality products in the U.S.,” Hortenstine happily exclaimed as he walked away without purchasing a pair, which run from $200 to $500.

“The price is high but quality justifies it,” he said. “Maybe you can buy it all or you can focus on one or two things.”

He finally settled on two hats in different colors from Stormy Kromer, which have been made in Ironwood, Michigan, for more than 100 years. He also picked up a vest, a recent addition to Stormy Kromer’s apparel catalog, reflecting the success of what sales rep Joel Anderson called “the Trojan horse approach.”

“They come for the hats, because that’s what we’re known for, and they find our apparel,” said Anderson, whose brand was one of few at NorthernGRADE that fell into the heritage category (along with Red Wing) for its long history. While Stormy Kromer is an established brand, being in the same space alongside up-and-coming brands puts it in front of a new, younger audience of consumers and potential wholesalers.

“It’s a three-pronged approach. Educate consumers on our rich history and story, meet fellow vendors, and get new retail business,” he said. “You never know who’s going to come in.”

What is Made in America Worth? More than you might think!

What Is ‘Made in America’ Worth?

Probably more than you think. As more manufacturing returns to U.S. shores, early signs show that a “Made in America” label is a serious competitive advantage.

Read more

New York Magazine's Stunning Hurricane Sandy Cover



The cover of the latest issue of New York magazine offers a powerful glimpse of Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy.

Post-hurricane conditions sent the magazine, along with other media organizations in the city, scrambling to get the news out this week. New York editors wrote:

“The easiest part of a harried three days came Friday around noon, when we met to settle on the cover. A photograph taken by Iwan Baan on Wednesday night, showing the Island of Manhattan, half aglow and half in dark, was the clear choice, for the way it fit with the bigger story we have tried to tell here about a powerful city rendered powerless.”

Below, see the cover, and click over to New York Magazine for the rest of the story.

It's Global Warming, Stupid


Paul M. Barrett
November 01, 2012

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.