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Reshoring the Sewn Goods Industry

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A Colorado internet business magazine recently featured an editorial about the need to bring American sewing jobs back, no matter how difficult the task. In response to the article, I emailed the editor, a friendly colleague, outlining my view from the trenches. Here’s what I wrote:

Hi Bart,

Nice piece about reshoring sewn goods to the USA. I think it is important to consider a couple of points when thinking about sewing in the USA.

  1. American sewing operations will not look like Asian shops. The Americans will either sew in smaller teams with more cross training and flexibility, i.e. more of a small batch/workshop mentality. Or they will automate larger commodity-based sewing operations. The industry is on the edge of a revolution in automation, and the robots will be happy to slug it out with foreign factories 24/7.
  2. American made products will be sold directly to their customers. American manufacturing is currently competitive with street retail pricing. The 50+ percent margin that street retailers demand doubles the wholesale price to their consumers. Without that markup, brands that sell directly to their community have plenty of room in their cost of goods for domestic manufacturing.
  3. Our fabric mills are some of the best in the world with the most arcane business practices imaginable. Until the American textile industry figures out their relationship with retail jobbers and drops their insistence on selling full dye lots, small and medium sized sewn goods makers will struggle. In order to prosper, American manufacturing needs ready access to a wide variety of fabrics in modern colors.
  4. Apparel pattern making software and digital cutting has to catch up to the times. I can buy an AutoCAD clone for $99 but it is $10,000 to touch digital pattern making software, and that is without the hardware and yearly license fee. Open source pattern making software and low cost digital cutting are the keys to a healthy sewn goods industry. Factory efficiency, quality and innovation all depend on us being able to communicate with each other in a 21st century manner.

The sewn goods industry in the United States will be reimagined with these points in mind. Without a clear production vision, a flexible supply chain and modern tools, I’m afraid it will stay much as it is.

Thanks, and I’ll see you in Denver later this summer for the OR Show!

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray looks forward to the robots working in his shop where he will make them take out the trash and clean the bathroom. The Publisher may not share in his opinions or housecleaning needs.

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May 26, 2021

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