As surprising as it may sound, hundreds of small apparel makers, most with just a few dozen employees, still manufacture their clothing in the U.S. Because of increased lead times at manufacturers in Asia, many are benefiting from their decision to keep production stateside, says Nate Herman, vice-president for international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Assn. "There haven't been any new manufacturers popping up, but the ones that are around are pretty much at maximum production," Herman says.
Flip through this slide show for snapshots of eight small brands from across the country that make 80 percent or more of their clothing in the U.S.
Headquarters: Seattle Clothing made in the U.S.: 100% Founded: 1996 Employees: 9 Website
Scott Jones, founder of custom outdoor wear maker Beyond Clothing, is adamant about producing his clothing in the U.S. He makes his line in-house and through home sewers and local factories. "People say, 'What about the cost [of hiring U.S. workers]?' " Jones says. "If you have a new business model and utilize new technologies … and sell direct or work with retailers to keep margins in a more equal place, [you can stay competitive]. There's really no excuse not to stay in America just due to labor costs."
"When I talk to peers, they're always shocked and surprised that we've made this commitment" to keep production in Philadelphia, says Doug Tibbetts, president and chief executive officer of Boathouse Sports. That decision, though, is paying off for the 200-employee company. "Our business is up significantly across the board," Tibbetts says, over 15 percent this year to the "$20 million range."
Headquarters: Wendell, N.C. Clothing made in the U.S.: 100% Founded: 1984 Employees: 310 Website
Brian Morrell, owner of athletic clothing line Eagle USA and president of private-label clothing manufacturer Mortex Apparel, is buoyant these days. His four factories—formerly shuttered textile mills—are bustling. "In the last three months, business has picked up significantly," he says, for a variety of reasons, including increased lead times overseas and consumer demand for products made in the U.S. While he doesn't want to compete solely on price, he's adamant about being able to beat competitors on quality. "I often get customers that assume U.S.-made means expensive. That does not have to be the case. … We run our business with low inventory, low overhead, and quick turns. We can and do compete."
Headquarters: Los Angeles Clothing made in the U.S.: 90% Founded: 1997 Employees: 18 Website
Russian native Galina Sobolev, who learned to sew from her dressmaker grandmother, launched high-end women's clothing line Single in 2000. She expects about $15 million in sales this year, up 50 percent from $10 million in 2010. Apart from feeling it was her "patriotic duty" to keep production in the U.S. because “our country gave so much to us,” Sobolev says she advocates benefits such as quicker turnaround and easier quality control. “Many companies would be amazed if they tried to produce here,” she says.
Red Ants Pants
Headquarters: White Sulphur Springs, Mont. Clothing made in the U.S.: 100% Founded: 2006 Employees: 3 Website
Convinced a market existed for women's outdoor work wear after being unable to find any for her stints instructing for Outward Bound and clearing trails in the Montana wilderness, Sarah Calhoun launched Red Ants Pants five years ago. She was committed to sourcing domestically. "From a business standpoint … the minimums are so much more approachable and the turnaround time is much quicker," she says. Today, Red Ants sells 70 sizes of heavy-duty cotton pants online and from a storefront in a tiny ranching town in rural Montana. Calhoun says revenue increased by 60 percent last year and hopes to double it to around $200,000 this year.
Red Ants Pants
Headquarters: Burlington, N.C. Clothing made in the U.S.: 80% Founded: 1978 Employees: 17 Website
To describe his supply chain, Eric Henry, co-owner of custom T-shirt printer TS Designs, says, "We take it from dirt to shirt," by which he means he buys about 30 percent of his T-shirts from a regional manufacturer that uses locally grown cotton. (An additional 50 percent comes from other factories in the U.S.; the remainder from overseas.) He expects the "couple-million-dollar" business to be profitable again in the next year. "We know chasing the world down for cheaper labor doesn't work," Henry says.
Headquarters: Los Angeles Clothing made in the U.S.: 100% Founded: 1991 Employees: 30 Website
After getting their fill of the months of travel involved in importing clothing from overseas factories, husband-and-wife team Mark and Barbara Lesser started manufacturing domestically in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. At the time, their decision was about wanting to start a family, president and co-owner Mark says. Today the company is best known for its Barbara Lesser brand of women's clothing, which Mark says benefits from its use of local production to quickly produce lower volume runs of styles. "As an importer, you don't have that flexibility," he says.
Headquarters: Seattle Clothing made in the U.S.: 100% Founded: 2007 Employees: 5 Website
Janice Kajanoff, founder of Zentek Clothing, contemplated using overseas factories, but hired domestic contract manufacturers to make her brand's vests, dog coats, and pet-crate mats. "Unless you're gonna hop over and check it all by hand," Kajanoff says, "you don't have control over quality."