Thursday, September 05, 2019

$108 hoodie illustrates modern realities of 'Made in America'

Scores of manufacturers moved their factories overseas in the past 40 years to take advantage of cheaper labor and laxer environmental standards. President Trump has vowed to lure manufacturers back home, but it may be difficult for many companies to do so and still make a profit, Dustin Stephens reports for CBS News. To illustrate the obstacles to "Made in America" labels, CBS interviewed Bayard Winthrop, all of whose American Giant apparel is made in the U.S., and followed production of its popular hooded sweatshirt. He illustrates how some manufacturers may have to provide fewer jobs and rely more on automation and immigrant labor to remain profitable.

When Winthrop came up with the idea for American Giant in 2012, the first major problem he faced was a lack of infrastructure for apparel components. He had to essentially coax a master yarn dyer out of retirement to accomplish that part of the process, Stephens reports. But the supply chain problems start with farm labor: a North Carolina cotton farmer told CBS he hires seasonal Mexican workers because few locals are willing to work for him, no matter what pay and benefits he offers.

Workforce is also a problem in the mill where the cotton is cleaned and spun into yarn. It must rely largely on automation to stay profitable. "In the 1960s a mill like this would have employed 2,000 workers; today, about 125 work here producing about 2 million pounds of yarn a week," Stephens reports. But human workers must be used in the final step, where the fabric is cut and sewn. Keeping this step in the U.S. adds as much as $17 to the hoodie's cost, Winthrop said; American Giant tries to keep costs down by selling its products almost entirely online, with only two brick-and-mortar stores.

The final cost of the hoodie is $108. And though it's widely praised as "the greatest hoodie ever made," the price tag could put it out of reach for many Americans. However, Winthrop says domestic manufacturing matters. "I think we're selling a value system," Winthrop told CBS. "Stand for some things that matter, stand for American manufacturing, stand for the people that are making stuff. And when we buy things, when we do it consciously, when we do it with an eye towards understanding how these little votes that we make have an impact attached to them, we'll be better off."

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