These Days Everything is Made in China, Right? Not Quite!

Step into a casual conversation with someone about the economy, and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Everything is made in China”. Looking on the bottom of half the items you purchase at the store (even grocery stores are selling items from China) you’ll discover a “Made in China” sticker or engraving on the product. It would seem that “Everything is made in China” is an observation of the truth. Yet it isn’t.

I’ll digress for a moment… My company does a great deal of manufacturing in China. So, after developing a new product, we didn’t consider anywhere else but China for our manufacturing. The idea of Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, or any other country wasn’t on our mind at all. We have established relationships with factories and suppliers in China. We have agents in China that perform our quality control. It’s just the natural choice.

Delay after delay after delay soon had me thinking that something wasn’t quite right with our choice of factory, so I set out to do some research into the materials we needed. During the process, I found that the United States had a massive manufacturing industry. In fact, US manufacturing as of 2009 is still larger than China by $200 billion! To top it off, the apparel industry (which is what our new product is) was the largest manufacturing industry in the United States! My mind was ablaze with opportunity…

At the center of the US apparel manufacturing industry? Los Angeles (and New York). I found countless pointers to the California Market Center. Fashion shows, trade shows, manufacturing resources, suppliers… Everything was right here in Los Angeles, and my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The LA Textile Show was just a week away!

Fast forward to the Textile show and mountains or research, phone calls, Internet searches later… I found the suppliers of the materials I need for our new items but what about the finisher? Fortunately, I found Fashion Business, Inc, a non-profit resource for the fashion industry in the United States. They had a couple of seminars they were doing during the LA Textile show that were right up the alley of what I was looking for, and the material suppliers at the show were very helpful as well.

The materials (of which I could choose American, Italian, and any other sources) were at the ready. There was no 30 day wait like I had with my China factory, and the materials were genuine leather as opposed to the bonded leather product we were being sold as genuine leather in China (a costly endeavor I’ll save for another blog). Finding a finishing company that was still in business was going to be hard to come by, but I was feeling quite positive about manufacturing a product in the United States! Especially one made with all US materials!

I made an appointment with a belt finishing company in Los Angeles (one of less than a handful left from an industry that used to be filled with competition). As soon as I walked into the LA location and showed them the belt… “We can’t make that type of belt. We don’t have the ability to make feathered edge belts in the United States.” Uh oh… But I wasn’t going to stop until I had checked every single belt finisher off my list!

Finisher after finisher had the same story. We don’t have the ability to do that here. I had a very memorable conversation with a finisher in New York:

Jared: I have a leather belt I’d like to make here in the United States

NY: Why?

Jared: I want to manufacture a belt in the United States, use US materials and US labor. Put people to work here. There are half a dozen more reasons I can give you.

NY: Well, it’s going to cost you a lot more than China.

Jared: I know. I’ll worry about that with my pricing, and I have a very unique product so it’s a bit different from the run of the mill belt. However, I have to tell you that I have a unique men’s belt, and I want a feathered edge.

NY: Feathered edge? We can’t do that. Nobody in America can do that. Good luck (click)

I’ll admit that I was a bit disheartened by the weeks of searching for a finishing company only to be told that my particular want is not possible by half a dozen of the dwindling field of belt factories in the United States. I even went about changing the product to a more casual design that would not require the feathered edge. I really wanted a US made belt!

I’ll admit that I’m pretty happy that all this happened. I developed a new casual version of our product that is amazing, and I did eventually find the perfect finishing company that can make both the beveled edge and feathered edge belts. They are even providing a great wealth of knowledge and resources for future designs, leathers, and other materials that will help expand the belt line.

US manufacturing is not dead. It’s struggling and merely a shadow of itself. However, when I consider the continued rising costs of raw materials on an international level, the skyrocketing costs of fuel and freight charges for products manufactured in China, and the constant problems we had in particular around this belt… Made in USA is the clear direction and entirely possible! The quality of the product is better. The turn around time is much faster. The ability to launch new styles and materials is much easier. There are a myriad of benefits from “onshoring” the production of this new product!

Business, Economics, Environment, thoughts

China’s Steam Engine Running out of Steam

Being from California, I’m familiar with rolling blackouts. But nothing could have prepared me for an email I received from a purchasing manager I know today. It was an email thread with a factory in China explaining the reason for the delay in certain shipments: 2 days a week without power!

I was disappointed when California would have our 30 minute blackouts. I can’t imagine 2 days… each week! Sounds like they need to start putting solar panels on the factory. 😀