The rise of America’s rightshoring movement
Up until the late 1970s, the United States produced over 70 percent of the apparel that Americans purchased. New York City’s Garment District was America’s busiest port. It was where European wools and silks arrived, the nation’s financial centre with many bankers who were eager to invest in the growing garment industry. It was also an important immigration point, with many new immigrants finding factory employment. Over 70% of America’s women’s clothing and over 40% of men’s clothing were produced in New York City.
In the late 1980s, some major retailers and designers got wind that it was less expensive to outsource manufacturing overseas to places where labour was cheaper. Fashion company Liz Claiborne was one of the first companies to take advantage of outsourcing. By transitioning production overseas, retailers could produce large quantities of products at a fraction of the cost than they could domestically. And on top of it, the quality would be the same.
Many closed down because American factories couldn’t compete with these low costs. Between 1990 and 2011, over 750,000 clothing manufacturing jobs disappeared in the US. In 2012, only 2.5% of clothing was being made in the US.
Outsourcing and cheap labour have their downfalls. You’ve probably all heard about the horrors that go on in many of the warehouses overseas, with the poor and dangerous working conditions and the low wages. There is almost no (if any at all) oversight from American business owners. Due to the rise in the garments produced, especially those produced for fast fashion businesses, the quality of the clothing has decreased significantly.
Some American fashion companies are working to bring manufacturing back to the US in an effort called rightshoring. Rightshoring is the reboot of domestic production, often in long-dormant factories. It is a movement that is happening mainly around smaller businesses to help promote more locally made products. In 2013, the number of garments produced in the US was 6% higher than it was in 2012.
Rightshoring helps companies save on costs and significantly reduces the carbon emissions produced by an offering-first strategy. It also allows factory workers to be paid fairer and more competitive wages. The technology involved with rightshoring also allows textile and apparel manufacturing to become more personal and ethical because you buy the clothing directly from the supplier.
Fashion company Zero + Maria Cornejo is a pioneer in America’s rightshoring movement. Since opening in 1998, the company has been successful with producing 84% of its garments in New York City’s Garment District. The only exceptions include a few categories, including shoes and knitwear made by small, independently-owned factories in Italy, Bolivia, Peru and China. Moreover, all garments are produced with upcycled materials.
Until it was bought out in 2017 by Gildan Activewear, American Apparel was also a leader in America’s rightshoring movement. The company produced all of its garments in Los Angeles and was the largest garment manufacturer in North America. Moreover, the company was committed to the environment (repurposing every bit of material they could and using only organic cotton) and provided workers with wages significantly higher than those overseas.
Having clothing produced locally is a growing movement. Repurposing old factories, providing a good work environment with pay, and allowing the company to trace exactly where their clothing was made is becoming increasingly important to shoppers. Industrial factories are a thing of the past but these new tech-driven ones might change how we shop and where we buy our clothing. It sets buyers up for better quality products and a better relationship with their clothing and clothing brands. While smaller brands are switching to rightshoring, we hope that America’s rightshoring movement will spread to larger brands that will bring manufacturing back locally.