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Automation and foreign production didn’t erode the American garment manufacturing industry, we did it to ourselves. When you think about it, the goal of corporations is to maximize profits for their investors. Contrast this against the Chinese philosophy of keeping people working by sacrificing high profits per piece in exchange for larger volumes at smaller margins.
As consumers seek lower-cost products, companies move production to lower-cost areas to stay competitive. Oftentimes, consumers become angered with higher-priced domestically made products when compared to those made in low-wage countries. This happens even if people want to see products made in America. In economics, they use the multiplier effect to measure the circular flow of money and spending in a community. Money that is earned flows from one person to the other. From the factory workers’ paycheck to the businesses where they shop and into the paychecks of employees at those businesses. The output becomes larger than the input. Conversely, when a factory closes its doors, less money is spent in the surrounding community reducing output from surrounding businesses which also negatively affects the line of suppliers. It all starts with the consumer’s decision to buy American or buy cheaper.
Why has manufacturing moved overseas?
Americans almost always choose to buy cheaper over buying made in the USA. This is why producers not claiming the luxury sector must find ways to streamline the production process and offer a better product at competitive prices – as is our goal.
One of the most inspirational things ever told to me in this business was from a friend who owned a small factory in China that produced our very first Williamsburg jeans. While I was in Guangzhou working for another brand, my friend, who was the production manager at a large factory told me he was about to open his own small place and asked. “Malone, why don’t you start a new brand that sells at very low prices? I’m sure you can sell a lot of jeans.” I said, “no, I’m not interested in making low-end products.” I asked him, “wouldn’t you rather make better quality at smaller volumes and earn a $20 profit per jean?” He responded “no, I’d rather make a hundred thousand jeans and make $1 profit per jean. This way I keep my people working and fed.” I laughed and said, “that would never work in the U.S.” It was not until later that I realized that was the kind of sacrifice and thinking which helped make China the number one producer of the world’s goods.
When we launched the Hope Street jean, our first American-made jeans, our imports were retail priced between $105 to $116. We were making a great profit at those prices and could offer retailers attractive markups at wholesale. After producing the Hope Street jeans near the retail price ($124) of our highest-priced imported jeans, I had confidence, that if given the choice, people would choose to pay a little more for better quality American-made jeans. Thus, we began the movement to make all of Williamsburg’s clothing in the USA.
Where there’s a will there’s a way.
It was not easy to get our cost down to where we could meet the retail price goal. Compared to import production, there is more work, logistics, travel, and time put into producing jeans in the USA. Although it may not seem to make total financial sense, to me it has long-term worth. It began with making a 1-man company even savvier with cost and overhead.
Before opening our first retail store in 2016, the office was a small rented self-storage space. We had an electric outlet, no heat or air, and used a phone over the internet together with a mobile hotspot to connect to the world.
A good example of working down cost, take our small embossed W-logo on our waistband. Domestic producers that I met with wanted $2 to 4 per jean, with $1200 – $1500 upfront die cost. That was too much. The waistband logo itself could have ended up being about 14% of the total product cost. Instead, I shipped waistband fabric parts to China and had them embossed for 15 cents each, plus the shipping cost and we were off and running. By the third production of the Hope jeans, I was able to find an American-made machine that could emboss the waistband logo in production. The machine together with shipping was a little over $5500. I figured it was a good investment because it cost nearly the same as four productions from the quoting suppliers. With a little more homework, I located a local company to make our dies for less than a hundred dollars – a far cry from $1200 – $1500. Later, I worked out a new price and agreement with the owner of the sewing factory, handing him the local logistics responsibilities. This saved us tremendously because we avoided regular traveling expenses associated with doing production in Los Angeles from New York, which included rental cars, lodging, flights, etc.
As the owner of a small business, I fully understand the value of finding vendors that will work in small volumes and invoice at higher volume production rates. High minimums and prices have prevented even established brands like ours from expanding and producing other products in the U.S. Aiming to reverse the snowball effect, we believe that starting small and developing our own production chains within The United States will help reverse the outflow. For consumers, our goal as manufacturers must be to produce reasonably priced, completive goods. Unlike those who find it convenient to say, “you can’t make that in the United States,” we believe in “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” We are small now but know as we grow, we will be part of building a stronger supply chain.
Our big brand competitors, if they choose to make the investment, could easily find pieces in their collections that could be produced in the U.S. or manufactured using their own or cooperative U.S. facilities. However, in corporate America, where more often it is profit over people, I believe it is unlikely. Still, we are hoping more companies will join us and choose to come back to the USA.
The rebuilding of American manufacturing has already begun thanks to small companies like ours. Williamsburg Garment Company will be ambitiously continuing to do our part to drive infrastructure development as we expand into sewing new knit products in-house, in Spring / Summer 2017. As we perfect our manufacturing process, we plan to also produce for other small and mid-sized brands, just as we do in denim. It is an uphill battle but we believe in becoming our slogan, “The world’s favorite American denim brand.”
The noted changes in each stage are based on the measurement differences from the original unworn new jeans. For example, the waist growth from the unworn raw jeans in Stage-1 to the jeans that have been worn but never washed is +1″.
Stage 2, after the jeans have been worn for several months without a wash, they finally go through the pair’s first wash. The jeans are at their smallest point because they have not yet been worn again and seem to have lost at least a size. The waist now measures -1″ smaller than the original unworn new jeans at this point. Overall, that’s a 2″ difference between the waistband’s largest recorded size after the jeans were worn several months in the raw state and the first wash.
Which jean looks to be the oldest or most frequently worn jean? Is this a trick question, or do the photos state the obvious?
Since I launched Williamsburg Garment Company, I’ve worn nearly all the men’s styles and like most people, do have my favorites, of which, some jeans get worn more frequently than others. Some time ago, because wash factories often lose my oldest, most beat-up favorite jeans when I use them as samples to create new experimental natural-looking washes, I promised myself to start recording measurements, fading, shrinkage, and the growth of my jeans to share key insights to how each style preforms throughout the years before they disappear. This is part 1 of what will be at a minimum, a 2-part series, where I review the Hope Street standard raw vs. Grand Street stretch selvedge jeans.
I once received an email from the U.K. and the customer asked, “how long should it take for my jeans to fade?” He explained, that he wore his jeans very often for several months and they seemed to experience no fading, so he wanted to know if that was normal in our jeans. I replied no, saying the jeans should be showing signs of fading. I asked all the usual questions to make sure he was not doing something wrong and that he did indeed have one of our jeans. Nothing seems wrong and I thought it was one of those random odd emails and forgot about it. Then one day after thinking about how dark my Hope Street jeans were, even after more than a year of routinely performing heavy warehouse work in them, it bought me back to that email.
My standard raw Hope Street jeans still looked as dark as they did when they were new. Except for the stretch marks and crease lines that developed. I recalled that I had other jeans that were worn for less time that was more faded, which drove me to write this article.
Right away, I compared them to the stretch selvedge Grand Street jeans, which I treated similarly, often wearing because of the high level of comfort. Between the two, there was an obvious extreme difference in the pace of fading. The stretch selvedge jeans are one of my recently developed styles, so they are not very old, yet they look older than the Hope jeans and others in my regular rotation of denim.
The stretch selvedge jeans in this photo have been washed once, while the Hope raw jeans have not. That’s because once a jean starts developing whiskers (the stretch marks at the hips) and showing signs of aging, I get anxious to accelerate the process with washing. That’s just me. However, the selvedge jeans are a lot younger with far less wear than the raw denim jeans.
My findings. I now recommend our Hope Street standard raw to people looking for men’s slim-fit jeans that will remain dark for a long time. I recommend either the Grand Street stretch raw jeans or South 4th Street stretch raw jeans in selvedge stretch denim to those seeking comfort and like the idea of raw jeans that doesn’t have to be punished that much to age.
Hope Street questions answered: How much does raw denim shrink and stretch?
Starting with a fresh new pair of men’s raw denim Hope Street jeans, I recorded measurements of my size 35 jeans. The jeans were worn on average about two days per week for about a year.
One thing I noticed about my Hope Street jeans is they remained very dark even after a year plus of wearing causally and beating them up pretty well in the warehouse. I asked Blake, my sales rep from Cone Denim about this and he told me the denim used in the Hope Street jeans was their darkest pure indigo shade. He went on to say, “it’s 40% pure. That shade is engineered to give the best possible range of shade.” This means that once you do manage to wear the denim down, the multitude of aging tones in the indigo will be beautiful.
Working from the Williamsburg denim store every day, I found myself educating people on things like, “what are selvedge jeans?” Washed vs. raw jeans and how much does raw denim shrink and stretch. The expansion experienced while wearing raw denim jeans and the shrinkage that occurs after washing has been the most challenging conversations. To aid and give visuals to the discussion, I made it my goal to personally begin testing every style of Williamsburg jeans for denim shrinkage and growth. Starting with measurements taken from jeans while new and raw, to the point where they grow after months of wear and ending with recording after-wash measurements, followed by after-wash/after-wear measurements.
Below, are the measurements from Hope Street, non-stretch, standard raw denim jeans before wear. Followed by the measurements of the jeans after washing and then wearing them for 2 days – stretching and growing the jeans to a size that ends up being slightly smaller jeans than they were in the beginning.
New: Size 35
Waist Band: 39”
Seat: 43 ¾”
Front Rise: 10 ¾”
Rear Rise: 15”
Knee: 17 ¼”
Hem: 14 ½”
Washed & Worn: Size 35
Waist Band: 38 ½”
Seat: 43 ½”
Front Rise: 10 ½”
Rear Rise: 16”
Hem: 14 ¼”
Inseam: 32 7/8”
In high-stress areas like the waistband, seat, and knees, the denim shrunk a good amount after the first wash. However, after a short time of wear, the fabric expanded relatively with ease. At the rise and thigh, the areas that stretch the most, the changes canceled each other out, growing a great deal while raw, then shrinking and enlarging again shortly after wash and wear. The inseam which sees very little growth during the break-in process is only really affected by shrinkage and loses about 2 inches.
We decided to create this quick guide to answer a common question about breaking in raw denim jeans. One of the most common questions for those looking to buy a pair of raw jeans for the first time is “ How much does raw denim stretch?”
We took measurements from a customer’s jeans after he had worn them for about 2 months and then compared them to the original measurements of the jeans. Here is what we found.
- A. The waistband grew 1/2″ (total circumference)
- B. The hips grew 1 1/4″ (total circumference)
- C. The front rise grew 1/4″
- D. The thigh grew 1/2″ (total circumference)
- E. The knee grew 1/4″ (total circumference)
- F. The leg opening grew 1/8″ (total circumference)
- G. The inseam grew 1/4″
To answer wash and shrinkage questions, earlier experiments of the raw denim jeans in these styles show the shrink rate at 3.5% in width and 2.5% in length.
Angry voters addicted to cheaper products have finally woken up and realized free-trade and trickle-down policies haven’t really worked out well for them.
In this super-heated political season, the one good thing politicians are finally talking about is bad U.S. trade policies (we accept goods from some countries with less restrains than they give us to export to them). Many angry voters addicted to cheaper products have finally woken up and realized Free Trade and Trickle Down policies haven’t worked out well for them. It feels like there are now more closed factories than good-paying factory jobs and both Democrats and Republican voters are angry with their Party Establishment whose main interest seems to be supporting Big Businesses and Contributors to their campaigns, which has aided in eroding the U.S. manufacturing base in exchange from greater profits for investors. Over the past few decades, the rich have gotten richer and the middle class has shrunk as the U.S. economy transformed into an Entertainment, Service, and Tech-based economy.
In a manufacturing-based economy, there is usually an economic community that flourishes around manufacturing. Factories require suppliers, part manufacturers, restaurants, travel, and other community businesses that usually thrive around them. When American businesses moved to manufacture overseas to increase profit margins, basically good-paying factory jobs were traded for retail jobs. Great, if you are a teenager but not so great if have a family to support. With few American businesses placing manufacturing orders within the U.S., factories closed and the supplier chains died along with the communities that depended on them.
For years I’ve been saying that Americans have purchased the country’s economic health and manufacturing base away. Big business, politicians, and consumer purchasing decisions have aided the collapse of our manufacturing base and erosion of our infrastructure while contributing to the sudden growth in low-labor countries now manufacturing our products.
Let me tell you a story
When I first traveled to China in the mid-1990s we drove to the factory on dirt roads. Along the roadside were old wooden homes that you would swear no one could possibly be living in. Within 15 years those dirt roads were replaced by paved highways with exits that spun off into other new highways in construction. Not far in the distance were massive new factories, apartment buildings, and whole new communities in construction. Now, juxtapose that to what has happened in the U.S. over the same period.
During the downturn in the economy, a small percentage of Americans started paying attention to where the products they bought were made. This small change in the buying habits of some has helped contribute to slowing the tremendous growth in China and other countries while the U.S. economy rebounded. During my last trips to China, I noticed business was no longer booming and many construction projects were stalled.
Many factors go into changes in economies and I know this to be true: How you spend your money makes a difference along the chain of who you decide to spend it with as much as it affects you. I can go on, but I’m not trying to be a political pundit or running for office so I’ll leave it at that.