Small Girl, Big Ideas

Manufacturing


One of these dresses costs $27.80. One costs $57.99.
Which one are you buying?

Coming off my last topic, one of the things to pick up from (out of SO many things it brought up) was low costs and saving money. 

I'm going to guess that with those two dresses you would much rather pay $27.80 than $57.99. Duh, right? Not....really. So here's the other question, after the jump of course.
One of these dresses is made in the US (or your country of origin for the point of this example, but seriously, one is made in the US). One is made in China.
Which one are you buying?

This tests well. On paper and in your mind, it's great to buy from the US. But do consumers actually follow that buying pattern? American Apparel seems to have built a successful company on the primary basis of US manufacturing, but how many times have you heard someone say how expensive they are? This could go really political, which I hope it doesn't, but definitely share what you want. I'm not saying I'm pro anything here - just that this is a really interesting topic I don't think is brought up enough. I've heard too many people complain about factories being outsourced who don't truly think about the big picture. There are so many aspects to this and it's really not all that black and white.

Let's start first with cost. Why does US manufacturing cost more? Our cost of living is higher therefore wages are set higher. We also have very different labor laws as well. When you compare the labor costs (only assembly by a human of a product, not the raw material cost) from America to an overseas vendor, the cost different is quite huge. Companies do pay larger freight and tax costs on imported goods, but the addition of those isn't enough to make American manufacturing companies all that competitive. We also have a smaller job pool for skilled workers, and many of the ones currently working in factories are beginning to retire, leaving jobs open that no one wants to fill.With all of that considered, often other countries have the skilled laborers to fill those jobs in the right areas, making it an easier bet than staying in the US where those skills are found less commonly.

Cincinnati Incline Railway, 1905

I think it's important to take a step back here. America was built on manufacturing. We were full of those so-called smog inducing factories at each port, riverbed, and city throughout the country. Cities and areas boomed because of our industrial capabilites. But now? Do you know anyone who works in a factory?  Factories now have moved and stay in fairly rural areas to save on cost of land and wages - hence why you don't find many factories in downtown NYC now and rather office buildings in place of them. Even more so, more of my generation (Gen Y) or the one below me are going to college and will possess at least a bachelors degree - nearly 63% of my generation does (one). This makes factory and industrial work less and less appealing. In order to drive people to want to work at these jobs, they need to pay higher wages. Yet, factories have to compete with China. In result, US factories are outsourced, leaving older employees with only that skill jobless. If you have ever visited a city that once boomed due to some sort of industrial economy, well, they aren't pretty to see. American factories are less common and typically no longer situated in citties like they used to be. This is beginning to happen in China too as costs in cities like Shenzhen rise, factories have gone further inland where living costs are lower, so wages can be too. This happened once in the US too - and why US factories are commonly located in cities a bit more off the beaten path.

Women sewing at long tables next to tall windows in a garment factory.

US manfacturing today is really quite different. First, think of how many people (more relating to younger generations) are willing to work in a factory? My generation has fewer skilled laborers lwith regards to any sort of industrial work, which results in the positions actually having higher wages because they are such a rare commodity (two). But with more college graduates, the work and life in a factory is less normal, approachable, glamourous, and accepted. This is beginning to happen in China too, as we watch factory jobs be 'beneath people.' (three) Indeed, I took the college then 9 to 5 job path, and it seems to be how we push children to be. But each job is important to our economy, and if we are all web designers, we're going to end up a sad bunch.

In terms of supporting products made in the USA, I think it's really admirable. I definitely will prefer a product made in the USA a bit over another, but I also have truly come to terms with the fact there are things that we do not excel at making here. Other countries are set up with more advanced factories for producing technology, for instance. In terms of a global market, I find it interesting to see the strengths of each area and what they can produce. Is it better that we can share these strengths?

This is a topic I hope you all have a lot of opinions to share on with me. Experiences, things to add - I'm hoping to help you learn more and hopefully you can help me learn more as well.

16 comments:

  1. That's a good topic! It's a little a continuation from your last topic. It's true, people normally prefer to buy cheaper (normally from China when in some places the salary it's a cup of rice per day) than to buy fromt thei origin countries. And they ask why the economics it's going bad... Obvisiouly it's more expensive our manufacturing because we give better labour conditions and factorys need to pay higher salaries and higher taxes to the social security and finances. But normally no one thinks on that. And the worst of it, it's that most of the great international factorys, for example Zara, everyone knows it, where their clothes are made? China, India.... So you are indirecting contribuiting to that.

    Kisses
    Sofia G

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  2. I think this is a very interesting topic and discussion point and I'm glad that more and more bloggers are addressing some of these issues that really need to be talked about. Although I agree that I tend to lean towards buying things that are made in the U.S. especially recently due to research I conducted for a project that looked at why consumers buy fast fashion. What you said above it correct, at least in terms of cost. Consumers tend to buy things that are lower in cost rather than making sure the product is ethically made or produced in the U.S. It's sad, and I have to say that I am a culprit as well. I have been trying to make better decisions when it comes to buying clothing. I've been buying local more often, and trying my best to research how ethical companies are. As you mentioned above those, factories are not abundant here anymore as they used to be and there is a stigma attached to working in a factory, and it's terrible, and if factory regulations have improved (which honestly, I'm not sure they have) it should not be seen as beneath people to work at a factory. For a short while, my mother worked at a factory when she first arrived in America. It can be really hard work, and the workers are dedicated, but the pay was low. That's almost another discussion entirely, how ethical are factories?

    I think that it is better that we share strengths globally. It's just like - one person cannot do everything. We have to collaborate and share our strengths with each other, but it's of course easier said than done.

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    Replies
    1. This is an interesting article to read/think about:

      http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/25/opinion/bangladesh-factory-collapse-opinion/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

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  3. fascinating post. i took a lot of international political economy classes and this came up a lot. i certainly want to support u.s. made products and it inspires me to buy something i'd otherwise not buy. however, i, like everyone else, runs into the "i want a mint dress and only have $27 dollars" issue, making spending the $57 difficult. i wish i could shop as consciously as i wanted, but my wallet doesn't allow that in all cases.
    kw ladies in navy

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  4. An interesting topic and one I saw come up on your post on thrifting. I've been woefully ignorant on where my clothes get made though due to distance I'm also not able to consume much "fast fashion" either. (Somehow buying in person seems different than when you weigh your options online. I don't tend to do much fast fashion there). Even so, I am guilty of going for the cheap buy. This is good food for thought, as ethical purchases seem to have power.

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  5. A very interesting post.
    I love that you have brought this to the fore as a topic for discussion as it's such an important issue for today, yet people (especially young girls) don't seem to give it much thought.
    I forget how many times people look at my handmade stuff ,and UK made items in my Mum's shop, and say "That is too expensive" and toddle off down to a cheap and cheerful shop/supermarket to get something that is a poor imitation.
    Because people have become used to the huge influx of cheaper items imported from China these days, it comes as a huge shock when domestically made goods are sold at higher prices. Your point about our generation not working in factories is a good one, perhaps it is unfortunately a fading trade...I have to say though, I like to get a bargain or something cheaper myself, but your post will definitely keep the idea of buying UKmade in my mind, and influence my future purchases. Thank you!
    Jen@madeinminch

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  6. I think this is a great topic. I think it's incredibly hard to weigh the obvious pros with buying American against my generation's (and my personal) desire to be able to afford new clothes on a whim -- whether or not they are of good quality. I think those in previous generations spent their money far more wisely; women had far fewer options in their closets (due to cost), but all were of supreme quality. There is so much media influence on fashion (because companies buy ads, etc.) and we are constantly being bombarded with images of the new trend or must-have piece, and I think there is a lot of pressure to keep up with that. So many of us buy inexpensive, trendy and inferior-quality items when we fall victim to that. This is definitely something that makes me think, though. When you're an artist on a limited budget, it can be supremely tempting to be able to buy several cheap items over one higher-priced, well-made item. We think we are getting a better bang for our buck, even though the pieces won't last as long and won't stand the test of time, in terms of the ever-changing face of fashion. I don't always like American Apparel for other reasons (namely, even though there items ARE American-made, I don't think their quality is necessarily any better than that other stores, at least not all the time), but I think this argument makes a great point about where our workforce is heading, and how we place being able to get a bargain over quality (or even the existence of American businesses). Thanks so much for sharing!

    xox Sammi
    www.thesoubrettebrunette.blogspot.com

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  7. This is a great post! I learned a lot reading this! Of course I prefer to buy cheaper things, but I would rather buy from a company that makes the product in the U.S. or Canada even if it is a little more expensive. But I'm sad to say that it's hardly ever in the back of my mind; most of the time I just buy something if I like it, not thinking about where it was made. Now I'm going to think about it more!
    ~Sara

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  8. I commend you for writing such a thought provoking post on an issue not easily discussed, I work in the fashion industry and deal with this in my job and as a consumer. I do try to be more thoughtful in my purchases, but also as I have gotten older I want to spend money on quality purchases items that last. The saying is true you get what you pay for. Also being a crafter/maker myself has made me more respectful and thoughtful of others and their handmade offerings.

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  9. I try to support clothing lines, such as Eileen Fisher, who promotes ethical treatment of their employees in other countries and fair wages. They are also making more of their clothing in the US now. Yes, their clothing is pricey but to me it is worth it. I'm probably older than many of your readers (46) and really don't buy many trendy items anymore. Just my 2 cents.

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  10. Oh wow, so this is just such a good post. I learned a ton from it. I've been aware of some of it, such as how things made in the USA are usually a bit more expensive, but some of it I did not know. But hey, that's probably why you wrote this, yeah? You did such a good job at it, too.

    I always do my best to buy from places where I feel like I can get clothing that's made in a fairly ethical way, but you know, sometimes it just isn't easy to determine which places do that! I really like TJ Maxx because the clothes are usually discount designer things, designers which I assume (though haven't done much research on) have their clothing produced here.

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  11. I really really enjoyed this post Katherine. I even discussed it with my husband last night :). You bring up some really great points and it makes me realize that while it would be best to shop local when you can, I shouldn't feel crazy guilt if I don't. With a new home on the horizon I can't be spending like I used to!

    xo

    Ashley

    Southern (California) Belle

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  12. I've become interested in this topic since hearing Elizabeth Cline interviewed on Fresh Air last week (http://www.npr.org/2013/05/02/180557959/ethical-fashion-is-the-tragedy-in-bangladesh-a-final-straw) and I'm really interested to read her book.

    Bevin
    www.magnoliareverie.com

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  13. This is such a good post! I have been trying to keep thought about what I buy, but it is harder when you are on a college student budget - which is why I turned to thrifting; I felt better knowing that I was supporting local charities. If I do buy things new, I try to buy local and support smaller businesses. However, I really do not like American Apparel; the CEO of the company is not very - ahem- respectful to women, unfortunately, so I try to avoid AA just on principal.

    xoxo,
    Laura
    http://lauraisthriftingthroughlife.blogspot.com/

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  14. LOVED this post!!!
    A bunch of things made in USA though, unfortunately are made by slave labor in the islands that we own outside of the US (like Guam for instance). Thankfully things have been working well to improve even that though, according to a bunch of news articles I've kept up with regarding human trafficking.
    I think too many times we take the cheaper route out but we don't understand the violence and cost relating to the cheaper items we purchase. :( It is sad how little factories in the US are being run and how much we depend on people we "can't see" and are unsure of how they are being treated. It is pretty crazy. . but I know that is not what you meant entirely at all by your post. . just how my mind runs. haha.
    +Victoria+

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