Written by Noemi Pollack on May 27, 2011.
Suddenly it matters. Finally, the Made-in-America label has become entwined with national pride, domestic job growth, fine quality production and is slowly turning around decades-old perceptions that anything made in Italy or France, the powerhouse countries of design, are not necessarily “must haves.”
It’s a slow growth pattern, but definitely on track for a change as seen by a survey of affluent consumers conducted this year by American Express Publishing and the Harrison Group, a luxury research firm. According to the survey, 75% said they like brands made in America, only up by 5% from 2008, but significant in its rising curve. The more noteworthy news is that 65% of those surveyed said they do try to buy U.S.-made products whenever possible, a strong indicator that some change is brewing.
Companies that have catered more to the mid-market consumers have always appealed to patriotism much more than luxury brands, as seen by such companies as Levi Strauss with its “Wild West” origins focus, and Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit,” a reminder of that company’s American roots. It is only recently that affluent consumers have sat up and noticed that Made-in-America can have positive economic consequences all around.
Clearly one has to factor in that not just patriotism has triggered this change, although that too, but the fact that China’s labor costs have increased, leading to higher pricing and that its manufacturing quality has in recent years come under fire. Another factor is that celebrity folks have stepped up to drive this change, such as the luxury fashion line, the Row, from Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, which manufactures most of its clothes in America’s biggest cities. The brand got a boost from the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Julianne Moore who favor the brand, as well as with critics.
The Made-in-America label is actually more about manufacturing than design, as in the case of American fashion designer, Polo Ralph Lauren and Coach, Inc, the largest U.S. luxury handbag maker, whose goods are made outside the country. Not so with Brooks Brothers, a company that designs and manufactures solely in the US, as does the luxury brand, Tiffany.
Look, I don’t expect any affluent person to trade in their Ferregamo shoes or Prada purses anytime soon, but I do believe that the mystique of buying foreign fashion labels for its own reputable sake, has been knocked down a couple of notches and that the world economic and political climate is right for Made-in-America to have a fighting chance at competing.
Turning perceptions around has always been the hard part. PR and marketing teams of such companies have the current opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and unleash messages that resonate emotionally with the public — messages that focus on buying American because, in a small way, in one niche of the economy, individually and collectively, all can make a difference.