It’s this exact question I found myself asking as I deliberated what Cohort should be. After all, it is a global economy, and I had experience making clothing and accessories all over the world.
Why pigeonhole ourselves?
The obvious, and so often used, reason – bringing manufacturing back jobs to the US – just doesn’t cut it. I’m not so naïve to think that the world hasn’t changed in the twenty to thirty years since apparel manufacturing picked up and outsourced itself to China. Automation has and will continue to dramatically reduce the number of workers needed to do manual, repetitive tasks, of which there are many in the apparel and accessory manufacturing process. Bringing jobs back is and should be part of the tale, but it can’t be the whole story.
At the same time, the Zaras and H&M’s of the world have successfully tapped into and exploited a demand for cheap, fast fashion. So cheap it can only be made overseas. On trend, insanely affordable, and sometimes made under questionable conditions, it often isn’t made to last as long as the trend it’s representing does.
While I’m no fan of the ever-growing clothing trash problem that this part of the apparel industry contributes to, it has its place in the market that made in USA, with its higher labor costs, just can’t effectively compete with.
With these factors, among others, in mind, why build a brand that promotes and focuses on made in USA apparel and accessories?
In his biography of Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance paints a picture of a Musk who actively seeks out industries to upend – from banking to the automotive industry to space travel, and then looks to rapidly scale his solution to the problems facing each. But it was HOW he goes about doing it and the resulting ripple effect that made me stop and think.
Take Tesla’s drive to bring the electric car to a mass audience. Tesla, in its design on the Model S and Model 3, has run into any number of roadblocks along the way. For one, electric cars require lightweight construction. “Musk opted to solve a big chunk of this problem by making the body of the Model S out of lightweight aluminum instead of steel…But at the time, car manufacturers in North America had almost no experience producing aluminum body panels.” Now, aluminum part manufacturers like UACJ, in its recently acquired plant in Ludington, Michigan, are ramping up operations and investing to the tune of $26 million to support upcoming Model 3 production.
For another, Tesla, finding that they were already consuming a large share of the world’s lithium ion batteries, has built a massive Gigafactory, purported to eventually employ 6500 people, in Nevada to support production of its upcoming Model 3. Vance notes, “the battery packs coming out of the Gigafactory should be dramatically cheaper and better than the ones built today…to pave the way for electric vehicles with 500-plus miles of range.”
That stopped me. Tesla drives significant positive innovation in the automotive industry and creates jobs, all right here in the US? Talk about a virtuous circle.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, England was the largest consumer of cotton in the world. But it’s no secret that the cotton gin, which dramatically increased production, was invented in the United States. Why? Because the United States was producing the cotton, millions and billions of pounds of it, sent to England to be spun, woven, cut and sewn into garments. Eli Whitney observed, touched, experienced the process with his own eyes, so of course he was better equipped to innovate a solution than the consumers of the product, four thousand miles away.
To be able to really tackle some of the problems in the apparel manufacturing industry – from the polluting, water-intensive cotton production process to the labor-intensive cut and sew process, we need to be making clothing, and making it here.
We need to touch it, feel it, and understand it. And to put the proper pressure on the system to innovate, we need to scale and to have volume.
So, right now, that’s why we’re here – to help kickstart the engine of innovation in the apparel industry here in the US. To find great quality apparel and accessories already made here in the US, make some of our own, offer it at a reasonable price to make it accessible to as many people as possible, and get us to start figuring out how to solve problems.
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Got a made-in-USA brand that you want to get in front of the world? Tell us about it.