What Consumers Really Think About Made in America

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Photo credit: Armitage McMillan

Made in the America has been run up the flagpole more frequently in the last few months than in the last few years. With an administration that has promoting American goods at the center of most of its communications, and a consumer base who continues to pledge allegiance to heritage brands, retailers who stock these products should be making plenty of greenbacks. Maybe, though store owners will tell you country of origin is just one in a long list of consumer concerns—and it’s often surpassed by other factors.

Ipsos Public Affairs recently polled 2,800 Americans for Reuters regarding their shopping habits and found that 70 percent feel it’s at least somewhat important for the products they buy to be made in America. Encouraging, right? Sure, until you learn that 38 percent are unwilling to pay one penny more in order to support those companies. And of those who could envision putting their money where their mouth is, only 26 percent would deign to spend just 5 percent more, while 21 percent would shell out 10 percent more. A committed minority (3 percent) would even plunk down a 50 percent premium.

That’s despite the fact that when asked, 38 percent of consumers believe the U.S. makes the highest quality clothing in a field that includes Italy (which was the favorite among 15 percent), China (6 percent) and Mexico (1 percent).

The poll illustrates the truth about consumer behavior—our actions don’t always align with our stated ideals. Especially when they run counter to our wallets.

Not surprisingly, 94 percent of folks Reuters talked to consider price to be at least somewhat important when they’re making purchasing decisions.

[Learn more about U.S. apparel and textile manufacturing: Made in America is Back and Finding a New Path]

The good news is some shoppers are willing to wrap themselves in red, white and blue, though even these committed consumers have budgets they have to stick to. “A guy may mention that he’d like to sport a small made in the U.S.A. brand, but he’ll back off if the price is too high,” said Daniel Armitage, who co-owns Denver’s Armitage and McMillan with business partner Darin Combs. “We’re very conscious of our retail price point. The sweet spot is $140, and over $170, you narrow the customer base quite a bit.”

Rallying customers

Combs and Armitage opened their menswear store when they decided the brands they’d been working with in New York would be ideal in the Midwest. “We never intended to be a total made in the USA store but we always wanted to be conscious buyers in the market,” Armitage said. “We work with brands who are doing cool stuff and go from there.”

The quest for cool stuff has resulted in a shop with a brand list that’s 80 percent made in America—though that’s only a selling point for a few customers. And most of them are denim heads. “There’s a subculture that goes with denim so they usually know every brand, where they get their fabric and where they make it,” he said.

Armitage can see why. The denim category the one in which made in America means a noticeable difference in quality and attention to detail.

For the customers who aren’t already in the know, the store takes a low-key approach to marketing based on country of origin with maybe a mention on an Instagram post about a brand.

Patrick Mon Pere, buyer at the menswear chain of boutiques Patrick James, said not everything made in the U.S. comes with a hefty price tag. Denim and T-shirts tend to be comparable, he said.

The California chain, which makes about 20 percent to 25 percent of its revenue from products that are made in America, tells the tale via signage, catalogs and the company’s website while the sales associates mention it whenever possible.

“We try to educate the customers on the importance and reasons why American products are a value,” Mon Pere said, adding some shoppers are particularly interested in those aspects of their purchases. “You’ll always have the customer that just cares about price or just wants a certain brand/look and for them the country of origin isn’t as important.”

And after decades of offshoring, some consumers wouldn’t even think to ask where their clothes are made, though a few have one particular country they’ll actively avoid. “Interestingly, we have just as many that specifically remark that they will buy from anywhere but China,” he said.

That preference may not have anything to do with Donald Trump’s bias against the country, but there’s no question that the president has put American-made goods in the spotlight. The commander in chief’s leading ideology behind the country’s trade policy and tax reform is to protect products that are made in America. Last month, the White House dedicated a week to businesses that produce here, including with a showcase of some of their products and the goal “to better the shared American experience, and to unite a common pride in our country.”

[Read more about the president’s plan to protect American production: Has Protectionism Made Sourcing in America Great Again?]

Buying Made in America

In fact, that’s how he and Combs stock their store. Though they attend trade shows, they discover brands like Thee Teen Aged, Gitman Vintage, The Hill-Side and Save Khaki, based on word of mouth.

Mon Pere said Patrick James has seen a steady decline in American labels over the last 10 to 15 years, though that’s starting to change. The store stocks brands like Remy Leather, Agave, Survivalon and St. Croix, each of which offers products that are made in America. Still he said, finding these labels can sometimes be a challenge.

“It’s not as easy as you’d think. Every season we stumble across a new vendor making here in the States but it is not well organized,” Mon Pere said. “Most product categories are represented. The selection and depth just vary. There’s only a few clothing brands in our segment of the business, and shoes, outside of a couple, is quite difficult.”

To supplement the products it buys wholesale, Armitage McMillan is launching a private-label collection that will be produced locally. “Working with factories in Dallas, Texas, adds to our story, Armitage said. “It adds to our story. If a band makes here, it’s usually in L.A. or Manhattan. We’re still connected to our southern roots.”

It also keeps the store connected to its most loyal media outlets. If the duo had decided to produce in Portugal, which it had considered, the love they currently get from publications and blogs that champion craftsmanship and provenance, would go out the window.

For now, Armitage and Combs are sticking with the store’s ethos and they believe that if they continue to offer quality and value, shoppers will continue to support them. “Not everyone can afford to have a closet full of U.S.-made items but we like to say you can have a balance,” Armitage said.

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