Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Mike Hower headshot

Why ‘Made in America’ Does Not Have to Mean 'Unaffordable'

“Made in America” labels aren’t exactly a common sight these days. Check the tag on the shirt or pants you are wearing, and chances are it will read “Made in… [China], [Bangladesh], [Vietnam] or...” Well, you get the point. Your flashy new iPhone 5S? Before you even opened the box, it already was more well-traveled than you are.

More than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Contrast this with the 1960s, when around 95 percent of apparel worn in the U.S. was made at home.

But most American consumers want to buy American. Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product, according to a February 2013 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Why? In the same survey, more than 80 percent cited retaining manufacturing jobs and keeping American manufacturing strong in the global economy as very important reasons for buying American. Roughly 60 percent claimed concern about the use of child workers or other cheap labor overseas, or stated that American-made goods were of higher quality.

If this is true -- that most Americans would rather purchase products made in the Land of the Free -- why do so many opt for cheaper, mass-produced foreign-made ones?

Well, because Americans tend to overvalue apparel produced entirely in the U.S., according to a separate study published last year in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. In the study, participants first were shown a cotton shirt and told it was made in China and sold for $40 USD in retail stores. When participants were shown the same shirt, but told it was made in the U.S. with U.S. cotton, they valued the shirt at $57 USD -- more than 42 percent higher.

"This is concerning because if Americans place higher values on these U.S. products, they perceive those products to be too expensive and are less likely to buy them, opting instead to buy similar Chinese-made products perceived to be more in their price range,” said Jung Ha-Brookshire, an assistant professor at Missouri University who conducted the study. “To help U.S. apparel businesses create and maintain domestic jobs, American consumers need to have a realistic understanding of the value of apparel made in the U.S."

Are quality and affordability mutually exclusive? No, says Bram Robinson, who founded Upstate Stock, a New York-based company that brings to market knit accessories produced at a factory in Upstate New York. The factory has been making knight accessories since 1946, which is pretty awesome.

“Upstate Stock was born out of simple fact that American manufacturing of the highest quality is still out there, the same manufacturing from decades ago that is both at a standard that very few countries can match, but also affordable,” the company’s website says.

Upstate Stock is in the middle of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 to expand sales to new markets, launch a web store and develop new products. The campaign ends next Thursday, December 19.

I had the opportunity to try out a pair of the “Ragg Wool Fingerless Gloves” just in time for San Francisco’s epic cold spell. The gloves are “pretty slick” (as my father would say), comfortable and keep your hands nice and toasty. Running at a mere $28, the gloves are comparable to or cheaper than most mainstream brands. Quality and affordability. Made right here, in ‘merica.

Though there was a conspicuous lack of a “Made in America” label.

Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).

Mike Hower headshotMike Hower

Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/&quot; > ClimaTalk</a>.

Read more stories by Mike Hower

More stories from Leadership & Transparency