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Internet Company Aims to Boost 'Made In America' Goods

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Leadership & Transparency
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Maker’s Row, a startup company aiming to produce more goods domestically, may make Americans who are passionate about keeping factory jobs in the states -- and enjoy clothing tabbed with a “Made in the USA” label -- rest a little easier.

Matthew Burnett, the company’s CEO and co-founder, began by making designer watches, but his experience dealing with manufacturers overseas proved to be frustrating and not worthwhile for the Brooklyn-based businessman.

“There were language barriers,” Burnett told NPR. “There was the time-zone differences; so I would be waiting up at 1, 2 o’clock in the morning to respond to emails.”

Along with the logistical challenges, the manufacturers producing Burnett’s wristwatches required a 1,000-piece order minimum and often took three or four months to send back mere samples of the product.

Fed up with sending his work abroad, Burnett tried to develop a clothing line produced in the United States. He wanted to keep everything simple and small, but the efforts proved equally frustrating and limiting. There was no specific blueprint to find U.S. factories ready to produce specific goods. So Burnett and his team developed a website, Maker’s Row, to match factories with business proposals to smoothen the searching process and turn business ideas into domestic realities.

American designers post listings, similar to Craigslist, to pitch their product to a company specializing in the production of that prospective item. Manufacturers will then spot the listing and contact the designer if they want to pursue a business partnership.

The website has so far been helpful to both designers and manufacturers. Struggling designers are given the opportunity to use an Internet-based, easy-to-use platform to get their product on the map while manufacturers are seeing a spike in production based on the constant need from startups.

Aside from the benefit of efficiency in searching for partnerships between designers and manufacturers, Burnett said producing goods in the U.S. can be effective in spotting early trends and providing oversight. He said the turnaround times in production can make the products outdated by the time they are actually put on shelves in the United States.

In order to provide adequate oversight in the production, a company’s CEO would have to make frequent trips or check-ins to the factory overseas. Burnett points out that this is an expensive venture, and one that wouldn’t exist if the factory were located domestically.

While the company may seem all hunky-dory, the production prices are understandably higher in the U.S. than in foreign countries like China or Bangladesh because of working wages and smaller size of production. This translates to higher market prices for consumers. And according to an Associated Press-GfK poll from April, Americans prefer low prices to items “Made in the USA.” Nearly 75 percent say they like the idea of American-made goods but think the items are too costly or hard to find. Just 9 percent of consumers say they buy only American-made items.

Image credit: Flickr/Matt

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

Read more stories by Grant Whittington