In an unlikely reversal of a decades-long trend, American-made goods are growing in popularity in China, according to a report by Jing Daily, a blog about the Chinese luxury market. Although they don’t have the same draw as European products, heritage workwear labels like Red Wing, Woolrich, Billy Reid, and Gitman Brothers are making inroads among China’s swelling urban middle class and their considerable disposable incomes. In December, Allen Edmonds, one of two high-end shoemakers to maintain operations Stateside, announced plans to expand into China under a new licensing deal that could double the size of its Port Washington, WI, headquarters over the next 10 years. “China is growing so fast, and it’s such a sophisticated market already,” Paul Grangaard, president and CEO of Allen Edmonds, told Milwaukee Business Times in January. “’Made in America’ has a really strong reputation there.”
MADE IN THE U.S.A.
Also angling for a slice of the market is 7 for All Mankind, which crafts its premium denim in the United States (albeit from imported material). In addition to the 19 stores it operates in mainland China and Hong Kong, the label opened its first flagship store in Macau in November.
7 for All Mankind, which crafts its premium denim in the U.S., opened its first flagship store in Macau in November.
Speaking to Bloomberg News on Wednesday, New York City designer Patrik Ervell noted that the benefits of keeping production local outweighed the higher expenditure. “For one season I did production in South Korea, and then we moved it back here. There was something missing. There was a flatness to the clothing,” he said. “When everything is made here in the Garment District, we go to the factories every day and work with the people making the clothing.”
American-made goods didn’t always have the cachet it has today, Ervell said, but the tide is shifting, particularly where menswear is concerned. “I’m manufacturing clothing here in New York, and I’m exporting it to China and South Korea and Japan,” he said. “Suddenly ‘Made in America’ has a value to the Chinese customer in almost the same way that ‘Made in France’ or ‘Made in Italy’ once had for Americans.”
Peered through a glass darkly, the circumstances read like an alternate history or a fiction from a mirror universe. If the Chinese are eschewing their own products for ours—even as they try to satiate the American consumer’s voracious appetite for rock-bottom prices—what does it say about them? And, more important, us?