As a new dad, I quickly discovered how challenging it is to find beautiful, heirloom quality baby gifts that are made in the USA.
I search hundreds of websites and made many trips to the local baby boutiques -- but quickly realized that while purchasing high-quality American-made products for my child was my top priority, many retailers were not on the same page.
This is not surprising. According to an American Apparel and Footwear Association report from 2000 (cited in the Jan. 15 New York Times): one third of the production of such goods was domestic. In 2011 it was a mind-bogglingly small 2.3 percent. Yes, 2.3 percent.
Will this trend change?
It appears U.S.-based mom and pop manufacturers are feeling invigorated by the renewed enthusiasm for American-made products -- especially in the baby market. At the same time, I recently launched Oliver & Adelaide, which offers new parents bespoke packages featuring heirloom quality toys, furnishings and clothing for their toddlers -- all Made in the USA.
American Manufacturers Speak Out!
In early January, I went to the ENK Children's Club Show for Fall in New York City to talk to manufacturers and retailers to understand why Made in the USA is poised for a comeback.
Lisa and Curzon Peier moved from London to southern California and opened Petite Frites, makers of bibs, baby blankets and other products. Peier's anonymous survey of their customers found twenty-five percent believe strongly in locally made. And this startling fact: "They would not buy products from us if we changed to overseas manufacturers. And, they understand that manufacturing in the US cost more."
Support is growing, according to Elizabeth Joyce, owner of Country Kids Clothing in Hanover, NH. "I am in a small rural location and Made in the USA appeals to our customers a lot. We have a cross section: from blue collar to affluent parents that are highly educated and have global awareness. We found that advertising we are a local owner selling Made in the USA for children has helped us. We sell 25 different brands that are Made in the USA."
Patricia Gambis, a Forest Hills, N.Y. dressmaker's daughter whose mother taught all the children in her family, even the boys, to sew, knows all clothing is not constructed equally. She markets her handmade reversible dresses to many venues and sees her patrons' loyalty. "I have noticed that customers who appreciates made-locally is also the shopper in pop-up shops and in markets that support local makers."
Bonnie Matthews owns Blu Pony Vintage, maker of timeless children's clothes inspired by the 1920's and 30's in look and manufacture - back then there were no synthetics, so none are used now. She knows her suppliers inside and out. "I know the kids of the people manufacturing my clothes and am sure of the quality." Matthews stresses the collaborative nature of her business: "I appreciate this connection." She, and they, all know we are all in this together. "Our makers' livelihood is connected to our success."
While there's clearly enthusiasm in the children's market, it's clear we need to expand our support for these nationally-based manufacturers to complete the Made in the USA comeback story.