Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

It mattered before Trump. It will matter after him, too.

President Trump officially has declared this week “Made in America Week,” and Tuesday officially “Made in America Day.”

It’s the second year in a row that The Donald has done so. It’s getting a lot less attention this year, given that the media has other things to cover, like Trump’s controversial meeting and outrageous press conference on Monday with Russia’s Vladmir Putin.

Sadly, Trump’s tendency (and frankly, eagerness) to pit Americans against each other has meant that Made in America – which once was a unifying message that reached across party lines – has become part of the divide. Many now associate Made in America with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, while others simply do not want to support anything they view as remotely associated with Trump.

Made in America once signified love of the local community and a commitment to quality, mixed together with a dash of patriotism.

Now, it’s a political minefield.

Architectural Digest studied this division a few weeks back, interviewing an eclectic mix of makers, designers, and artisans about what Made in America means in the era of Trump. The folks who were interviewed don’t strike one as MAGA supporters by any means – in fact, I’d bet that many consider themselves to be card-carrying members of The Resistance -- but they still had a lot of love for Made in America.

Patrick Cain, a reporter-turned-furniture designer based in Los Angeles, said that American-made isn’t a trend, but rather “a necessary cultural movement.”

“If society doesn’t make this transition, the consequences, from socioeconomic to environmental are, -- not be alarmist – dire,” he told the publication. “The made-in-America movement has nothing to do with similar sounding xenophobic platforms, and everything to do with respecting people, your neighbors, and the world as a integrated codependent system.”

Cain later continued: “Buying American-made says, ‘I, the American consumer, am willing to spend a few more dollars to say that I do not stand for child workers or near-slave treatment of factory workers in developing nations. I support the American middle class, the environment, and the arts.’”

Indeed, supporting American manufacturers and makers is a lot like choosing to eat locally-grown organic food, now a cornerstone of trendy restaurants everywhere.

There are the jobs benefits, of course. Local manufacturers, both big and small, support job creation, and manufacturing jobs still pay a wage premium compared to other sectors, especially for workers without a college degree.

At a time when worries about the widening income gap between the wealthy and the working class is paramount, finding ways to create family-sustaining jobs is critical. Manufacturing, which helped build the middle class in the mid-20th century, continues to have a role to play in helping to rebuild it now.

Local communities benefit as well. Every $1 invested in U.S. manufacturing brings back $1.81 in economic activity.  

And as Cain noted above, labor conditions for workers overseas are often horrendous. By buying an American-made product, you are taking a stand against sweatshops and other unfair labor practices.

Made in America is also far more sustainable. Not only do American companies have to abide by stricter environmental standards than those in places like China, but many of them have made being eco-friendly a part of their identity, often using recycled materials and employing other sustainable practices.

Our dependence on overseas labor also has created environmental consequences. We have to ship all that stuff back here, leading to ocean pollution. On top of that, China's lack of environmental standards has led to an increase in air pollution on the West Coast.

Then there’s the issue of quality. Many American makers and manufacturers consider this the hallmark of their business – there’s a reason why American Giant is touted as the greatest hoodie ever made, after all.

And by staying local, American manufacturers are able to customize customer orders far more quickly and easily than their offshoring competitors.

“Consumers are growing tired of buying cheap things that need to be continually disposed of,” Kate Short, the owner of Preservation Fine Goods in New Jersey, told Architectural Digest. “They’re realizing that local artisans and small manufacturers offer craftsmanship to last lifetimes. Buying American-made is gratifying – you support your neighbors, fill your home with aesthetically pleasing objects, and make responsible purchases that become future heirlooms.”

Donald Trump hijacked the Made in America message (even if he doesn't keep it Made in America himself). But one day, Donald Trump isn’t going to be president anymore.

In the meantime, the rest of us must remember that Made in America is not a political gimmick.

It provides a way to create good-paying, family-sustaining jobs, uphold fair labor practices, support craftsmanship and artisanship, and protect the environment. That’s a future worth fighting for.