Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, 11/21/2011 2:00:00 AM
SOMETIMES IN THE SWEEP OF EVENTS it's difficult to remember exactly when things hit an inflection point.
That is not the case for me. I joined HTT in the spring of 2000, when the industry titans were still large, American mills. Within a single year, several of them were in bankruptcy. By 2005, most of them were gone.
Frankly, I am surprised not by how much production has disappeared from the United States but that any remains.
It's heartening to see manufacturers find niches that can be addressed more profitably here than offshore. It's nice to hear consumers are pressing retailers here and there - mostly online, it seems - to put up some U.S.-made product.
I don't know a single manufacturing exec who didn't lament off-shoring. Many of these mills were named after the towns in which they were founded (or vice versa). Most of them had a strong sense of pride in employing generations of families. Because of that, some held on longer than it was fiscally prudent to do so.
The "Made in the USA" conundrum presents us with the double-edged sword that has characterized so much of the off-shoring phenomenon. On the one hand, it absolutely decimated an industry that once employed hundreds of thousands. (The National Textile Organization's roster of company-by-company plant closings and layoffs by manufacturers of fabrics, apparel and home textiles from the 1990s through the aught years is more depressing than words can convey.)
On the other hand, as we are often reminded, it made better merchandise more affordable to many more consumers.
I think of a story that ran in the New York Times several years ago when Etch-a-Sketch closed its last plant in the U.S. At peak production in the 1960s, the pad retailed for about $11, according to the story. Moving production off-shore brought the retail down to something like $7. Not that big a change, you'd think, but the story pointed out that $11 in 1968 was closer to $35 in contemporary terms - and who on earth would pay $35 for an Etch-a-Sketch today?
All in all, the industry has rolled with the punches - and heaven knows, the blows have come fast and hard. In that sense, it's great to see how smart and responsive and resilient the industry turned out to be.
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