We are asked on a daily basis why more or all of our products aren't made in America- a hardly illogical question since we have our own sewing factory in the building. However, there are several reasons we do not and cannot make or acquire all of our products in the USA (or Europe.)
This post will give a detailed explanation, based on 25+ years experience in selling, manufacturing and contracting reproduction WWII militaria.
Although most people are simply curious, a few types are a bit belligerent about the entire subject, insisting that we are somehow unpatriotic and disloyal to our country for manufacturing things outside our nation's borders. Others try to be helpful and point out that the patriotic fervor of customers would lead to increased sales were we to produce everything here. It's always great to be offered expert advice from those with less than zero experience in garment manufacturing.
These are facts and actual experiences- not platitudes and proclamations based on emotion or patriotic fervor.
Price: Yes, most people understand that cost is the number one reason so much is not made in this country anymore. Despite all the blabbering of the politicians and news media that make it seem to be a simple matter to "just" make it in USA, the truth is far different. Labor cost is Asia runs about 1/10th (or less) of that in America. Fabrics are typically 30-50% cheaper. This means that a German tunic costs $40-50 from China- the same tunic, made in America, costs $300-400, simply due to the difference in labor and materials. "Cost" is what a business pays for the tunic- the retail price will typically be double or triple that. Depending on labor time, American made garments generally cost at least three times more than the same item made in Asia.
Retail Facts: Would you pay three times as much for the same jacket ($99 vs. $300) just because it was made in USA? Even if the quality isn't quite as good, the $99 jacket will win 98% of the time. We have over ten years of collated sales figures on numerous items, and price is the key on all but a few rare (and sometimes surprising) things. Although both were made in China, when we switched the wool lining in the M41 Field Jackets from wool to cotton flannel, and the price dropped 35%- despite the howls of protest from the history nerds that we should be boycotted for dishonoring our forefathers- sales of the jackets went from 300 annually to nearly 1,000. If we made M41's here, they'd be at least $250. Quality would be the same and we'd be lucky to sell 5 in a year.
For a more direct comparison, take German tunics. Our imported models were $150, and we sold about 500 annually (all styles combined.) Texled tunics, made in USA, wool from Deutschland, original thread and parts, etc, etc, were $750+. We sold about 1.5 per month. So 20 vs. 500. The profit margin on the imported ones was far better- Texleds should have been double that price and then they might have been worth it.
The higher the price, the greater this disparity in sales numbers. It seems that $100 is the tipping point- and if the American made version is no more than double the price of the import, and it retails for under 100 bucks, they can be viable products. So, USA made fieldgear sells at a rate of 30-50% that of the cheaper imported items, and the lower the price, the higher the ratio. American made carbine pouches sell almost 1-1 with the imports ($20 vs. $10), while cartridge belts are about 1-3 ($100 vs. $60).
Quality: Manufacturing clothing is not rocket science. The Asians are brilliant, industrious people and they are perfectly capable of producing garments as good or better than we can- and they often do. The problems we have had regarding patterning and assembly were most often miscommunications or lack of oversight on their part with their workers. When properly supervised, their people make just as good a product as we do (did). We had some epic f*ck ups ourselves when we made garments- and I mean EPIC. The difference is that I was there on site to stop and correct it when a worker got a bright idea to move the buttons or swap sleeves. Most of the time, they do catch and correct the antics in time.
Conversely, I have examined a number of American made garments in recent years, usually when a red blooded type is showing it off trying to convince me that we should emulate "this" company. In no case was I impressed (actually much to my chagrin) and in one case (a very well known company that makes men's pants) I was horrified by the dismal sewing quality. In many cases, made in USA was not even as good as made "over there".
Materials: We opened the sewing shop in 1999. At that time, there were still a good number of fabric mill left in North America, although they all told me that they were barely hanging on. Now, 20 years on, they are all gone. So, even if we decided to manufacture clothing here again- we can't get the fabrics. We'd have to get them from- horrors- "those" people. Buttons? Zippers? Ha.
Moreover, in our experience, the fabrics and fabric finishing done overseas was superior to what we were once able to obtain in this country. About 25% of the time, the American made fabrics turned funky colors within an hour of exposure to the sun. Fabrics from China? Never. Not even once.
If quality is equal overseas, why do we still make some items here?
In general, for items under $100, making them in this country can be viable. In many cases, due to the short labor time (especially as opposed to most garments) we can almost compete with the foreign US fieldgear items which means ours are only twice as much- instead of 3-10 times more. This also allows us to rapidly restock when we run out, rather than waiting 6 months to a year for things ordered from overseas.
US Fieldgear: For some reason, the Asians can make killer hardware, webbing and canvas, but combining them is another mystery of the universe. If they can make nice German tunics, then surely a Musette Bag is a cinch. Right? Apparently not. Covers that no canteen will fit in, cartridge belts with ten useless pockets, hooks on backwards, eyelets that snap the first time you look at them....
Only in the past 2 years have we managed to get decent reproduction gear from China but still not quite equal to what we can do here.
Boots: Footwear is the toughest and most expensive of all things we have made. No matter what we do, the reproductions made anywhere in Asia have issues- this is often due to the suppliers frantic quest to cut costs so they use substandard or rotten leather, skip steps (like nailing on the heels) and generally fuck up anything they can. For the time being, we have given up on making boots overseas. Thus far, the only places that have been able to consistently make boots that really last are the US and Mexico. They are 2-3 times as much as Asian made, but they can last a lifetime rather than 3 weeks. Or days. That said, many people seem to prefer buying a new pair of $150 boots every six months as they fall apart rather than one $300 pair.
Yes, most shoes ARE now made in Asia and many hold up just fine. There are two things at play here- one, soles are now bonded on, rather than stitched, which is faster and holds up just as well. Next to no one over there is set up to sew them on anymore. Second, this requires the soles be made in a mold- and those cost about $10,000 per size. So, if we want to make good quality but affordable repro jump boots in China, Vietnam or Indonesia, the upfront cost is about $100,000. They wouldn't be 100% authentic, but if they were $75, looked good from 5ft away and held up, 98% of reenactors wouldn't care.
So this is the long and honest answer as to why we're pinko commie traitors. Even if we could make it all here, next to no one would pay for it and we'd be unemployed.