This is 100% my own opinion, as a small business owner based on my own personal experiences. I have a general business degree, not a focused education on world economics or anything like that.
I also want to note that I can count on two hands how often I've had people harass me for making our clothing in China. And these people are not our customers. Our customers are amazing, smart, and considerate, and I love you all!
One last note - sometimes I hear complaints that can only be described as racist. I take that personally, and I will always stand up when I hear that. We support and donate to several nonprofits that support and empower minorities and disadvantaged populations.
Now on to my own experiences and why we make our clothes in China...
I am a small business owner - we only have 5 people on our team right now, so please understand we are small potatoes. But whenever we do a pop-up in-person shopping event, we typically get at least one person who wants to complain to us about the fact our clothes are made in China.
Let me try to paint the picture so you can understand my frustration - it's usually someone who is wearing inexpensive clothes made in Bangladesh that they purchased in a big box retailer, and they are holding a smart phone made in China, and drove there in a car made in Japan. But somehow my tiny small business making our custom clothes in China is so offensive that they feels the need to tell me that I'm horrible and ruining our economy. Especially in the last year with the pandemic, I've noticed a big increase in these types of negative comments.
I wanted to spend some time discussing why we make our clothes in China and the bigger impact of clothing manufacturing in China vs the US.
Back in 2016 when we were a brand new company, we were going through the process of setting up our production in either AZ or CA. Very few companies would even return our calls. Those that did usually wanted 10k+ up front just to process our templates and tech packs. The fabric printers we were able to find were very low quality and hugely expensive - not to mention very slow.
We finally found a sewing company that would work with us, but after a few thousand dollars and some samples, we were told the cost to make our leggings would be over $20 a pair with every corner cut. That's a problem when you want to sell them for around $25, plus you have to pay taxes, website costs and processing fees, licensing costs to your artists, and preferably have some profit left over to buy groceries.
I went back to our customer base, and asked them if they'd prefer to pay $50 a pair and have them sewn in Arizona. Or $25 a pair an have them sewn overseas. The answer was pretty clear - they'd prefer we make them overseas and keep the cost affordable.
I felt really good about this decision. Because frankly, I didn't think it was possible for us to make our clothing here while keeping them semi-affordable and keeping the quality high. And after some research, I no longer thought that something being made in the US automatically meant it was made ethically. A recent report showed that 70% of manufacturers in CA have multiple labor violations reported, such as use of illegal labor, lack of basic hygiene and bathroom access, and unsafe working conditions. I know that working conditions vary hugely overseas, but things aren't perfect here in the US either.
Making our clothes affordable has always been a huge goal for me. I've been a stay-at-home mom on and off over the last ten years, and I wouldn't be able to pay $80 for a pair of leggings. I know I'm not the only one who wants to find something high quality for not a humungous price tag. My goal it to be a moderate option - high quality but affordable.
So we started sampling and sending our tech packs to overseas companies. I was nervous and wanted to find someone I could trust and build a real partnership with. Luckily, a friend in the industry sent me a few contacts.
With some effort, we were able to get set up making our leggings with a family-owned and operated company just south of Shanghai. They are very clean and high-tech, and produce high-end clothing for designers. They regularly send us footage of our clothing being made, and it's absolutely pristine. The staff are all highly skilled technicians and I love seeing them work. I am so very grateful for this partnership. They are relationship focused and take huge steps to help me as a small business owner.
So that's our story. But I'd like to share a little more about what I've learned about global manufacturing. Again, this is 100% my opinion. There's a lot of information out there, but I've done my best to be discerning and use quality sources.
China makes up 28% of international exports and the US does about half that. The United States put huge tariffs on Chinese imports in recent years. Most people are worried about mass, cheap items being imported. However, the US's concerns with Chinese manufacturing have nothing to do with that.
Back in 2015, the Chinese government published an economic strategy for the whole country to focus on high-tech manufacturing. They've massively invested in robotics and tech manufacturing. China is on track to be the world's largest producer of microchips within a few years - something the US used to produce way more of.
As countries and economies become more wealthy, they naturally move from making lower cost and high labor goods like shoes and toys, and move into more high-tech manufacturing.
Considering the US's main exports are (1) Food/Beverage (2) Oil (3) Aircraft Engines (4) Car Parts (5) Industrial Machines -- you can see how China moving into more high-tech manufacturing would be a concern for the US.
The US's new economic plan for 2021 includes $50 BILLION towards microchip production. Regardless if that all passes, many private companies (Apple, etc) are also investing in semiconductor manufacturing facilities here. I am hopeful that we can grow this industry in the US and become more competitive.
Basically, the US is not exactly focused on making clothing. That's not what our economic strategy is based on. I've read multiple economics say that we SHOULD be importing items like clothing instead of making it here.
Don't get me wrong, I love that we have brands that still make their clothing here. Typically they tend to be very specialized and high-end brands. That's just not the strategy I wanted to take with my business.
I hope all this info helps someone understand the bigger picture with manufacturing and imports. And hopefully you can understand why we've made the decision to make our clothes in China.