Woolrich counts on ‘Made in the USA’ product strategy


How refreshing.

How bold.

That’s our initial reaction to the announcement last week by Nicholas Brayton, president of Woolrich Inc., that the over 180-year-old company headquartered in the quaint village of Woolrich since 1830 plans to introduce a 100-percent, American-made apparel collection this coming fall.

Not that Woolrich hasn’t done this before.

But if ever there was a time when American consumers need to rally around a company that has decided to bring some of its overseas apparel manufacturing back home, it is now.

In a letter to all of Woolrich’s customers, vendors and employees, Brayton announced Woolrich also will:

– Increase the yardage of wool produced in the woolen mill in Woolrich by 50 percent this year.

– Increase the firm’s American-made product offerings by 2015, ensuring that more than 50 percent of Woolrich woolen garments “proudly include American made wool.”

“In the coming months, for Woolrich to set and accomplish these goals, it’s going to take more than a company commitment. It’s going to take support from our loyal customers as well,” he said.

Details, we’re told, will be forthcoming as The Express has asked for a direct sit-down with Mr. Brayton to discuss and then report Woolrich’s ambitious plans so far as the privately held company is willing to reveal them.

Dear readers, if you missed Mr. Brayton’s letter published here last week, his words should be revealing and, honestly, quite profound to you in an age when many U.S.-based manufacturing companies have their products made on foreign land to reduce costs.

That has, over the past several decades, taken jobs from Americans.

Woolrich has been no exception.

Faced with a tough sales environment and working to cut costs to remain (as Mr. Brayton said) “relevant, competitive and solvent,” Woolrich has, in recent months, reduced its employee numbers and moved its design team from its local headquarters to the fashion capital of New York City.

Licensing its brand and various products has been a lifeline created with its licensing partner, the Italian firm of WP Lavori. Federal contracts to provide apparel and blankets to the U.S. military also have played a key role.

It’s a darn shame Americans aren’t more loyal to “Made in the U.S.A.” products.

They profess they are, but when they walk into a store, well, the sale of imported products show otherwise.

“In today’s world, the hard reality is that making things here is hard to do,” Mr. Brayton said.

Bringing more wool to the local mill should breathe new life into the longest, continuously running woolen mill in the U.S., which has been operating with a skeleton crew.

Among other things, Woolrich must ramp up marketing of its American-made apparel line of men’s and women’s outerwear and, perhaps, sportswear – something that can be very costly.

It should be a risk worth taking.

The “Original Outdoor Clothing Company” has among the most famous brands in the world, born when John Rich traveled from camp to camp in a mule cart during the great logging era of Central Pennsylvania to sell woolen fabric to loggers and their wives to make clothing.

Woolrich Inc, the “iconic American institution with a heritage that spans over 180 years,” is proudly “eager to begin writing the next chapter of the American manufacturing story.”


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Consumer Reports Made in America?

How to know which flag-waving products are true red, white, and blue

Puzzling labelsLaws allow for patriotic symbols, as long as makers identify where a product was made.

Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product, according to a new nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

More than 80 percent of those people cited retaining manufacturing jobs and keeping American manufacturing strong in the global economy as very important reasons for buying American. About 60 percent cited concern about the use of child workers or other cheap labor overseas, or stated that American-made goods were of higher quality.

And people would pay extra to buy American. More than 60 percent of all respondents indicated they’d buy American-made clothes and appliances even if those cost 10 percent more than imported versions; more than 25 percent said they’d pay at least an extra 20 percent. (Perhaps more surprising: According to a new survey of consumers in the U.S. and abroad by the Boston Consulting Group, more than 60 percent of Chinese respondents said they’d buy the American-made version over the Chinese even if it were to cost more.)

Clearly, most Americans want to know where products are made and want to buy those that will help create or keep jobs in the U.S.—an attempt applauded by economists like Jeff Faux, a distinguished fellow of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C. “Consumers need to understand that all jobs and wages are interconnected,” Faux told us. “When you buy foreign goods—and sometimes there’s no choice—it means that fewer U.S. workers will have the money to buy the goods and services you sell.”

But what does “made in the USA” even mean? And how can you identify what’s made where?

In this special report, we’ll decipher labeling laws and explain why a product that pictures an American flag might be made abroad, identify companies that still make products in the U.S., hear from economists about manufacturing trends, and provide our experts’ assessment of the quality of some American-made apparel.

A guessing game

Photo by: Tooga

Few products except cars, textiles, furs, and woolens are required by law to reveal their American heritage. But when any manufacturer chooses to boast of an American connection, it must comply with federal rules designed to keep consumers from being misled.

Our evidence shows that if not misled, consumers are at least confused. Readers flood Consumer Reports with letters and e-mail seeking explanations as to why, for example, frozen blueberries from Oregon are identified as a product of Chile; why a company named Florida’s Natural sells apple juice with concentrate from Brazil; why pants made in Vietnam are labeled “authentic, active, outdoor, American”; or why a T-shirt with the words “Made in the” above the U.S. flag comes from Mexico.

Though perplexing, such words and pictures don’t usually violate regulations that are issued by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for protecting consumers from false or deceptive product claims. The key factors in determining whether a “Made in the USA” claim is deceptive, says FTC senior attorney Laura Koss, are the claim’s context and whether it’s likely to mislead a reasonable consumer. Ultimately, the line between legal and illegal is determined by the overall impression planted in consumers’ minds.

But the line is blurry. Every case is different and subject to interpretation, Koss says. Most of the complaints the FTC receives are initiated by companies that are pointing a finger at competitors they claim are seeking an unfair advantage.

When a company definitely crosses the line, the FTC’s priority is stopping the behavior, not punishment. If a company refuses, it faces civil penalties—in theory. In practice, the FTC has brought only one civil penalty case since the late 1990s, slapping toolmaker Stanley with a $205,000 fine in 2006 to settle charges involving the pedigree of its Zero Degree ratchets. (Stanley claimed that the ratchets were made in America, but the FTC noted that much of their content was foreign.)

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