In the US and UK, fashion manufacturing is no longer the industry it once was. In 1990, the US apparel sector employed 939,000 people. In the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, whole towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire were fuelled by textile mills, providing up to 10,000 jobs per factory, and the industry employed between 750,000 and one million people in manufacturing.
The last three decades have brought these industries to their knees. Jobs flew overseas and factories closed, while clothing labels began to read “Made in China” and, later, “Bangladesh” or “Vietnam.” Today, over 90 percent of US apparel is imported and US apparel manufacturing employs about 135,000 people, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing. In the UK, the Fashion & Textiles Association (UKFT) puts the figure at about 100,000 people.
However, some brands are bucking this trend. Last month, Burberry announced plans to invest over £50 million to expand its production in the North of England. Last year, Nike promised to create up to 10,000 new jobs in manufacturing and engineering in the US if the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement, is enacted. And new apparel labels like Zady, Reformation and Nasty Gal are making some — or all — of their products in the US.
For Adafruit, we’ve found that the time it would take to create a product, re-make it for manufacturing, send it overseas, create testers, wait, revise and repeat for the goals we have did not (and does not) lend itself to outsourcing manufacturing. Having the ability to make things in-house was a risk, but so far it’s working out for this US manufacturer.