made in usa

Made in America: The Meaning and Motivation Behind “American Made” Labels

Kristine Shreve is the Director of Marketing for EnMart and parent company Ensign Emblem. She developed and writes two blogs—the EnMart Threaducuate blog and the SubliStuff blog. Shreve also maintains the EnMart Twitter account and Facebook page. She can be reached via email at kristine.shreve@myenmart.com

This article appears in the latest issue of Printwear magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Buy American. Made in the USA. It's likely that almost everyone sees or hears these phrases almost every day, yet many may never think about what they mean, or why they matter. From a business standpoint, some experts advise that American-made is the way to higher profits and bigger market shares. Other experts will say just the opposite, that Americans are looking for the lowest prices, and the places where their products are made matters less than the price they are asked to pay for them.

While it’s hard to say which school of thought is correct, American-made products have a place within the decorated apparel industry. And although we can’t thoroughly discuss the American made movement, we can cover what it means, how products get Made in America labels, and how to market these goods to customers.

Label Conscious

First, it needs to be established exactly what the “Made in America” designation means. Traditionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is tasked with preventing deception and unfairness in the marketplace, requires that any product labeled as Made in America or Made in the USA be “all or virtually all” made in the United States.

Made in the USA status can be an express claim, where a product is listed as made in the USA, or has a description which says the products are American-made. A claim can also be made if the product logo or packaging uses the U.S. flag, or outlines of U.S. maps. The key provision here is that the majority of the significant parts, materials, and processing that go into a product must be of U.S. origin. The product should contain no, or almost no, parts or products made in a foreign country.

Be aware that organizations offering the Made in the USA brand certification mark are not official organizations, and do not give a company any official standing or rights of approval for the use of the Made in America or Made in the USA brand. Certification and use of the Made in the USA brand logo is strictly voluntary and policed by the companies themselves. The company that offers the Made in the USA brand logo also charges a license fee for the use of the logo. While this all sounds official, the logo and brand have no official standing, and offer no protection if a designation is challenged. If a company wants to make either claim for their product, all the company actually needs to do is say it is so. They also have to be prepared to back up that claim with evidence.

There is no official entity charged with approving and evaluating “Made in America” claims before a business makes one. Many businesses find it advantageous to offer products that carry an American-made claim. Capitalizing on the made in America movement is simply a matter of putting the phrase on packaging, labels, or in advertising. A business that does make such a claim, however, should be aware that once the claim is made, the products in question will be evaluated using the FTC's “all or virtually all” provision. If a business chooses to label their products, they should have a reasonable basis to support the claim at the time it is made. Competent and reliable evidence to back up the “all or virtually all” requirement is necessary. Although the FTC rarely takes any cases of false advertising or mislabeling to the punishment stage, any competitors who may have been damaged by a false designation of origin can sue, and would likely win. Plus, a win could come with a substantial monetary penalty if enough injury can be proven.

Pros and Cons

Depending on what is read or listened to, a Made in America label could be a huge benefit or mean nothing at all. There are a multitude of websites pushing the Made in the USA movement, but when it comes down to the dollars and cents of it all, how much does that label really mean to the consumer?

In a 2013 article, Consumer Reports stated that, “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.”

The reasons for American made preference included keeping manufacturing jobs in America and keeping America strong in the global economy, concern over the use of child workers in other parts of the world, and a belief that American products are better.

In the same survey, done by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, respondents also indicated that they would be willing to pay as much as 10 percent more for a product made in America. A smaller portion of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay 20 percent more. So, given the results of this study, it appears that Americans are willing to put their money where their mouths are and buy American, even if the cost is higher, to a certain point.

For decorators, the whole issue of child labor is something to consider when it comes to determining whether or not an American Made label is important. The use of child labor in factories in China, Indonesia, and other countries—and the horror stories of workers being killed due to unsafe conditions—have heightened the awareness that some clothing being sold in the U.S. is being made in places that largely ignore human rights and worker safety. In cases where that is a concern, looking for garments or other items for decoration that come from U.S. sources may be a good option. Not only is American manufacturing being supported, but customers can be assured that the garments being offered are not being made by a child in an unsafe factory abroad.

When it comes to other decorated goods, the Made in the USA label might not matter as much. Take for instance sublimatable ceramic mugs or, frankly, most goods for sublimation. While it would be nice to say there are American-made options, there aren't really that many available or, if they are available, the cost is often much more expensive. Many sublimated mugs currently say “Made in China” on the bottom, and most consumers seem to find that acceptable. There are options for sublimating products that are strictly made in America, but those options are limited.

For most decorators, the importance of a “Made in America” label will be determined partly by the beliefs of the decorator in question, partly by the availability of American made products for the decoration discipline being used, and partly by the attitudes of the customer base the decorator’s company serves. If the company serves a customer base that feels strongly about buying domestically manufactured products, then that obviously is something that should be important to the business owner. If the business owners themselves feel strongly that offering products American products is a good way to support American jobs and manufacturing, then the Made in the USA movement is certainly an avenue the business should pursue. Obviously, the availability of products will, in some cases, determine whether a business can capture part of the Made in America market. If there are no American-made products available to be decorated, or American-made supplies available to be used, then there is little to be done except use what's available.

Companies that do choose to pursue the market should make it a point to let their customer base know the company offers and decorates American-made goods. The first thing to do is make sure the products are legitimate. Once that is confirmed, mention “Made in America” on all literature. Emphasize it in product descriptions. Talk about why it's important to your business on any company social media profiles. The goal is to help people who feel that the “Made in America” label is important find your business easily and be motivated to purchase your products.

Determining What Products Are Made in America

If your business is looking for American made products, here are some websites that can help in the search:

www.madeintheusa.com: A site that lets you refine your search for Made in the USA products via departments, similar to Amazon. 

www.madeusafdn.org: Official site for the Made in the USA Foundation. 

www.themadeinamericamovement.com: Official site for the Made in America Movement. 

www.americansworking.com: The Americans Working website which features American-made products listed by categories like clothing, housewares, and textiles.