The vast majority (71%) of Americans 18 or older polled by the Associated Press and GfK said they'd like to buy products made in the U.S., but they either cost too much or are too hard to find. Just 9% said they only buy U.S.-made products, even if they cost more.
Presented with the scenario of buying a new pants—a pair manufactured overseas for $50, or a pair made in the United States for $85—67% of respondents said they’d buy the cheaper pants made abroad. Just 30% said they’d buy the more expensive American product.
The Associated Press/GfK poll contradicts findings from Consumer Reports last year that said 78% of Americans would rather buy an American-made product than an imported one. That poll found that 60% of respondents are even willing to pay 10% percent more for a domestically produced product.
“Made in the U.S.A” is more than a description of product origin. Because of the decline in American manufacturing and (especially these days) political skirmishes during election seasons, it’s a sort of badge of honor and virtue for manufacturers, retailers and consumer alike.
That’s with good reason, considering the dismal conditions many apparel workers face overseas. Yet while the fire and collapse of a Bangladesh factory in 2013 was widely seen as a wake-up call to improve working conditions in the vast garment manufacturing space there—more than 200 clothing brands from across the globe even signed a binding commitment to overhaul the Bangladeshi garment industry so that "no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures”—there has been little real improvement, activists say.
That’s in part because consumers remain partial to the cheaper clothing offered by the likes of fast-fashion retailer H&M, which continues to be singled out because more than half of its Bangladesh factories are still without fire doors or gates and a whopping 61% lack fire exits, according to a study published last fall by the Clean Clothes Campaign.
Back home, American Apparel founder and former CEO Dov Charney built the brand on hallmarks like domestic U.S. production and superior pay, benefits and working conditions for factory staffers, but that policy is apparently being dismantled: Charney's replacement, CEO Paula Schneider, is laying off hundreds of workers due to pressure to cut costs at the newly privatized (and fresh out of bankruptcy) retailer. That paves the way for not just domestic outsourcing but possibly overseas outsourcing of American Apparel's goods—and that, Charney told the Los Angeles Times, is ”exactly what American Apparel fought against.”
There are other differentiators between H&M and American Apparel besides price, of course. H&M, whose prices are generally lower, also offers more on-trend fashions and a wider range, while American Apparel has stuck to basics and funky clothing with an Eighties-era vibe.
It’s hard to know exactly how much consumers are taking into account factors like American Apparel’s domestic sourcing when they shop, although they may be more reluctant to buy at H&M if they were faced with information on its overseas manufacturing record at the time of purchase. Nevertheless, the Associated Press/GfK poll suggests that pricing plays a far larger role than politics.