"America First" is a Business Killing Paradox
Along with many other small businesses I have dedicated myself to ethical manufacturing and focused on making items in the USA. Because I care about the environment, workers rights, and basic human decency I have chosen quality over quantity and the triple bottom line over profits. Slow fashion is a giant NO to thoughtless polluting consumerism.
I produce in the US because it gives me transparency into the manufacturing process. I know, for instance, that when I work with a US based printing facility they are bound by EPA regulations that guarantee all of us clean water. I cut and sew ALL my clothes in the US and I know that the factories are bound by our strong labor laws. I know that people are paid a fair wage. I know that dye isn't being dumped into waterways. The few times I do print overseas I demand the same of those producers. This, along with my small scale, makes the production more expensive. I am always working to try and lower costs without lowering values.
I have been avidly reading up on the elements that might compromise the Trump Administration's "America First" economic policy. And I can say that "America First" will probably put me out of business. Currently there are several things on the table that would adversely effect my business.
The first is a switch in taxation categorization of cost of goods inputs. Currently if I buy white fabric substrate to print on it is not a taxable item, it has a tax benefit to me. Under Trump's proposals this input would now be taxable AND if it was made outside the US it would also have an import tax. News flash, I've spent the last 3 years trying to source US woven apparel cottons from a US mill and it doesn't exist. In fact if you are reading this and you run a US cotton mill and allow for low minimums I would love to talk to you. Email me.
When I ask my fabric wholesalers about US cotton for my various apparel needs they literally laugh. I can find a great chambray cotton made in the US. But basically let's hope you want all your clothes out of drill canvas because an American made fine batiste cotton is not being woven here. And that beautiful Irish linen we used last year, linen which is much more environmentally friendly because it uses half the pesticides of cotton, linen that they do not weave in the US, you can kiss that goodbye. Oh and you want GOTS certified organic fabric? Ha ha. That's a European standard. Good luck.
And it's not like there some fabric mill somewhere with the lights shut off- the equipment is GONE. That stuff was sold in the 1990s. C'mon, get real.
The second area of concern are increases to tariffs, duties and import taxes. If I have to bring in some inputs from overseas and they are taxed even higher than they currently are I pass that cost on. For instance when I do print fabric in India at a fairtrade eco-friendly factory i have a duty added of 28%. If you were charged a 28% tax on something wouldn't you think that was high?
The third area of concern is how this actually effects the profits of small producers like my company. A larger manufacturer might be able to absorb these costs. I read that a t-shirt was going to cost 20% more at Walmart. But we are not doing production of that scale. In my rough estimates I would be happy if my retail price only increased 20%. To me it looks more like 35%.
Finally with someone like Pruitt heading the EPA turning back regulations and providing slack to no enforcement of existing laws I can no longer in good conscience make the argument for providing an environmentally aware product. In fact it might make me look overseas to produce. If the US is not going to enforce environmental regulations or labor laws why would I manufacture here?
Of course all this is speculative. These economic policies are not out yet. But I can tell you that even in the broad strokes it will make my American Made business suffer.
Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Peace + Love