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Textile: The Evolution of the American Industry

What is it that makes clothing so important to us?

Clothing can be an important tool for studying our popular culture and social history. Each piece has it’s very own story to tell. Today, we are going to share the history of American textile and where we are headed in terms of fabric and it’s manufacturing process.

Quick History: The American textile industry began making products by hand, but this quickly changed in the 18th century with the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, clothing material was created and sewn by hand. This process was time consuming and the expense was often high. The industrial revolution maximized the industry by implementing more efficient technology. Behold the sewing machine! With the time saving changes in textile manufacturing, a change in fabrics was also seen. When fabric was made by hand, wool was the main material used in producing textiles. The industrial revolution forced the switch to cotton. Soon after, this technology lead to the invention of synthetic fabrics that we see today including, polyester, rayon and nylon.

Jumping to our current day, computers are used to run manufacturing machines, which takes most of the human element out of the production. On top of that, competition with foreign manufacturers are moving many textile jobs overseas, where costs are lower than in the U.S. But we are seeing a glimmer of hope from new apparel hubs which are emerging in smaller cities. More and more small merchants and independent designers are opting to make clothing domestically. With a passion for domestic manufacturing, they are trying to resurrect American-made apparel and to recover the lost American manufacturing jobs. “It’s an entire skill set that’s gone,” said Christel Ellsberg, based in Raleigh. She’s a custom tailor and pattern maker, who learned her skills in Germany before relocated to Canada and then eventually the U.S. Raleigh Denim and other American-made apparel companies are popping up everywhere. Business is on the upswing, particularly in Southern states, with the announcement of plans to open or expand textile plants in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

“Textiles manufacturing – yarn, fabric, woven and non woven – is still here and growing,” said A. Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University. “We’re selling cotton yarn cheaper than the Chinese.” Rising wages in China and other countries, along with higher transportation costs, have prompted foreign and domestic companies to consider American manufacturing sites. American’s have finally found a way to survive as others chase cheap labor abroad. Yay America!

I’m sure you’re all familiar with American Apparel, which was founded in 1989 and bases it’s manufacturing in a seven-story 800,000 sq ft factory in downtown Los Angeles, producing more than 55,000 different garments. But, here is a list of other American-made apparel brands that you may or may not be familiar with: Bonobos, Levis, Hanky Panky, Stevan Alan, Rancourt & Co and Raleigh Denim. You can find all these American made brands atNordstrom.

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