Lately there has been ongoing discussions, debates, and conversations about “MADE IN AMERICA” again. I am interested in these conversations because I am one of those self-employed, handmade clothing business owners. I manufacture clothing, which is what it says on my business license, and I do it all in the US. My fabric is usually printed and manufactured in Japan, but the designers are american, and the companies I buy from are American as well. When I state on my website that this product is made in the USA, I don’t mean just the label or the hem of a dress. I mean the whole thing, right down to the label I add to my dresses.
I am very proud of what I do, because like so many other boutiques, I really put my heart and soul into my business. It is not just about sewing up a dress, and then posting it on a site, or playing with ribbons until a hairbow exists. Like so many other women and men, I have invested hours, weeks or even months of my time in learning how to build and maintain a small business. This is no easy task, and although we all work from our homes, our goals are no different from any other company.
Believe it or not, the competition does not scare me. I think competition is a good thing because it means we are making quite an impression. Competition reminds us all that in order to succeed in this business we just cannot ignore the marketplace and our customers. It means that we have to be willing to change, and keep our eye on our successes and not our failures, and that we have to maintain our integrity and values above all else. If we claim to deliver a quality product, then no matter how fast a deadline approaches, we must deliver a product that will satisify both the customer and ourselves.
I know not everyone will agree with my views, but I did not get upset when FB changed their business page policies, and expected us all to pay for advertising. It was just a matter of time until FACEBOOK wanted some cash for their investment. Small Businesses had a great deal going on there for a long time……free advertising and a free shop at no cost. This is why I did not sell on FACEBOOK, because I enjoyed the tool as a social media option, and did not want to abuse my rights by turning it into my business. I also understood why ETSY decided to allow “bigger” business into their network. Although this made things harder on small businesses, they want to make money too. Obviously these businesses who had more then one employee made their case about being handmade businesses, and won. I can live with that, and I can find ways to still be competitive.
The one thing I don’t like to see is unfair competition, and in this case, I will let you be the judge. At the moment, you will find many boutiques on FB and elsewhere that are buying their product from China and selling it as one of their own and claiming that their products are made right here in the US. You may be thinking right now, who cares? or what is wrong with that? To be honest with you I can think of quite a few reasons why this is wrong. Several years ago, a picture of my daughter wearing her Christmas dress, was stolen off of my ETSY site. I was very angry at the time and I still get a bit red in the face when I think about it. I was more angry at the fact that they stole my pictures then the dress. I wanted it removed, and I fought long and hard to have this happen. However, each time I had one picture removed another new company would show up with the same pictures. I had some legal assistance, and the backing of a large fabric company, but it was hard to beat these companies. They stole from me, and tried to sell my picture, my design, and my dress as their own. Although they sold these products to various american and foreign retailers, the product delivered was nothing like the pictures. The fabric I used was a combination of an european corduroy and an american print. Both fabric companies, as I later found out do not allow their fabric to be sold overseas for manufacturing. So instead of my somewhat expensive quality fabrics, the chinese were substituting these fabrics with a lesser quality product. The price they charged was 10% of what I charged. The really sad fact was that these “so-called” boutiques who were offering the same dress for a lesser price as one of their own products, were making somewhere between a 200-300% profit if not more.
So here are the facts: the pictures, the patterns, and the products are stolen. There is no other way to say it. Thank goodness, the fabric companies, and some pattern makers are fighting this injustice through our legal system. Remember, that even a patternmaker puts many hours of hard work into producing these patterns, and without them the handmade business would not exist. Boutiques that steal these patterns for mass production are only hurting the business because so many frustrated and great pattern drafters are leaving the business to avoid all of the drama. Although, I would hate to see a world full of low quality products, or worse a world with only Walmart stores, I can understand why some businesses want to outsource. Obviously the demand for their product is high. However, outsourcing to foreign countries usually means a lesser quality product, lowering your standards, no intellectual property protection, long shipping times, and almost no security that your products will be received. If you are willing to go this route, then I think a MADE IN CHINA label would be appropriate, don’t you? and not MADE IN THE USA.
Everyday I read about stolen pictures and designs, and everyday I feel sad. I know how these boutiques feel, I know how they will fight it, and I know they will not win. I just hope they find out……like me…….that in the end we can still win this battle. Handmade clothing is unique, and beautiful. Our designs, our fabrics, and our prints are one of a kind. We started these businesses with a single goal in mind, and we should not give up just because others are taking advantage of our creativity. Without us, where would they be? Remember to let your imagination soar. Inform your customers about all the benefits of buying handmade. Let them get to know you so they feel a sense of pride when buying from you, and above all else thank them in every way possible.