American Fashion Brands: Why have we let them fail?

American Fashion

When I was a child, my late father had the entire Polo Ralph Lauren spectrum of Polo shirts in his closet. The only other items he wore, were custom suits, cotton shorts, and sneakers–New Balance, to be specific. He liked what he liked, and if it wasn’t by an American fashion designer or company, he wouldn’t wear it. That was always a prideful statement for him, and what can I say; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

While I’ve adopted his ethos in fashion and vehicles (we’re a Cadillac family), I’ve also found myself growing increasingly irritated at the amount of American luxury labels that have had to shut its doors–especially in the handbag department. From my personal favorite, Henri Bendel, to Zac Posen, and Halston, Americans have proven that its loyalty in the luxury accessories department lies within Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Hermes, Dior, and others. Instagram has only exacerbated the reality that only countries such as Italy and France are allowed to retain the commerce stronghold in luxury goods and accessories, and that’s a disturbing trend that influencers and retailers should feel a strong urgency to change.

For luxury goods makers who painstakingly hand stitch or cut sumptuous leathers and gold details for its wares, their skills are labors of love, tradition, and pride, which are typically met with price tags that reflect the detail-oriented processes and heritages of the brands. When “Made in Italy, ” or “Made in France” labels are affixed and sewn into finishes, that’s almost as patriotic as Americans who wave American Flags every 4th of July; except our flags are made in China, as are the majority of the things we wear.

So when did America start to lose its interest in manufacturing, production, and designer offerings, and why are consumers so quick to choose other brands? Also, how come there are no American conglomerates in fashion, such as the Kering Group or LVMH?

The King of Couture

Perhaps these questions can be answered by looking at The “King of Couture,” Louis XIV, who came to the throne in 1643. At the time, it wasn’t Paris that was the fashion capital, but Spain. The Spanish had a thriving economy, which allowed them to import expensive black dyes from Mexico to create rich fabrics and textures that quickly became the envy of Europe, and coveted imports by French aristocrats. But it wasn’t just haute couture that was being imported, but home decor and other textiles, which came from Brussels and Italy.

In King Louie’s 72-years on the throne, he managed to shift how the world viewed France by building the country around luxury, and leaders coalesced, including King Louie’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who said, “fashions were to France what the mines of Peru were to Spain.” France was able to bolster its military might through its interest in fashion, where an entire economy was built that employed one-third of Parisian workers.

France was incredibly protective of its fashion economy and ensured the longevity of its crafts by creating skilled labor positions that have transcended time, and still exist to this day. Colbert even created the first iterations of seasonal fashion in an attempt to encourage innovation, production, and demand for new styles.

While the world changed after the Revolution, France continues to be the beacon for luxury fashion, and Paris Fashion Week continues to be the most important week on the fashion calendar.

Why can’t the United States prioritize its luxury brands?

While looking for fashion and wartime juxtapositions between the United States and France, the moment that stands out the most is when in World War II, American women suffered a shortage of nylons when the Office of Product Management seized the United States’ supply of silk for parachutes and other war essentials after cutting off the supply from Japan in 1941.

Aside from silk and nylon, from a governmental approach, the United States has never prioritized American fashion brands as a ways to a means when its come to creating vital revenue production. Most can turn to tax breaks for companies to open in the United States, or to relocate to cities, but in terms of governmental investments, the most the fashion industry can count on are grants or low interest loans, which are the same considerations for any industry.

While it’s difficult to see how a politician or administration could run or thrive off of policy intended to bolster American luxury brands, perhaps if influencers or celebrities stopped positioning foreign brands such as Saint Laurent or Cèline as being far superior to the American brands we still have left, like Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and Tommy Hilfiger, then maybe the government would take fashion more seriously as a means to change how the world respects American industry and investments.

We’re one of the few super power countries that places so much emphatic patriotism on a flag, and yet, when a company creates a bag or fashion with a “Made in America” label, we turn our backs. And for the American brands that have survived, few (if any) are manufactured in the United States.

While the French created seasonal fashion, the world has been as its mercy for financial survival, which has created a host of manufacturing issues that have been highlighted by the Coronavirus. Many American brands simply aren’t paying their invoices, which means that manufacturers in Bangladesh aren’t being paid. Perhaps if manufacturing was incentivized in the United States, brands would feel a higher level of responsibility to pay their bills, or even take it upon themselves to start a coalition taking back the demand for seasonal fashion, and set the tone for manufacturing and buying habits on an American schedule.

Do we need foreign brands for our fashion brands to survive? No. But we need major brands such as Ralph Lauren to get back to the innovation drawing boards and figure out how to increase the sustainability and viability of American brands while they still have a chance. It should be their absolute priority in the post-Coronavirus era.

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