Bring production back home

[media-credit name="Photo by Clayton Patterson" align="aligncenter" width="600"][/media-credit]

Labels from Rothco garments in a Viennese army-navy store.

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  | John Ottaviano, I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my column (“Going overseas was the only option for our company,” talking point, by John Ottaviano, Dec. 8).

First, I want to state that I have a great respect for Milton Somberg, who founded and built Rothco company. I strongly believe in the good, old- fashioned, small-time capitalism that once thrived in America and which made it, in the past, into the greatest free country in the world. A country that had opportunities.

I was in Vienna, Austria, and spoke to an army-navy dealer who sells your Rothco products. I was shocked, disappointed and a little angry when he told me that he had a serious problem trying to sell your product line because of the “Made In China” label.

You explain that because we are engaged in so many foreign wars, the U.S. military can’t supply the soldiers with all the clothing and equipment they need. So, you continue, Rothco is one of the companies the military has authorized to fill that gap. But is going overseas the solution — and should China profit from our wars?

Corporate America has moved so many of the jobs to China that they own our debt, and now our military warriors who are dying and being maimed are in uniforms “Made In China.” As the photos show, the labels clearly say, “Made in China.”

In 1995, as president of the Tattoo Society of New York, I was contacted by an Austrian entertainment company to bring to Europe famous American tattoo artists and sideshow performers. I was also invited to be the shows’ documentarian. Over the last 15 years, I have traveled extensively in Germany and Austria.

In 1995, American-made really meant something to Europeans. The public was very welcoming to Americans. Then the tone changed when George W. Bush was elected, but the expressed feeling was, O.K., mistakes can happen. After Bush won a second term, except for close friends, I felt a noticeable negative change in the average person’s attitude toward America. In fact, recently, Bush canceled his Switzerland trip because of a call from political leaders, as well as regular folks, to arrest him on charges of allowing political prisoners to be tortured.

Nevertheless, Mr. Ottaviano, if you have ambitions of expanding Rothco’s business in places like Austria, I would suggest you supply American-made products because that’s the demand.

I, like Milton Somberg, had a light-manufacturing business in a Downtown loft. In 1985, I created the Clayton Cap. Elsa, my wife, and I were the first people to put a label, a signature, on the outside of the baseball cap, and to move the embroidery off its front and go around the whole cap. We designed embroidered, custom baseball caps following the client’s request. We received tremendous press, including a GQ article. Richard Merkins said we were one of the two best American-made baseball caps.

Mr. Somberg knows this fact: In Mayor Koch’s first term, garment making was the city’s number one manufacturing industry. By Koch’s third term, it was in free-fall.

We did the trade shows, sold our caps to small, owner-operated stores in London, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Hollywood and in Australia and Japan. But outsourcing was a main killer of our business. To see the caps we made, visit .

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2 Responses to Bring production back home

  1. That would be better, although getting it done won't be easy. There has to be the best possible combination of manpower and warehouse software solutions in order to set things up right.

  2. Low-cost direct online companies are popping up every day and massively reducing the distribution costs of this equation, downgrading the advantages big companies once held by using cheap overseas labor. Small online direct businesses are now able to open domestic factories and warehouses, reducing transportation costs and “re-shoring” American manufacturing. How’s that for an unintended consequence of the Internet revolution?

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