Clothing and U.S. Manufacturing

Five or six years ago, the average consumer might have been hard pressed to find something that said, “Made in the United States” in their home. Outsourcing was the name of the game, and U.S. manufacturing suffered. People lost their jobs and factories shut down.

Today, there’s been a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. Increased funding and increased consumer interest has created both a supply and demand for goods made in the states. However, many of these goods aren’t yet abundant, and are much more expensive than overseas options.

Take clothing, for example. A t-shirt made in the U.S. can easily cost over $30, whereas a shirt made in a Chinese factory can cost less than $10. While some socially conscious consumers will pay an extra $20 dollars to support local economy, living wages, or safe working conditions, many consumers will just see that one shirt is a third of the price of the other seemingly identical shirt.

However, new technology in industrial automation could change all that and bring clothing manufacturing back to the United States. Clothing has a complex past when it comes to factories, and up until a couple of years ago, 98% of clothing sold in the U.S. was made abroad.

SoftWear Automation is teaming up with researchers at Georgia Tech to create automated robots that can manipulate fabrics using sewing machines. The goal is not only to lower labor costs through automation, but also to lower costs involved with shipping and time constraints involved with shipping.

There have been obstacles in bringing automation to textiles. Fabric just isn’t as predictable as other mediums. A piece of metal isn’t going to twist in an unexpected way, whereas fabric might crumple or fold in a way that isn’t recognizable by machines. However, the researchers have developed a way to track threads with sensors, making automation possible.

Automating the clothing manufacturing process, and bringing it back to the United States, can decrease costs of U.S. made clothes and help drive up the demand.

It’s really amazing what automation can do. By automating a simple process, there could potentially be a huge shift in an entire industry. More jobs could be created in the U.S. to respond to an increased demand for U.S. made clothing.