Kathryn Hildebrand watched in horror last week as hundreds of thousands of dollars of production orders went up in smoke in a matter of hours.
The president and CEO of the Good Clothing Company, a garment-manufacturing facility, in Fall River, Mass., knew it was coming, but she was still shocked when it did. Worldwide, scores of assembly lines have ground to a halt as garment factories have shuttered or stalled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, first because of raw-material shortages from China, which went on a nationwide lockdown after the disease was first detected three months ago, then after spooked brands and retailers facing widespread store closures started zeroing out orders.
Hildebrand did the only thing she could: she laid off her fewer than two dozen employees so they could file for unemployment and batten down at home with their families.
“We have just been getting emails canceling orders right and left—our entire schedule has been completely eradicated,” Hildebrand told Sourcing Journal. “So you can’t continuously bring people to work when you don’t know if you have work for them. And it takes money to run a factory floor.”
Propelled by the forces of globalization, more than 98 percent of the clothing worn by Americans today is produced overseas. But holdouts remain, especially in the garment districts of Los Angeles and New York City, which collectively employ some 67,600 makers of apparel, accessories, and finished textile products, according to census data.
Then there are businesses, like the Good Clothing Company, that are on the frontlines of a reshoring renaissance to bring jobs back to the United States. But the economic fallout of COVID-19 could roll back progress for “made in the U.S.A.” as more factories go offline, whether voluntarily or because no other option remains.