If Louis Vuitton can make handbags in rural Johnson County, why aren’t more fashion brands bringing manufacturing jobs back to America?
A small Dallas-based fashion accessories maker is finding its challenges as it attempts to move its longtime China-based manufacturing base to its home base.
Barrington Gifts’ annual revenue is approximately $5 million. It’s not on the scale of Nike or Apple, which also make their products in China. This is a family run business and our journey over the past five years has shown us how difficult it is to get caught up in a failing global economy.
In 2019, Barrington and other U.S. businesses were hit with a whopping 25% tariff on goods imported from China, which is still in effect. The market for commodities was killed. No one needed a new tote bag in 2020.
“We’re not quite recovered yet,” said co-founder and CEO David Gowdey, but now the lesser-known brand with a loyal customer base has plans.
In a small deep elm brick building painted preppy navy blue, Barrington Gifts manufactures and ships their most popular totes to customers in all 50 states.
The building has an attractive showroom at the front, an open office in the middle, and a small factory carved out of warehouse space in the back. There is enough room for him to fit eight machines totaling about $200,000.
In an email last April, Barrington told customers it needed to raise prices slightly on some of its products. Three years ago he was $160, his most popular tote, St. Anne, has gone through two price increases and now he’s $200.
The email read: Over the next few months, we will move additional production to the United States. “
The online retailer said customers didn’t resist the price hikes, and some expressed gratitude for bringing jobs back to the United States.
Even for a small, agile fashion company, the job is easier said than done.
Barrington is just one of many US manufacturers to conclude that China is not the place for low-cost production because wages are rising in China as well. The pandemic has accelerated the trend to move production to North America, including Mexico. High U.S. tariffs on goods from China and an uncertain business environment are among “myriad” reasons Barrington and others want to move manufacturing, Gaudi said.
Founded in Dallas in 1991, Barrington has operated a factory in China for 22 years and currently employs 40 people from its peak of 100.
“China’s workforce is aging, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract younger workers who want to work in the hospitality industry, such as Starbucks or new hotels, rather than factories,” Gowdey said.
So far, Barrington employs four people at its Dallas plant, who need training to operate the sophisticated machinery.
Barrington was hired from the Gilbreath-Reed Career and Technical Center. The Gilbreath-Reed Career and Technical Center trains students from the seven Garland ISD High Schools to work in all types of manufacturing, including software and machinery used in fashion design and production.
Demand for the center’s graduates is growing steadily, with many going on to college and being recruited by design institutions, said Coleman Bruman, director of career and technical education at Garland ISD. Graduates are earning $20 an hour, and students are rapidly rising to his six-figure salaries in some industries, he said.
St. Anne is a tote bag with water-resistant nylon canvas and leather handles, designed and personalized by the customer, and individually crafted and shipped from Dallas.
“We wanted to be able to rent a building here, hire people, and do all the production in Dallas,” says Gowdey.
Louis Vuitton has 300 employees manufacturing handbags in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth. That’s up from 150 when the French fashion house opened the facility in 2019. Louis Vuitton eventually plans to have 1,000 employees there.
But as Barrington co-founder and president Gil Sheehan points out, “At $2,000 each, they’re charging us ten times more than our bags.”
Gowdey and Sheehan realized that just moving production to Dallas wasn’t going to do the numbers. Low-cost production equipment was also required.
Gowdey and Sheehan met Dave Munson at an industry trade show in January 2019. Munson owns his Saddleback Leather Co. in Azul and Old Mexico Manufacturing Co. with factories in Leon, Mexico. The area is rich in tanneries and skilled workers making leather goods. And a direct flight from DFW airport takes him two and a half hours, Manson said.
Munson’s 200 workers in Leon manufacture Saddleback goods and others as long as they are “kind and have quality products.”
Barrington fit the bill, says Manson.
Before the pandemic, Gowdy traveled to China once or twice a year. This year he made his fourth trip to Mexico to work on expansion. “It took me 24 hours door to door to go to China. If you go to León, you’re down one day and back the next,” he said.
By the end of March, Gowdey said, Barrington will move some of its Chinese production to Mexico and place 15 to 20 employees in one of Munson’s factories.
Barrington’s goods manufactured in Dallas and Leon are exempt from both the 25% duty on goods originating from China and the 7.4% duty on bags arriving from China. “That 32.4%[deposited with the U.S. Treasury]is what we used to call profits,” he says Gowdey.
In addition to its direct-to-consumer business, Barrington manufactures high-end, personalized corporate gifts that cruise lines give to their best customers and universities give to major donors. These products are still made in factories in China, and that part of Barrington’s business recovered faster, he said.
Personalization and on-demand production
The pandemic has prompted Barrington to add more partnerships for its direct-to-consumer sales business. Enhanced social media. We expanded our exposure through partnerships with more artists and designers with unique followers who could become new customers.Beaufort Bonnet Co. of Lexington, Kentucky reached out to collaborate . New designs and patterns have been added by Camilla Moss of Birmingham, Alabama. Caitlin Wilson and Jenny Grumbles in Dallas. Alison Castillo and Brooke White of Fort Worth. And Austin-based Katie Kime, who designs her urban-themed toile.
One of Barrington’s most popular new designs is from artist Donald Robertson. His ‘Drawbertson’ collection, which includes brightly colored longhorn prints, was supposed to be a limited edition, but is now a regular line.
“I have worked with a lot of design houses and have a lot of collaborations. I just finished a big one with Max Mara and it was so nice to work with Barrington,” said the family. Robertson, who moved to Dallas from California during the pandemic, said..”Everything went so smoothly and it added the charity element.”
Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center will receive 15% of sales from the “Drawbertson” collection of three designs, including Longhorn.
“Everything was completed very quickly,” says Robertson. “The bag is very well made and the price is fair.”
Barrington is doing what many believe is the future of high-end retail. Personalized products and on-demand production instead of vast inventories behind each product on the shelf.
After receiving your order, we will make a custom-made bag. Deep Ellum’s small factory can handle rush orders the next day. The move to Mexico also reduces delivery times.
Barrington makes 34 products including totes, diaper bags, small bags, laptops, passport and portfolio covers, wallets and luggage tags.
Customers can choose from over 80 active patterns, four-color leather trims, over 30 monograms and typefaces, and accent and stripe color combinations. The first pattern is Axis Animal Print. Customers can come up with millions of combinations.
the future is here
Barrington’s business model is one promoted by many in the industry as a sustainable way to manufacture fashion in the United States and reduce apparel waste.
The semiconductor industry is spending billions of dollars to build new chip factories in the United States, spurred by Congress’ passage of a Biden administration-backed chip and science law. And while the U.S. economy has been hit by a recession, manufacturing employment in the past year increased by 420,000, including 14,000 in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If the high-end fashion industry successfully transitions to an on-demand, regional production model, it will be a huge opportunity for Texas, says Dallas-based consulting firm and purpose-built Thought Institute. said Kate Sheldon, CEO of The Fashioneering Lab. Accelerating the necessary industry transformation.
“Thirty-five years ago, Dallas was a very robust manufacturing hub for the fashion industry,” says Sheldon. “While it is frustrating that it has all but evaporated after NAFTA, Texas’s diverse workforce, international airport, proximity to Houston’s major ports, and business environment have made it a popular destination for fashion production. We have a good chance of becoming a full-fledged regional hub in Texas, which is a great opportunity to create jobs in Texas.”
the price must be fair
“Luxury and sustainable brands want this more and more, and consumers are well-informed and understand that higher wages are needed to bring production back to the United States,” Sheldon said. I believe that there is
Several North Texas companies still sell luxury goods here, including Dallas-based women’s apparel maker Finley Shirts, fashion bedding maker Pillow Bar, and Garland-based Hat Brands, which makes Resistol hats. are producing.
A $10 T-shirt may not be manufactured in the U.S., but a $40 or $50 shirt can be manufactured here profitably, says Refashiond Ventures, a New York-based supply chain technology company. said Lisa Morales-Hellebo, co-founder and general partner of venture fund. Her other venture, her Refashiond OS, is looking to build an on-demand apparel manufacturing regional network. The network will be vertically integrated from textiles to finished products made in the USA.
“Companies should have been panicking about China a long time ago,” said Morales Jellebo.
“It’s simply not sustainable to mass produce in one part of the world and ship it around the world. Over the last few years, even fashion has seen what can go wrong,” Sheldon said. “The appetite for localized on-demand production is there. It’s the infrastructure that’s lagging behind.”
Gowdey, 63, and Sheehan, 65, of Barrington’s believe they can expand their company and hire more workers. I’m buying Leon’s equipment. They believe that personalization features set them apart from the likes of Amazon.
“Marketing is our biggest challenge,” says Sheehan. “When people hear about us and understand what we’re doing, their reaction is ‘I didn’t know’.”
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