Is Made in USA Really Better or Just More Expensive? - Jackson Wayne Leather Goods

Is Made in USA Really Better or Just More Expensive?

made in usa

If you’ve looked at our site, I’m sure you know that our products are all made here in America. Even our leather is made in the USA. So what’s the big deal, is “Made in USA” really better? I think the best way to answer this question is with a brief trip down memory lane. 

A Brief History of Made in America

For most of the history of our country, we made leather bags and other leather goods right here in the USA. And lot’s of them. This country has a rich history of fur trappers, hunters, cattle ranching, etc., and leatherwork was a proud part of our tradition. Leather goods were typically made of full grain, quality leather. They were mostly handmade and intended to be used for decades. This tradition continued through the first half of the 20th century.

In the second half of the 20th century, things changed. With industrialization & globalization came new avenues for getting things manufactured. The leather industry jobs started to get moved overseas and to developing countries. These countries were all competing for the jobs - and price was the way they competed. In the 80’s & 90’s and until recently, this trend accelerated exponentially. Now, the vast majority of leatherwork is done in developing countries.

So Why are Other Countries Able to Make Leather Goods for So Much Less?

And Isn’t that Good for Consumers?

When I first started Jackson Wayne, I knew I wanted to make our products in the USA. But I decided to experiment with manufacturing in other countries so that I would fully understand the differences and what, if anything, I was giving up. I spent several months prototyping various products, getting quotes, samples, etc. I dealt with 4 different countries. We never sold any of these products to customers; they were only early stage experiments. But I learned a lot about manufacturing in developing countries, pricing, quality control, expectations, etc.

Many people assume that overseas manufacturing uses cheaper labor, which accounts for the difference in price. But that’s not really the case. Sure, wages are less in developing countries than the US. But it’s not as big of a difference as you might think. And there are other costs of importing that can offset the savings, like freight/shipping, quality inspections, import duties, etc.

So here’s the real problem. As overseas factories had to compete with each other to get these manufacturing jobs, it became a race to the bottom to see how cheaply a product could be made. A leather bag seems like a pretty straight-forward product. But there are nearly infinite ways to cut corners and reduce costs of materials, construction, labor, etc.

Here are just a few examples of things I’ve actually witnessed:

  1. Using cheap thread that frays and unravels after just a couple months.
  2. Using thinner thread than is appropriate for the bag.
  3. Using cotton/linen thread that is weak.
  4. Using scrap pieces of leather instead of stronger whole pieces and hiding it with seams that look like part of the design.
  5. Using extremely thin pieces of leather that are weak and hiding it with lining.
  6. Using “genuine leather” instead of full grain leather.
  7. Using bonded leather instead of full grain leather.
  8. Using pig leather instead of cow leather (which still qualifies as “genuine leather”)
  9. Using goat leather instead of cow leather.
  10. Using ______ leather instead of cow leather.
  11. Not finishing the leather properly and allowing it to bleed out dye.
  12. Using plastic hardware that “kind of” feels like real metal hardware.
  13. Using cheap linings that rip after a few months of use.
  14. Using low quality zippers that jam almost immediately.
  15. Not putting a bottom in the pockets so that things fall right through.

These are just some of the things I’ve seen with overseas manufacturing. By cutting corners in every conceivable way, they’ve been able to get prices down to unbelievably low numbers. Of course, this comes with a planned obsolescence. Neither the factory nor the consumer truly expects these things to last long. But the prices are so low that they can keep churning them out and consumers just re-purchase them.

It’s almost like a lease really - you never end up owning anything of value, you just keep paying and renewing. If you actually do the math, you end up spending way more money repeatedly buying inferior products. 

It’s not my intent to disparage factories in developing countries. In fact, I’m the first to admit that they are perfectly capable of producing high quality items. There are some amazingly skilled artisans in developing countries that can absolutely produce items of the highest quality. It’s not a lack of knowledge or availability of materials. It’s a business model.

In my experience dealing with overseas factories, every time I would try to insist on quality and upgrading materials and construction, one of 3 things would happen.

  1. They would tell me it’s not necessary and would not want to do it.
  2. They would say they would do the upgrade, but then not do it.
  3. They would come back to me with a price that was so high I might as well make it here in the USA.

And #3 is really the issue. When you truly compare manufacturing in the USA vs. developing countries, apples to apples, it’s really not that different in price.

If you go to a developing country and get them to make you a full grain vegetable tanned leather briefcase, using only the best cuts of leather, hardware, thread, construction method, etc. the price will be pretty similar to one made in the USA. This Bloomberg article sums it up nicely. 

For example, one of our competitors makes their bags using premium materials in a developing country and charges $700-900 for a briefcase type of bag.

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It’s no secret that we’re proud of making our products in the USA. But we’re not just saying that to get some unearned sympathy or patronage. And we’re not asking you to pay a “Made in USA” premium. Quite the contrary. We’re just proud to be able to make a competitively priced product here in the USA without compromising quality. And we hope that appeals to you as well. Click Here to See Our Products.