Outsoucing and “Made in USA” An Ongoing Debate

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The following questions are proposed by students enrolled in FASH455 Spring 2016. Please feel free to leave your comment and engage in our online discussion.

L.L Bean: A Business Model for “Made in USA”?

L.L. Bean has been a strong business for hundreds of years, yet recently their sales of Bean Boots have skyrocketed because they are now seen as trendy. Even though L.L. Bean’s orders and demand has gone up, they still somehow manage to have their products being handmade, sourced locally, and all in the US.

#1: Can L.L. Bean become a model for other businesses looking to manufacture in the US? How has L.L. Bean managed to keep this business model up for so many years and why have they not changed or decided to outsource? 

#2: Why doesn’t L.L Bean look into other American cities for manufacturing options so they do not lose productivity by being exclusively made in Maine?

#3: Do you think it would be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for their manufacturing? Would there still be as high of a demand if these boots were manufactured abroad?

Outsourcing v.s. “Made in USA”

#4: It is said that one reason why American brands choose to offshore their manufacturing is because there isn’t as many cutting edge machines readily available in the States as in other countries. Is it realistic for the American manufacturing market to invest in these machines for domestic manufacturing? If so, how can America make sure to stay relevant with these technologies and not fall behind as we have currently?

#5: One aspect commonly mentioned throughout these readings was the lack of skilled labor in the US in the fashion industry. Is the decrease in skilled areas, such as shoemaking and needle trade, due to the increase in skilled labor overseas? Are these professions considered outdated for young Americans to be learning? How can we jumpstart a desire for young people to take up these skills once again?

#6: One major problem the US has been facing regarding keeping production domestic has been the lack of skilled workers to work in factories. Is the cost of providing training to interested workers too high? Should it be required that all fashion majors should take a sewing class? Where does the decision to train apparel workers begin?

#7: Many American manufacturers refrain from manufacturing in the United States because it is too expensive because more people are formally educated and are not willing to work for a low wage, but only 15% of respondents actually are working towards that. Is it realistic to reach out to homeless communities looking to get back onto their feet to see if they would work in factories? Would this help promote American manufacturing and decrease importing?

#8: In today’s fast paced fashion world, trends come and go rather quickly. The striking disadvantage of manufacturing overseas is the slow turnaround time which could be up to 3-5 months. By manufacturing domestically, turnaround can be as quick as 2 weeks. Why do the majority of fashion companies still choose to manufacture overseas when there is a possibility the trend could be over by time they reach store shelves (Thus, a lack in profit)? When will trend pressures become too much for overseas production?

#9: Is it even worth it to bring manufacturing back to America if it is not benefitting the workers and creating jobs? If manufacturing in the US is simply machine based, what is the point of doing so when it could be cheaper elsewhere and benefit countries that need the jobs?

[Discussion is closed for this post].

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

18 thoughts on “Outsoucing and “Made in USA” An Ongoing Debate”

  1. #7. I really do wish that America would consider starting up factories to have people work at lower wages, specifically homeless people. But the reason why people aren’t willing to start this is because they will have to take the time and money to train these people, and then eventually the topic of wages increase will occur, as the employees get more skilled. No factory managers are most likely willing to partake in this, or deal with it. Although this would decrease important and could potentially help our economy, i do not see it in our near future.
    #8. I feel like the main reason why companies choose to manufacture overseas is because of the cheap labor. As long as companies stay ahead of the game and ahead of the trends, it gives them the time to wait the few months. I believe the main reason we don’t choose to manufacture as much in America is because it will be a lot more difficult to have working conditions like those in other countries. I’m sure that a lot of big operating firms know about the poor conditions that happen in other conditions, but they risk that for the cheap labor. In America, the laws will most likely be much stricter than overseas, and i’m sure it will be a lot harder to break the rules like it is in developing nations. I’m not sure that the pressures will ever become too much to stop producing overseas, because the textile and apparel industry could most likely be all the country has supporting its economy, so they aren’t willing to make sacrifices.

    1. Excellent comments. 1) Quite agree with your thoughts on skill training. As US-based T&A companies move to focus on innovation and product developments, the available jobs in the industry may require a college degree or even beyond. 2) Even though US no longer makes a lot of apparel, the US manufacturing sector actually remains the second largest in the world. You may find this report interesting: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42135.pdf

  2. #3: I do not think it would necessarily be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for production because first, the small-scale supply format is benefitting demand for the boots. I think part of the appeal of the shoes are that they one, are not easy to get a hold of as they take a very long time to make, and two, they have a home-made feel in that much of the manufacturing is done by hand. I don’t think that the shoes would be as attractive if they were not made in the small New England state, but instead in an enormous factory in China. Demand would also decline because the supply of the shoes would be so much greater if manufactured overseas and with the rules of supply and demand, demand will fall with an increase in supply.
    #9: Although a large portion of the manufacturing jobs in the US are dominated by machinery, there are companies, such as the textile manufacturer in North Carolina who prides his business on the fact that it takes a balance between machinery and human labor to make their company as successful as they are. In addition there are other domestic manufacturers such as L.L. Bean and other smaller scale retailers that do produce many products by hand and therefore need human labor. After watching the video about the textile industry in North Carolina, it is obvious that the US idea of domestic manufacturing is far from the reality. There are companies that are actually thriving off of domestic manufacturing due to their ability to better control timing and improved communication.

  3. #2 I think the reason L.L. Bean does not look into other cities to manufacture their bean boots is due to the fact that it is a part of their heritage and history to be hand sewn in Maine. I believe that one of the “cool” and niche things about their bean boots is, in fact, the exclusivity that comes along with sporting a pair. As a consumer, I believe shoppers specifically seek out bean boots because of this fact. To me – its like buying a silk blouse in China – it signifies good quality and is part of their culture. I think it gives the company a competitive advantage over other boot manufactures.

  4. #3 L.L. Bean has been a successful company for hundreds of years without changing much of their business plan. Their bean boots have helped tremendously boost their sales the last few years. Even with the shortage and long waits for Bean Boots, customers are still willing to spend hundreds of dollars and wait months for an item that is trendy and in demand. I do not think that L.L. Bean has a need to move overseas as they are developing how they do business here in the US. They also do not want to invest in overseas manufacturing since Bean Boots have been trendy for a few years, they never know when they will go out of style. Part of the appeal of Bean boots is that they are in high demand and hard to get, they are an exclusive product to those willing to pay and wait. If they moved manufacturing overseas, the brand and image of the Bean Boots and L.L. Bean would be changed and it would not be as successful.

  5. #8 In today’s fast pace fashion world and the trend for fast fashion I believe companies would benefit greatly with producing their garments domestically. Trends are changing day by day and the oversea production is increasing the turnaround time by 3 to 5 months. But still companies are still deciding to manufacture overseas because the cheaper labor and cost. I believe companies should start taking into consideration the quicker turnaround time producing domestically because it can save money that way and bring jobs to the United States. Stores can have new products within two weeks this way making consumers happy while keeping American jobs stable. Trend pressures will effect companies when consumers are starting to shop at other stores that have the trends at a faster rate and available for them.

  6. #1 L.L. Bean proves that they are an extremely successful company by sticking to their brand and strong culture of being produced and sewn in their home town of Maine. They make the same styles and products year after year, their boots had just become a major fad for millennials which caused their demand to “sky rocket.” I definitely think that L.L. Bean can become a model for other businesses hoping to manufacture their products in the US. They prove that they can still be very successful without having to reach out to foreign cities in order to finish their work. They show that they are an admirable brand by continuing to produce locally, even when demand is hard to fulfill. This is why I think the company has chosen not to outsource. Producing in Maine gives their shoes that New England charm and authentic style that their brand embodies. New Englanders is their original market and they are sticking with it. L.L. Bean knows who they are as a company and choses to remain that way, which gives them advantage over other companies in a sense that customers know that L.L Bean produces authentic and classic products.

  7. #3: Since L.L. Bean’s sales of Bean Boots have skyrocketed because they are now seen as trendy, I do not think it would be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for their manufacturing. L.L. Bean is just reaching the platform it needs to expand as a company, but the customers are satisfied with the way they are currently manufactured – that is what makes them successful in the first place. It would not benefit L.L. Bean to change the manufacturing process because it would not be the same product promised to their market. The high demand for boots would change if they were manufactured abroad because the quality and production process would overall change, which could then hinder the large customer base it had just achieved.

  8. #3 I think the fact that LL bean keeps their production so limited is the ultimate reason for their growing demand. They should definitely not outsource any of their production, for I feel that keeping their products made in the USA is vital to their brand name and image. Much of the production of their boots is done by hand and not the high tech machinery used in other places which benefits their products in regards to quality, which is also a reason why there is such high demand for their boots. The hand quality craftmanship makes their boots last a lifetime and their consumers know that they will get what they pay for. I think LL Bean, although not expanding to produce more or in more places, has found the perfect balance of quality, home manufacturing, and growing demand that ultimately leads to the perfect brand image and success of the company.

  9. #3 I think that L.L. Bean should keep their production in USA. One factor behind this is due to the fact that as a brand L.L. Bean prides itself on being an “American brand” and producing it’s products in America is a way that they show and differentiate themselves from other brands. In addition, L.L. Bean has created a sense of community with it’s workers and the boots. By taking the manufacturing of the boots abroad, this sense of community between the workers,customers, and brand will be lost. Lastly, it can affect the maintenance of worn down boots which come back to the factory. If they were to outsource production it’ll cost the company and consumers more to ship the boots overseas as well as ship them back to the consumers. It would also take longer to get the finished boots back to the consumers, which could upset them and hurt their loyal followers. However, if L.L. Bean had decided to outsource it’s production of the boots, I do believe that consumers would still purchase them. This is due to the fact that they are a huge trend right now, and consumers will buy them more for the name and the look than the production. The might loose a few loyal followers who will notice the difference in manufacturing, but overall I do think they will still see an increase in sales.

  10. #7, I think that the United States should seriously consider training the homeless community in America and getting them back on their feet. This could be a really great opportunity for them to do so. However, I believe that most companies would probably want to do this but they think by the time the US factories are made and then the training that would have to go into making the factories productive, the companies probably still find it more profitable to outsource to under developed countries. If US factories were slowly made and grown larger and larger each year, then this could potentially be a great success to the US economy, with very little to no unemployment. For a company to begin this process would be huge and I can not see this happening too soon in our country. If the right company – an already successful company – were to step up and be a role model to other companies in the US, this could hopefully have a domino effect.

  11. #7 I do think it is realistic for companies to reach out to homeless communities to work in manufacturing factories. It would not only help out those who desperately need it, but it would create jobs for Americans, and possibly help boost our economy in ways that it is struggling right now. I think that helping those in the homeless communities would also give those companies a positive opinion in a consumer’s point of view. Consumers would be more willing to shop at that company as well.

  12. #2: Why doesn’t L.L Bean look into other American cities for manufacturing options so they do not lose productivity by being exclusively made in Maine?

    LL Bean stays true to their brand identity. As their advertisements and company site boasts their made in Maine heritage, they would loose a sense of who they are without maintaining their current manufacturing location. They are aware of what is important to their customers. Their customers like that their products are made in the USA, specifically in the woodys outdoors of Maine, where the brand was developed.

  13. #3: Do you think it would be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for their manufacturing? Would there still be as high of a demand if these boots were manufactured abroad?

    I feel that it could be beneficial for L.L. Bean to outsource to foreign companies for manufacturing, because it could lower the cost of their products, but I also feel that there is a possibility that their sales could go down. I think this could happen because if L.L. Bean gets their products manufactured in many labor intensive countries, there is a chance that they choose a country that promotes unsafe labor conditions, because they produce for cheaper. I feel that some of their customers could be really upset by this and stop purchasing their products. On the other hand, there is always a possibility that L.L. Bean chooses an outside country that promotes safe labor practices, so this could be a win win for them. They will then have cheaper production, and hopefully keep their customers satisfied.

  14. #3: I think that L.L. Bean’s ability to remain vertically integrated is helping it keep up with consumer demand as they are able to have more control on the product and don’t waste time shipping products. I believe it is admirable that they remain in the US and it is helping them in the end. They are saving time this way and aiding in domestic employment. The company is in fact having issues finding skilled labor here however if they looked overseas they may be able to find those who can create more output faster and cheaper. When looking overseas, we have learned that footwear succumbs to very high tariffs so it may not be in their best interest

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