Ilse Metchek

Ilse Metchek


Industry Voices: Fashion—Made in California Could Hasten an Economic Revival

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exposed vulnerability in the domestic supply chain for essential materials for end-product production. The difficulty of securing PPE materials and products, in addition to the overreliance of our supply chain on China and Asia, is widely recognized.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Los Angeles’ textile-and-apparel industry had been undergoing a slow revival due to the desire for on-time deliveries, the latest trends and replenishments, which had awakened retailers to the need to source domestically for at least a portion of their merchandise.

If California’s apparel-and-textile companies are serious about regaining their position as producers, now is the time to seize the opportunity, when the importance of local manufacturing is on everyone’s minds. Some believe the pandemic could provide a foundation for the domestic industry’s future growth.

Now is the time for California lawmakers to support policies that solidify the training of employees and new manufacturers in order to attract new companies here in Los Angeles for the manufacturing of critical products like masks, protective apparel and gloves, and continue to create fashion apparel with California style. This is the time for our California lawmakers to help craft policy solutions to support, not hinder, growth in this industry.

A bill returning to the California Senate, SB 1399, now known as SB 62, would mandate the end of the piece-rate system based on the minimum wage. The bill also places greater responsibility on companies who order apparel made in California factories to remain more cognizant of the wages earned by people employed by contractors who produce the goods.

The existing state law AB 1513 covers piece-rate compensation, which also supports a minimum wage for workers. If a factory is not adhering to the law, they should be closed—not allowed to be excused. If a customer did not pay them enough for a profit, they should not have accepted that order.

Moreover, the apparel-manufacturing sector already has joint liability between two parties. This proposed new law adds another layer of responsibility. It sends a message saying, “Don’t buy from California” to every retailer, large and small, that seeks to purchase merchandise made in this state.

People within and outside of the industry ask what it would take to bring this supply chain back.

We do not have a lot of cut-and-sew operations left here in California. We have lost some of that skill. Through education for contractors under the current labor laws (see the CFA Compliance Manual) and upgrading of production processes (utilizing the services of the California Manufacturing Technology Corporation), as well as facilitating industrial training, the industry can start to shift toward domestic production, especially during emergency situations such as the one in which we find ourselves.

The majority of California’s apparel-brand developers make no use of underground factories where workers are not treated fairly in accordance with current labor law. The legitimate manufacturers and contractors repudiate these illegal operations as unfair competition.

We should not be depending on other nations during a crisis when we could rely on ourselves to produce the right product at a reasonable price with quick delivery times.

This is a key time. We may never have another chance to amplify the need for reshoring and the right time for this conversation. ●

Ilse Metchek is the president of the California Fashion Association, which she founded in 1994. Metchek has worked in almost every aspect of the apparel industry, from model to manufacturer, mentor to icon.