If Louis Vuitton can make handbags in rural Johnson County, why are so many fashion brands moving manufacturing operations back to the United States?
A small Dallas fashion accessories maker is finding out the challenge of trying to move its longtime China-based manufacturing facility.
Barrington Gifts has annual revenue of about $5 million. It’s not as big as Nike or Apple that manufactures goods in China. The journey of the past five years has been a family affair that illustrates the difficulty of being entrenched in the global economy.
In the year In 2019, Barrington and other US companies were hit with a 25% tariff on Chinese imports of products still in operation. Then the pandemic killed his stay-at-home lifestyle for his daily commute and travel-oriented shopping. No one needs a new tote in 2020.
“It hasn’t recovered yet,” says founder and CEO David Gowday, but now the brand has a plan for a loyal customer base that’s rarely seen.
In a small deep Elum brick building painted pre-Navy blue, Barrington Gifts makes its most popular totes and ships them 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 into a warehouse at the back. There is enough room for eight machines worth a total of about $200,000.
In an email last April, Barrington told customers it had to raise prices on some products. St. Ann’s most popular tote, which was $160 three years ago, is now $200 after two increases.
The email continued: “We have begun moving our production to the USA and are currently manufacturing most of Barrington’s best-selling products at our new Dallas, Texas facility.” We will continue to move more production to the US in the coming months.
The online retailer said its customers did not back down from the price hike, and some wrote letters to thank the company for bringing jobs to America.
That task is easier said than done, even for a small fashion company.
Barrington is one of several U.S. manufacturers who have concluded that China is no longer a place for low-cost production because wages are rising there. The pandemic has accelerated the trend of moving production to North America, including Mexico. High U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports and an uncertain labor environment are among the “thousands” of reasons Barrington and others are looking to shift to manufacturing, Gowday said.
In the year Founded in Dallas in 1991, Barrington has operated its factory in China for 22 years and still employs 40 people, down from a peak of 100.
“Our workers in China are getting older, and it’s harder and harder to attract younger workers who work in hospitality—at a Starbucks or a new hotel—not in a factory,” says Gowday.
So far, Barrington employs four people at the Dallas plant who need training to operate the state-of-the-art machines.
Barrington was hired from the Gilbreath-Reed Career and Technical Center, which trains students from seven Garland ISD high schools to work in manufacturing, including the software and machinery used in fashion design and production.
Demand for the center’s graduates continues to grow, and many go on to college and are employed by design schools, said Garland ISD Director of Career and Technical Education Coleman Bruman. Graduates are earning $20 an hour, and students in some industries are quickly earning six-figure salaries, he said.
St. Ann, a waterproof nylon canvas with leather handles, is made by customers and shipped at once from Dallas.
“I was hoping we could hire people by renting a building here and having all the production in Dallas,” Gowday said.
Louis Vuitton has 300 handbag workers in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth. When the French fashion house opened its facility in 2019, it reached 150. Louis Vuitton plans to eventually have 1,000 employees.
But, says Barrington founder and president Gil Sheehan, “At $2,000 each, they’re charging 10 times what we do for our bags.
Gowday and Sheehan realized that if all they did was move production to Dallas, the numbers wouldn’t work. They also needed a low-cost production facility.
Walks by Dave Munson
Gowday and Sheehan met with Dave Munson at an industry trade show in January 2019. Munson owns Saddleback Leather Company in Azle and Old Mexico Manufacturing Co., which has factories in Leon, Mexico. That region is rich in tanneries and has workers skilled in making leather products. And it’s a 2.5-hour direct flight from DFW Airport, Munson said.
Munson’s 200 employees in Lyons make Saddleback merchandise and products for other companies, as long as they are “kind-hearted and high-quality products.”
Barrington fits the bill, Munson says.
Before the outbreak, Gowday traveled to China once or twice a year. He has been to Mexico four times this year to do expansion work. “It took me 24 hours from door to door to go to China, and I can be down in Lyon one day and back the next,” he said.
By the end of March, Barrington will move some Chinese production to Mexico and will have 15 to 20 employees at one Munson plant, Gowday said.
Barrington goods made in Dallas and Lyons will be exempt from the 25% tariff on their goods from China and the estimated 7.4% duty on bags from China. “That 32.4% (placed in US Treasuries) is what we call our profit,” Gowday said.
In addition to its direct-to-consumer business, Barrington makes high-quality private corporate gifts for its best customers and colleges for major donors. Those items are still being manufactured at the factory in China, and that part of Barrington’s business has recovered quickly, Sheehan said.
Personalization and manufacturing on demand
The pandemic has encouraged Barrington to add more partnerships to its direct-to-consumer business. Social media intensified. He expanded his exposure by partnering with many artists and designers who had their own following who could become new clients. of Lexington, Ky. Beaufort Bonnet Co., arrived to cooperate. Added new designs and styles from Camilla Moss of Birmingham, Ala. Kathleen Wilson and Jenny Grumbles of Dallas; Allison Castillo and Brooke White of Fort Worth; and Austin-based Kathy Kime, who designs city-specific restrooms.
One of Barrington’s most popular new designs comes from artist Donald Robertson. His “Drawbertson” collection, which featured a brightly colored longhorn print, was supposed to be a limited edition, but now it’s on the regular line.
“I work with a lot of design houses and I do a lot of collaborations and I just finished a big project with Max Mara, but Barrington was great to work with,” said Robertson, whose family moved from California to Dallas during the pandemic. . “Everything was very smooth and they added the charity part.”
The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center will receive 15% of sales from “Drawbertson’s” collection of three designs, including the Longhorn.
“Everything was done quickly,” Robertson said. “The bags are well made, and the price is fair.”
Barrington is doing what many believe to be the case with personalized products and on-demand products rather than giant brands behind every product on the shelf.
Custom bags are made when an order is placed. The small Deep Ellum factory can fill rush orders the next day. Shipping to Mexico also shortens shipping times.
Barrington makes 34 products: totes, diaper bags, small bags, laptop, passport and portfolio covers, wallets and luggage tags.
Customers can choose from over 80 active styles, four leather trims, over 30 monograms and font types, and combinations of accent and stripe colors. Design number 1 is Axis Animal Print. The combinations that bring customers are in the millions.
The future is here.
Barrington’s business model is one that is being promoted in the industry as a sustainable method to produce fashion in the US and reduce clothing waste.
Manufacturing headlines are about the semiconductor industry, which is spending billions of dollars to build new chip plants in the U.S. thanks to the Biden administration’s passage of the Chips and Science Act. And while the U.S. economy is in recession, manufacturing employment increased by 420,000 jobs last year, including 14,000 jobs in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If the high-end fashion industry succeeds in moving more toward an on-demand, regional production model, it’s a huge opportunity for Texas, said Kate Sheldon, CEO of Dallas-based consultancy and think tank. What is needed is to accelerate the transformation of the industry.
“Thirty-five years ago, Dallas was a very strong manufacturing center for the fashion industry,” Sheldon said. Evaporation post-NAFTA is disappointing, but there is so much opportunity for Texas to become a major regional hub for fashion production with our diverse workforce, international airport, and proximity to a major port in Houston and a pro-business environment – a huge opportunity for entrepreneurship in Texas. it is”
The price must be right
Sheldon said she believes “luxury and sustainable brands are looking to do this, and their customers are well-informed and understand the need for higher wages to bring manufacturing back to America.”
Several North Texas companies are producing high-quality goods here, including Dallas-based women’s clothing maker Finley Shirts, fashion bedding maker The Pillow Bar and Garland-based hat brand.
Lisa Morales-Hellebo, a New York-based supply chain technology founder and general partner at Refashion Ventures, said manufacturing a $10 T-shirt might not be feasible in the U.S., but a $40 or $50 shirt could be made viable here. Venture Fund. Another of her ventures, Refashiond OS, is attempting to build a regional network of on-demand apparel manufacturing that is vertically integrated from fiber to finished goods produced in America.
“Companies should have been nervous about China a long time ago,” Morale-Hellebo said.
“Manufacturing a lot of things in one part of the world and sending them out into the world is simply not sustainable, and in the last couple of years, we’ve seen what can go wrong, even for fashion,” Sheldon said. “There is a need to produce locally and on demand; it’s the infrastructure that’s holding it back.
Gowday, 63, of Barrington, and Sheehan, 65, believe they can expand their company and hire more employees. They are in the process of procuring equipment for Leon. They believe their ability to personalize will protect them from the likes of Amazon.
“Marketing is our biggest challenge,” Sheehan said. “When people hear about us and realize what we do, their reaction is ‘I had no idea.’ “
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