Why Trump’s Plan to Bring Jobs Back to America Won’t Include Fashion
It might seem frivolous to worry about the fashion landscape while Trump’s supporters are spray-painting Nazi symbols on buildings. But if your livelihood depends on it or you’re currently studying fashion, you’ve probably wondered.
Besides, one of Trump’s biggest platforms revolved around trade enforcement and his “Made in America” beliefs, and the fashion industry largely depends on overseas labor. If your go-to stores are Forever 21, Nasty Gal, Zara, or any other trendy shop with super affordable clothing, you should probably be worried.
Trump campaigned on a platform of bringing blue-collar jobs back to America. You’d think this would include manufacturing clothes. And if clothing manufacturers had to pay their factory workers American minimum wage rates, the price of clothing would go through the roof — meaning an end to fast fashion as we know it.
Well, if Donald Trump’s own business ventures are any indication, fast fashion isn’t going anywhere.
His most recent clothing line, manufactured by PVH corp (the company that owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) was produced in China, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Similarly, Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand is manufactured in a variety of Asian countries.
If Trump actually cared about bringing jobs back to America, he and his family would have led the pack. Clearly, they don’t care. Fast fashion might be good for corporations, but it’s bad for the environment and for the workers who are paid measly wages to work under harsh conditions.
In fact, while 2014 wages for the average US-based textile worker were $17.71 per hour, Mexican workers’ wages were just over three dollars, notes Clare Press, British fashion journalist, in her book Wardrobe Crisis, How We Went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion. In China, the average textile worker was earning $2.65 per hour. In Bangladesh, they got 62 cents, she added. And needless to say, the odds are slim that many manufacturing jobs in Mexico, China, or Bangladesh are going to Americans.
You know that $40 Banana Republic dress you got for your mom for Christmas? Yeah, a child in India might have made that for a ridiculously small hourly wage, or maybe even no wage at all.
But Republicans generally don’t seem to care about unethically made clothing, and their traditionally pro-business policies and disregard of the environment leads fashion — fast fashion in particular — to flourish under Republican presidents, explains Joseph H. Hancock, II, Doctor of Philosophy in Consumer Sciences and Design & Merchandising professor at Drexel University.
But if people’s wallets get fatter, will they start spending money on sustainable fashion and skipping $2.99 tank tops from Forever 21? Joseph doesn’t think so.
“I think consumers like stuff cheap and consumers like designer names cheap, or what they perceive to be designer names,” says Joseph.
Clare has a more optimistic view on where fast fashion is headed. Trump may not care about child workers being exploited overseas, but she thinks that some consumers will start to.
“Trump will not kill fast fashion, but a broader cultural shift might,” she says. “The ethical fashion movement has been busy trying to re-educate the consumer about the true cost of our clothes, and persuade people to rethink their fast fashion habits, and I think it’s reaching tipping point.”
But if consumers start wanting ethically made clothing, or Trump decides to back up his platform and heavily tax foreign made fashion, Clare still doesn’t see fast fashion’s popularity fading out anytime soon.
“H&M and Inditex [Zara’s parent company] are two of the biggest, most powerful fashion companies in the world,” she says. “They will adapt. They aren’t going anywhere.”
As for bringing clothing factories back to the land of the free? Joseph believes Trump may incentivize companies to switch manufacturing away from his ever-hated China and Mexico, but that he wouldn’t bring clothing factories back to the U.S. If he did, families might suddenly find themselves unable to afford as many clothes as they once did. There would be public outcry.
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“To Donald Trump, $200 for a pair of pants is nothing, but to the average consumer, that’s a lot of money. That could be groceries for the week,” says Joseph. “We’re not [going to be making clothes in the USA] because nobody is going to pay somebody $25 an hour to make a shirt that’s going to sell for $29.50 or $39.50. That shirt would have to sell for over $100 for the retailer to make any money.”
Clare agrees, predicting that Trump may target companies who manufacture in Mexico, such as Nike and and Levis. But bringing manufacturing back to the “land of the free” will likely not happen.
And even Trump’s supporters who have been fawning over the idea of bringing factory jobs back to middle America might not be bothered by this. After all, America was never truly viewed as the home of fashion, and even when clothing factories were in the U.S., they were mostly in NYC – not middle America. Translation: the average American didn’t give a shit when fashion left the U.S. anyway.
And even if they did care about fashion manufacturing jobs, it’s unlikely that Trump, a businessman first, and President of the United States second, is going to risk his personal investments just to please the people who voted for him.
But on the bright side, fashion tends to become over-the-top and more daring in uncertain times like these.
“The creative world always has a tendency to be liberal, and they have the tendency to be the free thinkers,” says Joseph. “So we think that when there’s a Democrat in the White House, fashion’s going to go crazy… but actually it’s the reverse.”
He points to Democratic President Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981) as an example. Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, was no Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama made it part of her job description to provide American designers with free advertising. Rosalynn Carter actually made her own clothing.
Contrarily, during Carter successor Ronald Reagan’s presidency, fashion began to go crazy. The mid-80s saw over-the-top accessories, crazy colors, and sexed up looks. The OG fast fashion retailer, GAP, came to popularity in the 1980s. So did MTV, which provided fashion inspiration to the masses via music videos. When Bush took office after Reagan, fashion continued to grow, but when Clinton took office in 1993, you saw the minimalist, back-to-basics styles of the 90s.
“In these times of fear, in the big parts of the world, in densely structured fighting societies, fashion tends to become very extravagant,” says trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. “I am thinking about the comeback of the historical aspects of fashion design such as bustles and hips and peasant sleeves and puritan collars… Theatrical clothes are going to be important.”
It’s unlikely that fast fashion is suddenly going to become obsolete under Trump. In fact, it’s more likely that fast fashion becomes more popular. But along with the surge of the fashion industry, we’ll also see a surge in not-so-basic styles. At least that’s something small to celebrate.