If You Want to Sell More USA-Made Apparel, Read This Guide

Gearing up to sell more USA-made apparel? So are lots of other shops. 

“Whether it’s ‘USA-made’ or ‘Shop Local,’ today there’s a trend toward unity and helping one another out,” says Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision Tees. “From local businesses to manufacturers, there’s a big push to choose USA-made apparel.”

Other shop owners agree. “In the last four years, I’ve seen a demand for USA-made coming back stronger than ever before over the 18 years I’ve been in business,” says Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images. “Buyers started to understand that items made stateside are more expensive due to the pay scales and so on, but wanted to support USA-made items.”

We asked the experts for the 4-1-1 on everything you need to know, from where to find the best USA-made blanks, who’s buying them and how to decorate them.

Is there really a demand for USA-made apparel?

It definitely looks like that’s a “yes.” Rauen’s shop has seen a large increase in demand in the last year, mainly from manufacturing-based companies. “As USA-made manufacturers they know and believe in the importance of supporting other USA-made manufacturers,” he says.

USA-made brand US Blanks. Check out the alphabroder collection here.

Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway, agrees that support for USA-made rose in the last couple years. “Since the pandemic, a lot of consumers want to support local and American businesses that may have had a tough time during the lockdown,” she says.

“Made-in-USA apparel has a lot of appeal, including the benefit of supporting USA manufacturing. Our USA-made brands are showing a strong performance so far this year.”
Andrea Routzhan, alphabroder

In fact, a survey from Cotton Incorporated 2020 showed that nearly 72% of consumers say it’s important to support local businesses. And more than 6 in 10 consumers (61%) say they’re willing to spend money to help the economy reboot.    

While lingering global supply chain issues in the past year make it harder to report on trends because there’s potentially more demand than supply, the numbers are trending up for USA-made apparel. “Our USA-made brands, including Bayside and US Blanks, are showing a strong performance so far this year, and it’s exciting to see the growth,” says Andrea Routzhan, senior vice president, portfolio and supplier management, at alphabroder. “Made-in-USA apparel has a lot of appeal, including the benefits of supporting USA manufacturing and the sustainability aspect.”

Is there anything new or different about selling Made-in-the-USA apparel now, as we’re coming out of a pandemic?

Shreve points out that even if the apparel is being made stateside, there will likely still be shortages and delayed delivery patterns for a while. “Raw materials may be in short supply or come from overseas,” she says. “Factories may have been shut down or be running with reduced crews, and need time to get back up to full production. So, plan for shortages and perhaps lack of goods. Have multiple options available for your customers.”

“Whether it’s ‘USA-made’ or ‘Shop Local,’ today there’s a trend toward unity and helping one another out. From local businesses to manufacturers, there’s a big push to choose USA-made apparel.”
Tom Rauen, Envision Tees

Atkinson concurs. “Really, the biggest challenge is getting anything through the ports, so if there’s a backlog, you need to know what’s available to your customers now,” he says.

To reiterate what we said earlier, Rauen has noticed that from small businesses to manufacturers, there’s a lean toward supporting USA-made and shopping local. “It’s about unity and helping one another out,” he says.

“Of course if you’re pitching to folks in politics or unions, they may be great candidates for Made-in-USA apparel,” Atkinson says. “However, I can’t say this enough: It comes down to what your customer is interested in and what problems they’re trying to solve. If USA-made apparel is the answer to their problem, you know there’s a match.”

And remember, it’s more likely that fewer of your customers will just ask for stateside-made apparel.

“While there are buyers across all industries requesting USA-made items, it can be hit or miss,” Potter says. “You can take the lead and promote USA-made goods to your customers, as long as you can explain why it’s a better choice for their particular campaign or event.”

What types of USA-made apparel are most in demand?

From Routzhan’s perspective, the same categories performing well in the wholesale print industry are also performing well in the USA-made segment. “Headwear, heavier-weight cotton tees, and CVC and performance tees are doing quite well,” she says. “Fleece, while constrained by the current supply chain, is also doing really well in our USA-made brands.”

And for construction and manufacturing, Rauen says pocket T-shirts are a top seller.

Atkinson agrees, saying that black, white and gray T-shirts are a top seller, followed by hoodies. 

USA-made BELLA+CANVAS 3001U – click here to see the alphabroder collection.

Don’t forget to pitch softer cotton and tri-blend apparel to gyms and wellness businesses.

“You can add USA-made products to the online stores you manage and allow people to decide to purchase USA-made items,” Potter says. “If they purchase and use the item, they might opt to buy more.”

What artwork or decorating techniques pair well with Made-in-the-USA apparel?

Carolyn Cagle, owner of Strikke Knits Embroidery, used underlay-only stitching and minimal density to make this patriotic applique look vintage.

“Any type of design that represents America or patriotism pairs well with Made-in-the-USA apparel,” Atkinson says.

Sandy Jo Pilgram, owner of RhinestoneTemplates.com, offers lots of patriotic-themed, bling-y, get-noticed rhinestone transfer options for clients.

At Envision Tees, American flag prints have been popular on the sleeves.

Gillian Allen, owner owner/designer at The Cats Pajamas USA, prints masks with patriotic designs.

Potter sees light hand screen printing and distressed looks as very popular. “People also like one- to two-color prints,” he says. “Shops are experimenting with different color shirts and imprint colors.”

How should I pitch USA-made apparel to buyers?

A good initial approach is to let your customers know that option is available to them through your shop. “If a customer can see that it’s available and the price difference, they’re more than happy to take a look at your stock,” Rauen says.

“Be sure you have an accurate understanding of how much Made in America really means to your customer before you spend the time and effort to find these goods. Products made in America will almost never be the cheapest option, and customers may be less committed when confronted with a higher cost.” Kristine Shreve, Applique Getaway

In addition, focus on how buying Made in America helps support the economy and helps get people back to work and factories running. “You can also touch on the pride and patriotism that some people feel when wearing garments that are made in America,” Shreve says. “Some people may believe that products made overseas are lower quality or may have shoddy construction, so depending on your mix of garments, that might be a strong selling point for you.”

Another area to explore is fair trade and fair labor practices. “People who are concerned about this might be more interested in garments made in the United States, as there are laws in place to protect workers,” Shreve says. “You can also promote these points and your USA-made products on your website and on social media.” 

And don’t forget about sustainability. “USA-made products are for that premium buyer or end-user with core values around local sourcing and sustainability,” Routzhan says.

Atkinson says to the point of sustainability and USA-made, you need to ask your client more direct, granular questions. “What do they believe in?” he says. “Are they OK with fibers and fabrics created overseas and assembled in America? Or do they want fibers grown and woven, and cut and dyed stateside?”  

Ultimately, you don’t want to just present USA-made apparel to buyers unless you know what they’re interested in and what matters to them. “If you find out that USA-made blanks are the solution to their marketing concerns, that’s great,” Atkinson says. “We need to be consultative sellers. If American-made resonates with them, showing those T-shirts, hoodies and headwear makes sense.”

What’s the easiest way to find USA-made apparel?

For one, alphabroder has made it easy for decorators and distributors to find our Made-in-USA products at the category level, including T-shirts, fleece and headwear. If you’re just starting out selling USA-made apparel or a client has requested these items, this search is an easy way to see lots of different styles and trends from different in-demand brands at a glance. You’ll be able to create sales presentations even faster.

Plus, we’ve upgraded our Digital Lounge portal, where you can find and use curated assets like product videos, grab-and-go social posts and lifestyle product images to help customers make their best buying decisions.

Rauen also suggests that if you have a short list of apparel suppliers that you regularly work with, to search “USA-made garments” to see what’s available. “Then, create a mini catalog or sales flyer specific to your target market with those items,” he says.  

Even more basic, you can Google “Made in America garment.” Shreve notes that there are also websites like Madeinamerica.co and Authenticity50.com. “These sites have listings of companies that make clothing in America,” Shreve says. “Your go-to suppliers may also have Made-in-America options, so ask them as well.”

Should I pitch USA-made hard goods alongside USA-made apparel?

If a customer is committed to buying Made-in-America products, it pays to offer promotional items as well as garments with a Made-in-America label. “As with garments, many promo products suppliers will have Made-in-America options available,” Shreve says. “The best bet is to create a package where the promotional item complements the theme of the event the garments are for, or the garments themselves.”

“While there are buyers across all industries requesting USA-made items, it can be hit or miss. You can take the lead and promote USA-made goods to your customers, as long as you can explain why it’s a better choice for their campaign or event.” Howard Potter, A&P Master Images

Atkinson recommends having a suite of Made-in-the-USA hard goods to show. “Why wouldn’t you do it?” he says. “If you have customers who want USA-made, this will resonate with them. Then, price doesn’t matter as much.”

Tip: Don’t offer an extraneous product or one that’s clearly just there to produce additional revenue. “Find a way to make a marriage between the event or campaign, and the garments and promo products, so the purchase adds value and makes sense to the customer,” Shreve says.

Rauen agrees, saying that if your clients value USA-made or shopping local, then by all means present stateside-made apparel and hard goods together.

Similar to a customer who’s environmentally conscious and looking for sustainable apparel, they also want promo products that align with that as well,” Rauen says. “The same goes for USA-made items, which also tie into local sourcing.”

Have any tips on closing the deal on Made-in-USA apparel?

First, be sure you have an accurate understanding of how much Made in America really means to your customer before you spend the time and effort to find USA-made goods. 

“Products made in America will almost never be the cheapest option, and customers may be less committed when confronted with a higher cost,” Shreve says. “When you’re selling made in America, emphasize all the good that buying these sorts of products can do, and how paying a higher cost can have greater benefits for American workers and the American economy.”

Bayside is a USA-made brand carried at alphabroder. Click here to see the collection.

Potter points out that it’s important to know the story behind the Made-in-USA apparel you’re selling. “What state does it come from?” he says. “Is it a family-owned company? Who’s actually making the products? How well are the workers paid? Are they in safe working conditions?”

Remember, Atkinson says, it’s not always about the transactional costs. “It’s about relieving your customer’s anxiety,” he says. “If they like and trust you, they’ll buy what you’re selling. That’s why setting up a good presentation for selling USA-made products and how you decorate them will help alleviate questions or doubts, and they’ll be excited about the solution.”

What to Do Today

If you’re getting requests from your customers for USA-made apparel or you just want to offer them as part of your lineup, start by doing a quick evaluation of which products your current customers would be most interested in. Then, order select samples of T-shirts, fleece and headwear and decorate them so you have some pieces to show in person and during digital presentations.

Samples are the most effective way to let your customers see & touch their apparel choices. Click here to see the alphabroder sample program.

“Remember, if you don’t educate yourself from the start about USA-made apparel, it’s just a harder sale, because it’s not about the cheapest price,” Potter says. “Showing your clients the true value of USA-made goods as a solution makes you more of a trusted partner. Plus, when you can educate your clients, you create more buying power faster and you help increase demand for American-made products.” 


Decorating industry veteran Marshall Atkinson says you can’t have great screen printing without great screens. “The keystone to profitable screen-printing production is your ability to create a perfect production-ready screen on a consistent basis,” says Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe

There are five main steps in creating a functional screen: tension, reclaiming, emulsion coating, imaging and exposing, and rinsing. “Take an honest assessment,” he says. “How much of the care and craftsmanship of your shop originates in this often forgotten corner of your building? Who do you have in charge of this process, or doing the work? Hopefully, you can say they are one of your top employees. Your screens are the fuel you’re putting into your race car.”

SHOP alphabroder USA,  alphabroder CANADA and Prime Line BRANDS TO FIND PRODUCTS OF THE MOMENT.

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