…If Mr. Trump promises to restore American jobs supposedly lost to competition abroad, he’s unrepentant about offshoring his signature ties and Ms. Trump’s shoes and dresses. Foreigners, he said last month, “make it impossible for clothing makers in this country to do clothing in this country. And if you look at what’s happened on Seventh Avenue, and you look at what’s happened in New York with the garment industry, so much of the clothing now comes out from Vietnam, China and other places.”
We won’t begrudge a guy for trying to make a buck, nor for adapting to the realities of integrated global supply chains. And it’s fair to wonder if the Trumps are being shaken down by Democratic regulators. But a spokesperson for Ivanka Trump Collection wrote in an email that they were “disappointed to learn of the need for Global Brands Group, our license partner, to recall two styles of Ivanka Trump scarves, but we are relieved that immediate action is being taken.”
Therein lies an irony or two. Despite what Mr. Trump has heard on Seventh Avenue, the apparel industry is starting to return to America—and one reason is superior quality control.
Cheap Chinese labor led a 1990s-era garment exodus. But automation, robotics and a more comparatively productive workforce now mean U.S.-based textile shops can make better, more reliable goods. The costs mostly break even, especially as overseas wages rise, and shorter, more flexible U.S. lead times can turn around “fast fashion” to keep up with trends. This apparel “reshoring” is nascent, but retailers seeking a competitive domestic edge include Zara, New Balance, Brooks Brothers, Saks and many boutique labels.
The U.S. textile industry is also adding jobs for the first time in decades, albeit not in the kinds of textiles that are made into scarves. Technology for advanced materials—fabrics that are ultra lightweight or strong or flame resistant (ahem); that conduct electricity or contain digital sensors or even synthetic biological tissue—are revolutionizing manufacturing. Specialty textile exports have increased 39% since the recession.
These are the high-value jobs that will power the modern economy, not the low-skill, low-pay assembly lines of Mr. Trump’s political myth. But if he does want to bring back the old days, then it’s not “impossible” for him to start with his business model—if only to protect public safety from his neckwear.