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Michigan perfectly positioned to be fashion industry leader

After a trade mission abroad, a group of fashion industry insiders and economic development professionals are convinced that "Made in America" can be turned into "Made in Michigan" before long. The delegates saw enough of Turkey's garment industry to know that the Mitten State can do even better. Ample industrial space, a workforce with manufacturing experience and ready access to raw materials -- combined with a highly creative fashion community -- is enough to grow existing businesses and to launch new businesses.

For one designer, the trip served as a small first step toward establishing facilities here. He was looking for a Turkish company to be supplier, manufacturer and distributor for his fashion line of mid-market men's suits. When that partnership takes off, the entrepreneur hopes to establish a sales and marketing network, with a handful of new jobs, in Michigan.

According to the director of East Michigan University's School of Technology Studies, one way to grow the garment and textile industries is to send students abroad to learn. The U.S. has lost much of its textile production to companies overseas, he explained. If we can learn about processes and efficiencies from them, we can use our own technical savvy to reinvigorate Michigan's garment industry. Michigan, after all, comes with a fully-developed supply chain infrastructure, thanks to the auto industry.

The key to success here is to know where Michigan fits into the international marketplace, said one economic development executive. "We're not looking to manufacture for Walmart or Target," she explained. Michigan can't compete on that price point. Research and market analysis has helped to identify the state's market as clothing that costs between $150 and $200. At that price point, she said, tax incentives, inexpensive commercial space and labor costs will keep us competitive.

Auto industry experience is just one piece of the puzzle. The state also has a solid agricultural base that can provide the raw materials for textiles, like alpaca wool and camel hair. Finally, the industry can leverage the country's desire to buy American-made products.

In a couple of years, then, "Made in America" could be synonymous with "Made in Michigan."

Source: MLive.com, "Fashion in Michigan? The garment industry looks to grow jobs in the Mitten State," Melissa Anders, Feb. 24, 2012

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