Those of us in the interior design fields and furniture retail are familiar with the following story: American manufacturers, feeling the pressure of increasing costs, competition, and unreasonable expectations search for less expensive labor and costs overseas. This search almost invariably brings quality and consistency issues, as the journey across one ocean or another bangs around pieces and the inspection policies of some factories slip.
There is a new wrinkle developing in this story. The push for green materials and manufacturing processes (new laws in California will likely be adopted across the country soon) and the current economic climate are converging to bring more and more manufacturing back to the United States. Nowhere is this more noticeable or surprising than in upholstery.
More and more manufacturers, readily available in retail stores across the country, are purchasing fabrics from textile mills in the Carolinas, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. This is surprising as the vast majority (probably somewhere like 90-95%) of the fabrics put on moderately priced upholstered furniture and mattresses in the last 20 years have been from overseas. Even those manufacturers who work almost entirely in the United States (like King Hickory) have sourced their fabrics from overseas mills.
Several advantages come from working with mills closer to home. Not only are the economic implications clear, but shortages can be dealt with more quickly – which means fewer delays to the end consumer. In addition, more control over the processes that make polyester, rayon, and acrylic fabrics create a better product with less waste and toxicity.
Basically, ask the question. For the last 20 years, the answer in furniture has been, “Not much is actually built or sourced in the USA anymore.” But this is changing. Be sure you know all the tricks manufacturers and less-than-honest salespeople may use to cloud the real answer. After all, Made in America can sometimes mean Made in Mexico, which is part of North America. Or it could mean the manufacturer sources all the parts from overseas and does the final construction in a warehouse in Utah. Best practice is to ask, “What state is the plant in?” or something to that effect.
This is an important trend in interior design that we can all support.