Made in Minnesota

Our state is becoming a hotbed for U.S.-made heritage products. Now we just need to find and train sewers to do the work.

Made in Minnesota: Faribault Woolen Mills, Red Wing Shoes, and Duluth Pack
Stephanie Colgan

Not Made in the U.S.A.

Why one Minnesota company isn’t manufacturing at home.

Minneapolis-based Urban Junket, maker of eco-friendly bags, does not currently do any manufacturing in the United States. Owner Tracy Dyer joined the Makers Coalition—a new group of manufacturers working to create jobs in Minnesota—because she’d love to bring production home. But the barriers go beyond a shortage of skilled sewers.

For one, it’s difficult to find green materials in the United States. The recycled-bottle fabric that goes into Urban Junket bags is made only in Taiwan. The bags are then coated in an eco-friendly way, which is standard in Europe, but Dyer says most U.S. plants still use PVC.

In Hong Kong, Dyer has one person who can source any material Urban Junket needs, from zippers to buckles. Not so at home. “As a country, we haven’t brought that stuff online very well—there’s no amazon.com of sourcing in America,” says Dyer, who travels to at least four different trade shows across the states every year in search of materials she can buy domestically.

While gas and labor costs are narrowing the divide of overseas manufacturing, and the logistics of international shipping can be a headache, Dyer estimates it would still cost her 40 to 50 percent more overall to produce bags in the United States.

Nevertheless, she says, she’d do it if she could—particularly for new bags, where the added costs could be factored into retail prices from the start. “I think people are still very price-sensitive,” she says.

Dyer joined the Makers Coalition to be part of the conversation. A Detroit native, she’s inspired by the thought of turning defunct automotive plants into sewing factories.

“It isn’t going to go fast,” Dyer warns. “It’s not just sewing we need to bring back; there has to be a central fashion district where we can find all the materials. I think it could happen at some point, but not next year.”

She’s not giving up—but she’s not holding her breath, either.