The Made in America brand once embodied ruggedness and a kind of strait-laced patriotism, but recently it has morphed into a symbol of artisanal design and environmental sustainability. Fueled by a renewed enthusiasm for items sourced and produced in the U.S.–and supported by a new advertising agency devoted to American manufacturing–this locavore-tinged version of Made in America is gaining steam.
You can see it on display when you walk into Emil Congdon and Otis James’s shared workshop in a converted automobile factory in downtown Nashville. Congdon’s company, Emil Erwin, makes a line of handcrafted leather bags and accessories, while James produces custom bow ties and brawler caps. Both brands evoke a vintage chic that mixes traditional craftsmanship with modern sensibilities. And both have been wildly successful. “There’s a real hunger for a return to quality,” says Congdon. That can’t happen, he adds, when manufacturers go offshore for cheap workers and inferior materials.
It’s a sentiment echoed in a recent survey by Boston Consulting Group, which found that 80 percent of domestic consumers are willing to pay a premium for products made in the U.S. America’s luxe, high-quality image also extends overseas. The survey found that 60 percent of Chinese consumers are willing to pay extra for American-made products.
The artisanal version of Made in America got another boost last April, when three former Crispin Porter + Bogusky admen–Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle, and John Kieselhorst–launched Made Movement. The Boulder, Colorado-based agency focuses only on American-made products. CP+B co-founder Alex Bogusky is an investor and partner. Now at 30 employees and growing, Made Movement has a client roster that includes New Belgium Brewing and Seventh Generation.
CP+B became known for its stunt-PR tactics and subversive humor, and Made Movement takes a similar approach. Except instead of creating subservient chickens for Burger King and filing fake “taste infringement” lawsuits for Coke Zero, the team is finding ways to work its irony-soaked magic for smaller brands committed to U.S. manufacturing. In November, Made Movement created a campaign for ScentSicles, an Atlanta company that makes pine-scented Christmas ornaments. The team developed a website that allowed visitors to remotely decorate a rotating Christmas tree with ScentSicles using a robotic arm while two mustached funnymen heaped gentle scorn.
Made Movement’s own website is just as quirky. Rather than create a traditional agency site, the co-founders created an e-commerce store. “Most ad-agency sites have portfolios of previous work, client lists, and a mission statement,” says Schiff. “We felt like we had a big opportunity to do something different.” The online market, dubbed the Made Collection, offers American-made products from agency clients and other companies, including Otis James’s ties. The agency receives a percentage of each sale.
Shoppers are frequently reminded that they are supporting other Americans. Each product description includes information about the company that created the item. Browse a handmade leather satchel ($1,395) from Ghurka in Norwalk, Connecticut, and you’ll learn that founder Marley Hodgson employs 35 people and draws his inspiration from antique Nepalese military gear. Shoppers also receive “boom points”–loyalty rewards redeemable for special deals–which represent the economic impact of their purchases in local communities. “That was our way of offering important information about purchases without being too didactic or sanctimonious about it,” Schiff says. So far, more than 2,500 items have been sold through the site.
The Made Movement co-founders say they are motivated by the idea that their agency might help create jobs–or at least help keep good ones here. And that more than makes up for the fact that they have gone from representing marquee names with vast budgets to mostly obscure brands operating on a shoestring. “This isn’t an idea that we’ve market-researched to death,” says Schiff. “We’re driven by our passion. We’d like to believe that we’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
In 2012, these countries had the highest global reputations among the 50 nations ranked. The U.S. has held the top spot four years in a row.
1. United States
3. United Kingdom