From the time the first Hawaiian shirts and dresses started to appear in Honolulu back in the 1930s up until the 90s, most were made in Hawaii. But just like other manufacturing industries in the US, Hawaiian clothing manufacturers face incredible pricing pressure from imported products. Today, it is not surprising to find stores that stock more Hawaiian clothing imported from China and Indonesia than clothes made locally. There are some upsides and downsides to this trend.
Price: Advantage Imports
The best thing about imported Aloha wear is price. The importers, who sometimes are also local manufacturers, benefit because they can buy and sell products at lower prices while maintaining or increasing their profit margins. The consumer benefits from lower retail prices as well.
But there are significant downsides. When a company imports clothing from China or Indonesia, they typically must order hundreds of pieces per style, print and color. While the price per items is significantly less than locally produced garments, the price advantage is offset somewhat by the large minimum orders.
Selection & Flexibility: Advantage “Made in Hawaii”
For locally produced garments, the manufacturer must still order several thousand yards of fabric, which is a significant investment. But rather than sinking large sums of money into importing huge quantities of pre-made garments in a few styles and prints, they can manufacture more styles in more prints in smaller quantities for the same amount of money. So although the cost per item is higher than imported garments, the real benefit is the ability to offer much greater selection and having the flexibility to adjust production according to demand and shifting customer tastes. Rather than compete on price, which is a losing proposition, local manufacturers are instead competing on quality and selection.
Having said that, some manufacturers are hedging their bets a bit by offering both made in Hawaii and imported garments. This allows them to serve customers at different price points and gives them experience in contracting some production overseas in case they need to add more of that to their mix in the future.
In the end, all this competition is good for the consumer. The shear diversity and high quality of the Hawaii made shirts and dresses force the imports to get better. And the pricing pressure from the imports motivate the local manufacturers to come out with better designs and new styles while striving for ways to be ever more efficient. The result is that customers get more choice, higher quality and better prices. So, despite the competitive pressures from imported garments, many local manufacturers are not only surviving, but showing that they can thrive with “Made in Hawaii.”