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A Story About Rebuilding Manufacturing in the U.S.

Best-selling author Rachel Slade recently published a story on manufacturing in America through the eyes of a young couple in Maine. Ben & Whitney are simply trying to produce a union-made American sourced hoodie. As the couple navigates the ups and downs of the industry, Ms. Slade demonstrates how manufacturing impacts all of us, even when we don't realize it.


As a friend of Heartland, Rachel wrote this brief piece reflecting on her compilation of the book and where she found her inspiration to write it.


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I didn't know what I was getting into back in 2020 when I began following a small factory up in Maine, American Roots, that produced all-American sourced, union-made apparel. I had a sense that manufacturing clothing in the U.S. in the 21st century was difficult, but I had no idea what how big the obstacles were. 


I am the granddaughter of a labor lawyer in Philadelphia. I have deep roots in apparel manufacturing. That's why was drawn to the company's young founders, Ben and Whitney Waxman. They weren't rich. They weren't financed by private equity or VC. They were just two working folks who believed, passionately, that capitalism could be a force of good. 


When Ben Waxman co-founded American Roots in 2015, he'd just returned to his hometown of Portland, Maine, after spending a decade working at the AFL-CIO under Rich Trumka during the most traumatic era in US manufacturing history. Tens of thousands of manufacturers shut down between 2003 and 2013; millions of folks lost good paying union manufacturing jobs. During that time, Ben bore witness to the gutting of the American dream, up close and personal. Through his eyes, I could capture the recent labor history to ensure that all that loss would not be in vain.


In 2020, Ben and Whitney Waxman generously invited me into their factory and their lives, giving me unprecedented access to a small company trying to do the impossible. Over three years, I spent time on the shop floor, in the board room, and connecting with small manufacturers across the country. Researching my book, I discovered hard truths about destructive free-trade policies, the monopolization of industry, the hobbling of the NLRB, and the slew of bad actors flooding the market with goods priced cheaper than they cost to make. 


But in Ben and Whitney, I also discovered a new, uplifting story about the potential of a manufacturing revival. 


My new book, "Making It in America: The Almost Impossible Quest to Manufacture in the U.S.A. (and How It Got That Way)" is a gripping account of the Waxmans' quest.  It is uplifting and hopeful, offering a blueprint for a more sustainable approach to business and industry, and includes stories of their workers, many of whom are New Americans, many political refugees. It also covers economic and policy truths which debunk the prevailing narrative that organized labor killed domestic manufacturing. I've heard enough of that to last a lifetime.


Lastly, I employed data and research to demonstrate why industry is so critical to our economy, the environment, and to lifting labor standards in the U.S. and around the world.


Since the book came out last month, I've connected with people across America who are talking the talk and walking the walk in textile, apparel, and high-tech manufacturing. And I've discovered powerful responsible investors, like Heartland Capital Strategies, who are financing this new vision.


Reviving ethical manufacturing won't be easy. Much of it left during my brief lifetime. I am proud to bring this story to a wider audience, and I hope you find "Making It" a rousing call to action.

 

Author, editor, journalist 

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