Google and American Apparel have little in common, besides Google's recent move to make a product in America, something the hip clothing chain has done forever. In a move to make itself look more conscientious than Apple (and the rest of its competitors), Google has opted to manufacture its new streaming media device, the Nexus Q, here in the good ole U.S. of A. Unlike American Apparel, whose products comes from a Los Angeles factory, for Google, this is just a fun little experiment. "We’ve been absent for so long, we decided, 'Why don’t we try it and see what happens?'" Andy Rubin, who heads Android for Google, told The New York Times' John Markoff. But, it probably doesn't want to flop now that we're all watching. And who better to get some dos and don'ts from than a company that has 23 years of experience in domestic manufacturing? Here's what American Apparel can teach Google:
Do: Emphasize the 'Made in America' part. American Apparel wants us to know it makes its stuff in America, instead of overseas sweatshops. It plasters its slogan, "Made in America. Sweatshop Free," all over ads and its stores. Its tags don't just say "Made in the U.S.A," but this one, for example, says "Made in LA by a woman with healthcare for herself and three children." On its website it asks visitors to take a tour of its "Sweatshop-Free Downtown L.A. factory. (Pictured above.) The company really plays up its moralism here. Unlike competitors, it creates American jobs. Unlike overseas factories, it can guarantee an American standard of pay and treatment. American Apparel CEO Dov Charney even uses the Made in America thing to push a cost-saving angle. With transportation costs and oversea wages rising, Charney sees American manufacturing as the economic move, he told The Los Angeles Times' Shan Li. "As that happens to the worldwide economy," he said, "it's going to make a lot of sense to manufacture in the United States or in Los Angeles."
The underside of Google's Nexus Q says "Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.," notes Markoff. But, the company ought to play it up more. It hasn't said much about these American facilities and Google wouldn't let Markoff disclose the location and wouldn't cite how many people it employs. It also has no plans to use "Made in America" as part of any marketing campaigns, adds Markoff.
Do: Emphasize Patriotism and social awareness to deemphasize high price tag. Both Google and American Apparel sell products that those looking at other brands would call overpriced. American Apparel sells $28 leggings; the Google Nexus Q costs $300, for something Apple sells for $99. Even for all that talk of its American labor efforts, American Apparel has had nine straight quarters of losses, according to Li. That's partly because its clothing is so expensive for what it is. But also, the store has gotten unfortunate associations with an off-putting consumerist hipster culture, as The Guardian's Colin Horgan explains:
Rather, hipsters now are a manifestation of late capitalism run amok, forever feeding itself on the shininess of the Now: an impatient, forgetful mob taught to discard their products as quickly as they adopt them. They are not a cultural movement, but a generation of pure consumers. If capitalism were to really be altered in any way, the hipster as we know it would lose its raison d'etre.
This is why the movement can't innovate and, in some ways, why American Apparel can't either.
If Google wants to get people on board with its Made in America message, it needs to stay appealing.
Don't: Be stupid about your factories. American Apparel has made some questionable decisions at its American factories. It had a little illegal immigrant troubles back in 2009. "Productivity slipped dramatically after the company was forced to dismiss 1,600 workers from its downtown factory after an immigration audit in 2009," writes Li. "The company had to hire and train thousands of new workers." And, amid all of its financial problems, the factory has some lux benefits. There is an on-site medical facility and employees get subsidized meals and free massages. Again, Google hasn't given much information on its factories. But concerns for cost and efficiency, as we learned from this New York Times article about Apple's overseas operations, are real. These incidents only prove there's something about American culture that makes it a hard place to make stuff.