Karen Kane: All in the {American} Family

Hi Tina:

Here is an example of a very reasonably priced Karen Kane dress sold on the Nordstrom's website.


So it began: with a simple note from a reader kind enough to send me a tip. Indeed, the Nordstrom.com Karen Kane dress was reasonably priced ($88) and Made in the U.S.A. Such good news. I've been a Karen Kane fan for years, but cynically assumed the brand must be manufactured in China. One should never make assumptions, right? That old line from a 1973 episode of The Odd Couple says it best: "Never assume. You'll make an ass out of you and me."

As I've written many times before on this blog, when manufacturing stays here the story stays here, too. Manufacturing is like our capitalist / free enterprise nation's family tree. When one of the branches is lopped off--say, to make electric cars in China--the entire country suffers. We lose innovation, jobs, heritage. We begin to wonder if that company’s a family member anymore. We scratch our heads, wonder what happened. Didn't General Motors used to be an American company? Go figure.

As a private company, Karen Kane has more freedom to make manufacturing choices than, say, a multinational corporation accountable to stockholders. And while Karen Kane's line is reasonably priced, it's still out of reach for many women who need the kind of pricing a Target or Walmart offer. But Karen Kane's clothing is known for its quality. That $88 dress reader Carolyn mentioned will wash and wear and stay in style long after a cheaper Target or Walmart Made in China dress has been relegated to the dust bin. And most important, when we buy one of Karen Kane's Made in U.S.A. dresses, we encourage the continued health of America's corporate family tree.

Here's the Karen Kane story, as told on the website:

One of the most respected names in women’s apparel today, Karen Kane has become truly synonymous with style, comfort, and sophistication...

After growing up in the small town of Santa Barbara, Karen moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. She enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and graduated two years later with a degree in fashion. After meeting her husband Lonnie, the pair launched Karen Kane out of their garage in Studio City. With little more than a dream to work off of, they shipped their first collection in December 1979. By the time they were ready to begin production on their next collection, they realized that they would need more space to keep up with demand. Moving to a new space in Downtown LA, Karen and Lonnie continued to do all of their own sewing and manufacturing before finally finding contractors who could support their growing business.

As Karen’s company continued to expand, so too did her family. Today, she has two sons who live in Los Angeles and New York City, and the company has grown into a 130,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility in Vernon, California. Karen’s collections are featured in department stores and specialty boutiques nationwide. The Vernon office holds the company’s design, silk screening, research, pattern making, grading, cutting, and customer service departments. Corporate showrooms in Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas assist with sales, as do many retail representatives across the country.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Michael Kane (Karen's oldest son), Director of Marketing. Michael literally grew up in the apparel manufacturing business. As a baby he was right there in the factory at Mom Karen's side. He had his own small room there; a place to nap and play with his toys. By the time he was school-aged, the factory was like a his second home. "My friends would go home and watch TV," he said, laughing. He would head off to his parents' factory, to his "office," to do homework and play with his younger brother. He grew up, studied history and communications at Northwestern, and after graduation returned to Los Angeles to help run the family business. "In fact," he said, chuckling, "the office I'm in today is the same one I was in as a kid."

A few years back the company moved much of its manufacturing to China. But over time, as costs rose there too, Karen Kane returned eighty percent of its manufacturing to its factory in Vernon. "We already had a network here, and here we have better control over the product," Michael said. "We have a lot more freedom, can oversee things, make changes as needed. We can respond to trends faster."

The most labor-intensive items--sweaters and blouses with embroidery and sequins, for example--cost the most to make and continue to be manufactured in China. And the fabrics, too, come from elsewhere: Spain, Italy, and yes, China.

When asked if it's been difficult to find factory workers in L.A., Michael didn't hesitate. "There's no shortage of people looking for jobs," Michael said. The company employs approximately 150, contracting with various local manufacturers they've known for decades.

Michael said one of the most positive aspects of manufacturing in the U.S.A. is the feedback he receives from grateful consumers. "We get lots of comments from people, thanking us for producing here."

I'll second that emotion. Thanks, Karen Kane, for the jobs and the quality products.

And who knows? Maybe someday, in response to continued encouragement from American consumers, Karen Kane will manufacture every single blouse, jacket, skirt and pant--embroidered, sequined, whatever--right here at home. Karen Kane had her dream. I've got mine.

That dream may be closer to becoming a reality, as Michael's follow-up email explains. Read this happy news:


I have exciting news about U.S. manufacturing.

After my father, Lonnie, appeared on Bloomberg TV discussing American manufacturing, Dillard's department stores approached our company with an initiative to produce more goods here in the U.S.

So starting this holiday season, we'll be producing a large-scale "Made in the U.S.A." package of clothing for Dillard's. The items will be available in 179 stores. We're thrilled about it.

Thanks again for taking the time to focus on us!

Michael Kane

Exciting news, indeed, Michael! Congratulations, and thanks so much for sharing. Okay everyone, be sure to look for Karen Kane's "Made in the U.S.A." line during the holidays at your local Dillard's.

Reviving the American economy, one purchase at a time, right? We can do this.