Made in USA footwear to get boost from Department of Defense

Uncle Sam wants you ... if you can make truly 'Made in the USA" footwear to fit the military's needs.
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Athletic and outdoor footwear brands that can source and manufacture shoes in the United States have a big new customer to go after — the U.S. Department of Defense.

Late last week, DoD officials sent letters to several representatives in Congress, indicating that it would work to have its recruits buy Made in the USA shoes, if suitable options were available.

The issue surrounds the Berry Amendment — a law passed in 1941 requiring armed forces to give preference toward buying American-made goods when available. For years, outdoor brands such as Granite Gear, Outdoor Research, Polartec and CamelBak have benefited from the law, providing apparel, gear and accessories to the Department of Defense.

But some lawmakers and brands noted the absence of footwear in the lineup. New Balance and Wolverine Worldwide (the latter, parent to Merrell, Saucony and others), which manufacture some of their shoes domestically, in particular, expressed interest in gaining DoD contracts. There’s a potential $180 million in contracts to chase, lawmakers said.

At present, DoD officials noted, no U.S. brand is making truly Made in the USA footwear that would be Berry-Amendment compliant. This goes back to our SNEWS story earlier this year, about what really constitutes as Made in the USA — many products, such as in footwear’s case, fall short because of their use of foreign-sourced raw materials.

However, brands such as New Balance and Wolverine have indicated they soon will have the capability to make compliant Made in the USA shoes, especially if a big buyer like the DoD exists. Several other outdoor and athletic brands have expressed similar interests officials said.

If that were to be the case, “the DoD has an interest in having our recruits purchase domestically manufactured athletic shoes to the maximum extent practicable in order to abide by the spirit of the Berry Amendment,” Acting Deputy Secretary of the Defense Christine Fox said.

Fox noted the footwear would still need to meet the performance and fit demands of each military segment and its servicemen and women, which it can provide details to the companies.

Click here to read the full letter.

Both New Balance and Wolverine reacted positively to the news, saying they would move ahead to domestically source and manufacture footwear.

"Our Saucony, Merrell and Bates brands have partnered together to advance this effort and we are well into the process of producing state-of-the art athletic shoes at our manufacturing plant in Michigan,” Wolverine Worldwide CEO Blake Krueger said in a statement.

“It will solidify our [U.S.] supply chain,” New Balance Vice Presdient of Public Affairs Matt LeBretton told the Boston Herald. “We have at least 34 suppliers, American suppliers, going into this shoe. Jobs, morale and supply chain — that’s what we get out of this.”

--David Clucas

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