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'Made in USA' labels appeal to holiday shoppers

Products made in the USA can have special appeal to holiday shoppers who also want to support local producers. Blogger Sarah Wagner has created USA Love List featuring such items.
Products made in the USA can have special appeal to holiday shoppers who also want to support local producers. Blogger Sarah Wagner has created USA Love List featuring such

Forget packed malls and big-box chain stores brimming with sleepy bargain hunters. This holiday season, a modest shopping phenomenon is brewing in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the recent Thanksgiving weekend that included Black Friday, hundreds of local shoppers gathered in downtown Fort Wayne to buy from small merchants offering a variety of gifts, including flavored popcorn, apparel and nail polish. The unique twist? Every small business participating in the retail fair featured "Made in USA" goods almost exclusively. 

"The majority of the products sold are made in the United States," said Olivia Fabian, co-owner of local retailer OFabz Swimwear, which participated in Fort Wayne's second annual "HollyPop" retail event a week ago. 

While "HollyPop" organizers did not set out to showcase domestically made items, a survey of merchants revealed lots of emerging businesses — all producing goods locally. 

"We wanted to round up the coolest of the cool and put them in one location," Fabian said.

The brainchild of local merchants and community leaders, the "HollyPop" event is a unique retail experiment and far from the the norm. Physical retail spaces that have dedicated shelf space for "Made in USA" goods are rare, an exception being Cracker Barrel's country stores, according to Sarah Wagner, a popular blogger who focuses on domestically made goods. 

Cracker Barrel's "Old Country Store" features a "Made in USA" section with products including apparel, flags and kitchen items.

Wagner has turned her passion for "Made in USA" products into a successful website, USA Love List, devoted to sourcing domestically produced items, ranging from apparel to pet food. She searches the aisles of big retailers, such as Costco and Target, for American-made goods.

And seeking "Made in USA" labels during the holidays can have a special appeal. 

"The holiday season is the ideal time to focus our shopping by seeking the 'Made in USA' label because when it comes to gifts, we have a lot of flexibility in our spending," Wagner said. "At this time of year, more than ever, we want to feel like we are contributing to the things that matter to us. A well-chosen gift is always a treat, but if that gift supports our neighbors, our communities, or our country, it will be appreciated even more dearly," she said. 

Bottom line: More American-made goods sold equals U.S. jobs.

While "Made in USA" sections in physical stores are not prevalent, more Web platforms are featuring such sections. And we're not just talking small mom-and-pop online stores.

Retail giant Wal-Mart has a dedicated "Made in the USA" section. Items range from cleaning products and diapers to 12-foot boats. Nordstrom features American-made goods including apparel, cosmetics, jewelry and shoes.

Apparel brands also have dipped their toe into producing or showcasing domestically made clothing. Club Monaco offers American-made suits, including waistcoats. J. Crew features "Made in USA" jeans.  

Although it's not always the case, buying "Made in USA" can come at a premium. A Club Monaco American-made blazer retails for roughly $575, with $225 for pants and $195 for a waistcoat. "Made in USA" Wallace and Barnes jeans available at J. Crew retail for around $198 a pair and up. 

Five years after a deep recession, not all consumers can afford a "Made in USA" premium, of course. But if the emergence of American-made virtual retail spaces and pop-up fairs are indicators, there's a growing appetite for and cachet associated with buying "Made in USA" products.

Still, more than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. During the 1960s, roughly 95 percent of apparel worn in the U.S. was made domestically.

"No one is predicting that we're going back to employment levels in manufacturing that we had 30 years ago," David Trumbull, a consultant and expert in textiles and U.S. manufacturing, told CNBC in September. America has lost nearly a third of its manufacturing jobs during the past the decade. 

"But 'Made in USA' is a trend we have seen, and it has continued," he said.

Just as consumers have sought products for causes that include supporting the environment and cancer research, so "Made in USA" movement supporters hope more shoppers will seek out those products. 

Wagner, the blogger, said, "If consumers realize how good they feel about buying or receiving gifts made here, they will then take the time to at least look for and ask for the 'Made in USA' label during the rest of the year."

By CNBC's Heesun Wee. Follow her on Twitter @heesunwee

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