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Less duty trouble for U.S. garments

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Doug Krizner: The U.S. dollar’s been in steady decline for the last six years. It may have eroded the buying power for American consumers, but it’s been good for U.S. businesses that export their products. You see, a weaker dollar makes these goods cheaper overseas. This is especially true for the garment industry. KQED’s Rob Schmitz has this report from Los Angeles.

Rob Schmitz: A half-dozen Latina women stand in an assembly line at a garment factory in gritty south LA. They use drills to scuff up piles of jeans to give them that casual, lived-in look. More and more of these torn-up jeans are heading abroad.

Tadd Zarubica owns Denim of Virtue. It’s a small jeans company that’s attracted the attention of a cadre of top celebrities. Zarubica exports more than a third of these jeans to markets where the dollar is weak.

Tadd Zarubica: There’s an international contingency now at every trade show. They’re buying it a little deeper, with more confidence, because of the dollar.

For years, the European Union kept out American garments by slapping on duties that doubled their retail cost. Now the euro is much stronger against the dollar, so these duties are less of a barrier.

Ilse Metchek heads The California Fashion Association. She uses the example of a garment that took $50 to make here:

Ilse Metchek: That $50 garment, to retail at $100, in Europe would be retailing for $200, because of the non-tariff duties. Now with the weakened dollar, it’s equal. It’s $100 here and $100 there.

What that means is for the U.S. garment industry, it’s party-time.

At a trade show in LA’s fashion district, thousands of buyers from around the world scrutinize the summer lines of U.S. designers.

Antonios Markos flew here to buy clothes for his three shops in Greece. Up until a couple of years ago, Markos says he limited his wholesale shopping to Milan and Paris.

Antonios Markos: Now, I’m in Los Angeles, I’m in New York, I’m in Las Vegas.

Markos sports oversized sunglasses and struts around the trade show, making order after order for Made-in-the-USA clothes.

But Markos is torn. He can’t help but feel he’s hurting his fellow European designers. Right after he says this, though, he shrugs, visits another LA designer, and buys some more clothes — paying with valuable euros that will stay here in the U.S. economy.

In Los Angeles, I’m Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.

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