The Lee brand started out in Salina, Kansas, and quickly became one of the big three jean companies in the United States.
Being such an iconic American brand, many people wonder where they currently make their jeans.
Below, we’ll share exactly where Lee jeans are made and other important information about the company.
Today, most Lee jeans are made in Mexico, Bangladesh, India, China, Japan, and Taiwan. In the past, some were made in the USA, but currently, no models are manufactured in the USA.
Like many brands that gained popularity because of the unmatched quality of American workers’ hands, Lee has shipped all of its manufacturing to foreign markets.
At one time Lee did offer USA-made jeans, but they weren’t performing very well due to their higher price. The reason for the high price tag is because of all the regulations in United States factories that are absent overseas, high wages for American workers compared to foreign workers, and high turnover rates in factories. These jeans weren’t well-received with that high price tag, so Lee soon removed them from their inventory.
When you are out shopping for jeans, the easiest way to tell what country they come from is to look at the inside tag. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that most textile and wool products have labels stating fiber content and country of origin. Most jeans brands will tell you where they have been manufactured.
Are Any Lee Jeans Made In America?
No, currently no Lee jeans are made in the USA. I actually reached out to Lee (as you can see in the screenshot above) and asked them directly if any of their jeans are still made in America. Their response was very straightforward, saying they do not make any jeans made in the United States.
It’s unfortunate because Lee jeans were some of the longest-lasting, toughest wearing jeans on the market. Now if you find any Lee jeans that still have a Made In America tag on it, they are probably over 20 years old.
Lee headquarters is still located in America, though, and they state they still have over 400 employees there.
Kontoor brands took over Lee jeans in 2019 and moved the headquarters to Greensboro, North Carolina in the Wrangler headquarters office. Kontoor owns both Lee and Wranglers as well as Rock & Republic.
Why Did Lee Stop Manufacturing in America?
Rising costs and the lure of extremely cheap labor and equally cheap raw materials are hard to resist for large companies. When a company doesn’t have to pay much for labor, it can sell its goods at a lower price and still make a big profit. In the 1990s and into the early 2000s many companies started shifting their manufacturing overseas. In a tight market, companies selling jeans for $200 a pair will struggle when other companies selling comparable jeans for $50, or $30 a pair, will end up dominating the competition.
Mexico, China, and other countries have such a massive labor force that jobs are extremely scarce, so these workers are willing to get paid a few dollars per hour just to receive a paycheck. Even when you factor in shipping costs, because of the ridiculously low labor costs, these companies can still make a profit.
When shopping at your favorite jean retailer for Lee jeans, you might end up finding a lot of Made in Mexico tags. That’s because of new trade regulations and a recent shift in labor costs in China, it’s becoming more expensive there. Since the shipping and manufacturing problems associated with the pandemic have slowed exports from China, more items can be shipped easier from Mexico.
Most Common Manufacturing Locations
I actually decided to head into a lot of shopping centers around where I live to see where the Lee jeans being offered there were manufactured. I decided to take pictures and share my findings with our audience here at All American Made. Below, I’ll attach photographs so you can see them for yourself!
The first jeans I checked were made in Mexico, as you can see from the tag below.
The second pair of jeans that I inspected were made in Bangladesh.
The third pair of jeans I checked were also made in Bangladesh.
The fourth pair of jeans I checked out were also made in Bangladesh.
To my surprise, out of over 100 pairs of jeans that I checked, all of them were made in Bangladesh or Mexico, with the far majority being made in Bangladesh. That’s not to say that all Lee jeans are made in these two countries, it was just an interesting thing to check where the ones being sold near my house were made.
How Lee Jeans Manufacturing Has Changed Over Time
When Lee started manufacturing clothing, their main line and biggest seller were Union-Alls. It was a one-piece coverall that was designed to protect clothing from the neck all the way down to the ankles. These garments gained popularity because they covered more area than typical overalls, which exposed the arms and shoulders. Cars in the early 1900s frequently broke down, drivers were often forced to be mechanics as well. Crawling under and over the engine compartment would easily ruin the arms of an expensive suit, but Lee Union-Alls solved this problem.
In 1917 Lee headquarters were moved out of Salina, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri. Ten years later Lee introduced the zipper in their overalls, cowboy pants, and coveralls. They even recruited Babe Ruth to advertise this new technology for them. Lee denim was quickly becoming a brand that was synonymous with exceptional quality.
During the height of the Second World War, like many manufacturing companies, Lee joined in to support the United States military. In order to help the soldiers, Lee scaled back production of their denim lines and instead started making uniforms, shirts, pants, and even flight suits for them.
Shortly after the end of the war, Lee jeans introduced a few designs that would define their brand. 1946 was the year of Lee Riders which was the first jean brand to carry the “Lazy S” double stitch across the back pockets. The two wavy lines became an instant indicator of the Lee brand.
They also brought on their twitch label. This became Lee’s emblem and is still seen on their products today. They wanted something that was synonymous with cowboys and everything they represented, so they used real leather and actually branded it with a red-hot iron. They called it the twitch label which represented the “twitch” from a cow when the hot brand was applied to their hide.
In the 1950s Lee jeans began to become a fashion icon with giant stars sporting the garments such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and rodeo champion Casey Tibbs. Then in the 1980s, Bruce Springsteen was featured in Rolling Stone magazine wearing a Lee denim Jacket.
Lee brand denim and jeans rounded out the top three jean makers alongside Wrangler and Levi’s. But in 1995 Lee started sending their manufacturing facilities to China and the Asia-Pacific region. By the time 2005 rolled around most Lee jeans were being manufactured by Arvind Mills in India. There, some 600,000 workers produced over 5,000 pairs of Lee jeans every day, making India one of their prime manufacturing countries.
Who Owns Lean Jeans?
The Lee jeans company was owned by the H.D. Lee Company up until 1969 when it was bought out by the VF Corporation. VF stands for Vanity Fair, the exact brand that publishes the magazine by the same name. While the brand started with lady’s intimate apparel, it has grown to become one of the largest apparel and footwear companies in the world. VF Corporation owns nearly 30 well-known apparel and shoe brands such as Dickies, Eagle Creek, JanSport, The North Face, Vans, Timberland, and Wrangler.
The VF Corporation continued operations of their denim lines such as Lee for several years until they started seeing a decline in denim sales around 2010. Recently there has been a large upswing in athleisure clothing like knit pants, and yoga pants. In 2017 stretch-knit pants outsold denim for the first time, and it continues to grow.
For two decades, VF has been watching the denim sales fall and has been working on getting away from this clothing by acquisitions of active-wear and lifestyle clothing and selling off their denim brands.
In 2018 the VF Corporation incorporated Kontoor Brands, and then a year later they opened it up to public trading on the stock market. Knotoor was created solely to run VF’s denim businesses. They own Lee, Wrangler, Rock & Republic, and they run the VF Outlet business.
Soon after Kontoor took over Lee jeans, they combined their headquarters with the Wrangler division in Greensboro, NC. Kontoor brands, as of January 2022, operates over 80 retail outlets in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Will Lee be Returning Manufacturing to the US?
It’s doubtful that Kontoor will bring back any Lee manufacturing jobs to the states unless something drastic changes.
We know that American made products are of better quality and generally last longer, and most Americans are willing to spend more to get that extra advantage. Kontoor brands doesn’t quite see it that way. They see China as a “great opportunity” and want to continue to focus and expand there as well as Mexico. In fact, since Kontoor has taken over Lee brands, they have increased production in these countries. As of now, at least one-third of Lee jeans are manufactured in Mexico.
Another factor that keeps textile jobs away from America is the fact that the factory and the manual labor force is shrinking. More and more Americans are getting degrees or certificates for less labor-intensive positions, working from home, and looking for office jobs. Add that to the fact that it costs some companies hundreds if not thousands of dollars on each employee turnover. It means that American textile jobs won’t be returning any time soon. Thankfully, there are still plenty of American made jeans to choose from.
When Did Lee Start Sending Work Overseas?
In the 1960s the need for denim jeans was so strong that Lee opened up new plants in Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, and Louisiana to keep up. Then in 1964, they opened their first overseas plant in Sint Niklaas, Belgium.
Five years later Lee sold their assets to the VF Corporation, and with the extra money from the sale, they increased production capabilities as well as expanded further into foreign countries. These countries included Scotland, Belgium, Spain, Australia, Hong Kong, and Brazil.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, denim sales had reached their peak and were starting to decline. In response, Lee closed many of its domestic plants.
1995 seems to be the big year when the majority of Lee jeans manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas to China and the South-Pacific area. Then ten years later, India was the big Lee jeans manufacturer. While some Lee jeans are still crafted in Japan and Taiwan, the main three manufacturers of these jeans are India, Mexico, and China.
Wrapping it Up:
Lee jeans started out as an American company but corporate hands have sent all their manufacturing jobs overseas, and it seems like they are there to stay. Fortunately, a handful of hardworking individuals still believe in American manufacturing and are keeping that dream alive. While these products might cost a bit more, you are helping American families, local economies, and showing that there is indeed a market for domestic-made textiles.
That does it for this article, let us know in the comments if you have any further questions regarding where Lee jeans are made. We always enjoy reading your feedback.
Hi, my name is Kevin and I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Choosing products made in America is important to me because it supports local economies, creates jobs, helps the environment, and ensures ethical labor practices. I also find that American made products are usually of higher quality so although they’re a little more expensive, you save money in the long run. Before starting this website I was in the USMC infantry and nowadays I work on this website as a hobby.