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the one item in my closet “made in the USA”

I spent part of my weekend going through my closet, trying to find any item that was “made in the USA.” I found one.

(I’ll tell you which one in a moment.)

Given the recent furor over the USA Olympic team wearing Ralph Lauren-designed apparel that was made in China, I started by checking all of my Ralph Lauren gear.  Sure enough, it was all made in China, India, Indonesia, Bolivia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.  My Gap gear: made in India.  Express: India, Taiwan, and Vietnam.  American Eagle: China and Bangladesh.  True Religion (shirts): India.  Lucky Brand (shirts): China.  Michael Kors: Indonesia.  These are all American companies.  Even my cowboy boots, designed by the American company Ariat, were made in China, and my Chuck Taylor’s were made in Indonesia.  Chuck Taylor’s!

Reactions to the Team USA uniforms being made in China have ranged from strange to silly, with some members of Congress leading the way.  The Senate majority leader said the uniforms should be put in a big pile and burned.  Several other senators plan to introduce the “Team USA Made in America Act of 2012” to require our Olympic team’s uniforms be made in the U.S.  One senator said through a press release that the “last thing the U.S. Olympic Committee should be doing is depriving American workers of much needed jobs.”  Then, there’s Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio who wrote a letter to the USOC suggesting that the uniforms could be made at the Hugo Boss plant in his home state.  That way the uniforms would be made in America by Americans.  One note about Hugo Boss: it’s a German company whose founder was a member of the Nazi party and used slave labor to help produce uniforms for German soldiers and the Hitler Youth during WWII. (http://tinyurl.com/3rgvzua)  Also, the majority owner of Hugo Boss is a British firm.  Is Hugo Boss really a better option for our Olympic team than Ralph Lauren?

Our politicians are doing us a disservice … again.  But you already knew that judging by the latest Gallup poll that puts the approval rating for Congress at 16%.  This time, they’re fanning outrage (and trying to score political points) by appealing to our patriotism and our fears about “big, bad China.”  They would be doing us a favor by being straight with us, but the truth usually doesn’t win you any political points, and it doesn’t sound so patriotic: almost every item of clothing that Americans buy is made overseas, and part of the reason is that we just can’t compete with the cheap labor available in some countries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for a factory worker in China is $1.36.  In the Phillipines, it’s $1.41.  For a U.S. worker, it’s $23.32.  The result of the disparity is that 98% of the clothing and 99% of the footwear purchased by Americans were made somewhere other than the U.S., according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

This flack over the US team’s uniforms actually gave us an opportunity to focus on a real issue: the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country and what we can do about it.  That’s a top-of-the-list issue anytime, but especially in an election year.  Let’s have that debate.  Let’s debate about outsourcing, why it’s happened, and whether the trend can be reversed to keep or bring jobs here.  But when the opportunity presented itself to engage the public, our leaders instead chose to put together pointless legislation, encourage us to have a Ralph Lauren bonfire, and suggest we have a German company make the uniforms.

Last week, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein highlighted “14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.”  Reason #14: “There are actually problems they need to solve.”  He explains:

If this was an age of peace, prosperity and rapid growth — say, 1997 — perhaps the 112th Congress’s failures would be an amusing sideshow. But this is not 1997 … The 112th Congress has been an embarrassment — and its members know it.  As Rep. Jim Cooper … says, “America’s problems have rarely looked so large, and Congress has rarely looked so small.”

Our leaders and political parties have looked downright petty the past week. The campaigns were accusing candidates of being liars and possible felons, Romney’s finances were a bigger story than the finances of millions of unemployed and underemployed, & booing was the headline out of Houston.  It was a week where Olympic uniforms were the only problem for which our leaders could find a solution.

The fact that our Olympic team will be wearing made-in-China uniforms is a shame but not for the reasons being peddled.  It’s a shame because it’s actually a true representation of America.  You may often hear people say, “we don’t make anything anymore.”  90% of the jobs in America are in the service industry.  (AP, “US services sector grows at slowest pace in 20 year”, July 2012)  That wasn’t the case 20 years ago when outsourcing became all the rage.  This is an issue worthy of Congressional outrage, energy, and focus.  But, their solution — forcing a select group of American athletes to wear U.S.-made apparel one month every 2 years — once again looks so small for a problem that is so large.

Today, we have great designers and innovators, but their designs and innovations are being manufactured elsewhere.  In an ideal world, I too would love it if our Olympic team donned uniforms that were made in the USA.  But this is the real world, and the reality is that just about everything you’re wearing right now or that’s in your closet was made outside the U.S.  Everything in my closet too, except one pair of boots.  They’re made by the Frye boot company which was founded in Massachusetts in 1863.  Though, the company doesn’t make all of its products in the U.S., my boots were made here, and they’re the only things in my closet I could find that were made the USA.  So, I think I’ll wear them today.  They go well with my jeans from Guatemala.

Comments

Kim
Reply

It’s too hot for boots, but your point is well made as always.

TJ
Reply

I am going to go through my closets next week, I am afraid!!

Jim
Reply

It takes time and patience to find items made in the USA, but it can be done. You won’t be a fashion plate when doing it however. High fashion is usually made cheap and sold for a high profit. Even with all of that hard work my own closet is only about 60% American made. They tend to throw you in jail if you wear only 60% of your clothes. The biggest problem is finding silk products made in the US….

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