April 17, 2011

New Yorkers Strip for Made in America. ~ Sara Bruskin

Photo: Peter Cigliano

And it doesn’t go well…

In an ABC news segment last month, David Muir challenged people in Grand Central Terminal to remove any articles of clothing that were not made in America.

Not surprisingly, many people had trouble with the task, and could not find domestically produced clothing anywhere on their bodies.

We’ve all heard the mountains of reasons to buy American: Fair labor practices, support of relatively local businesses, reduced carbon footprint… But how realistic is it to shun the alternatives?

“Made in America” tags aren’t easy to find.

The pursuit of American clothing has never been a passionate pursuit for me. I, like many people, have been aware that I should be buying American products, and yet I never seem to put that as a priority when I need new clothes. If I manage to find an article of clothing that suits me, fits me, will look good after it’s been hemmed (always a consideration for short people), and doesn’t say “Squeeze Me” or “Princess” on it, am I really going to discard it because of the country on the label?

Photo: Annie Mole

When browsing through the racks at Marshalls, such standards can undo a whole afternoon of searching. Considering that 98% of clothing available in America comes from foreign countries, it would be nigh impossible to find anything of American make in our inexpensive go-to stores.

If we check the label as a last consideration, the search is sure to be a lost cause.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this, but I had been going through the whole process backwards. The only real chance of finding American clothing is to seek out the brands that manufacture their goods in the States first, and search within them. That 2% chance of finding something American-made by accident cannot be relied upon if we are to be conscious consumers.

A Continuous Lean hosts a list of brands that manufacture all, or some of their products in the U.S., and it can be found here. The Made in America segment on ABC News also has an online directory of useful website for finding American-made products. Such resources can help you stay clothed the next time David Muir shows up in your city.

While they may not be our first pick, not all brands that manufacture their goods overseas are evil, unpatriotic slave-drivers.

Some companies work hard to ensure that their foreign factories are safe environments for fairly-treated employees. Patagonia, for instance, publishes information on their labor practices that shows their dedication to moral conduct in the workplace.

Such well-meaning companies still ship their wares across the world, thus increasing their carbon output, but should that stop us from supporting them? Patagonia is providing a source of fair labor in countries that desperately need it. There will always be pros and cons to any business, and we as the consumers must weigh our priorities in supporting them.


Sara Bruskin recently graduated from the University of Colorado, and is working as an intern for Colorado Common Cause, and elephantjournal.com.

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