Something that is extremely important to me is buying things that are made in the United States. Without going down a rabbit hole of playing both sides of the issue — it’s good to have manufacturing in poorer countries as a way of helping them obtain economic stability, etc. — I will just say that, personally, I want to purchase items made in our country whenever possible.
I am willing to pay more for those items, as I understand that paying minimum wage to Americans is costlier than what can be paid to Bangladeshi workers. And no, it’s not an accident that I used Bangladesh as an example.
When a factory collapsed there in late April and more than 1,100 people were killed, we all got a glimpse of what our cheap tank tops and bargain yoga pants actually cost. Although I’d already made a habit of checking the labels and packaging of stuff I buy, I got a little more vigilant about it.
So here’s what I’ve found. It’s not easy to stock up on clothing made in America all in one place. I don’t really know why this is, but I think if GAP, or Forever 21 or Target or any number of chain stores got on this bandwagon, they would sell the hell out of whatever they stocked. Occasionally when I’m at one of the aforementioned stores, I will run across a “Made in the USA” label. (This is most likely to happen at Forever 21, by the way.) I don’t know why there is a lone blouse or skirt from the U.S. among the mostly “Made in struggling Third World country” items. But once in a while, I find a hidden jewel … or T-shirt or skirt.
After the factory collapse, I put forth more effort into finding U.S.-made clothing, and I came across American Apparel. There are no stores in the Sacramento area, so I ordered a few things online. Although I had more misses than hits — AA seems to be targeting the younger, waif-shaped hipster — I am currently wearing a darling little skirt that I bought online for $10. They have pricier items, but they have some major bargains, too.
The website for American Apparel, www.americanapparel.net — has a super-cool interactive feature where would-be shoppers can explore the factory (under the “About Us” tab). Here you learn that the average sewer at American Apparel makes $11 per hour, and the Los Angeles-based factory produces more than 1 million garments weekly.
So I ask you … doesn’t it seem like a brilliant idea for Target or GAP or another big store to partner with American Apparel and create a line of clothes for that store? With a chain store’s sensibility toward designing for a more mainstream customer, how could this not be a win-win?
Or why doesn’t one of these chain stores that is struggling to compete copy American Apparel’s success with a living-wage factory in America, California even! Somehow, I was able to buy $8 tank tops and camisoles at AA, just like I can at the chain stores that buy these items in bulk from Bangladesh.
Hear my plea, GAP or Forever 21 or Target: Why not covert a section of your store to “Made in the USA” and see what happens?! This market is ready to explode. I’m sure of it.
In fact, I believe this trend will be demanded by the next generation. Recently I have seen signs of it when shopping at Marshall’s in Woodland, and at a college student store.
At Marshall’s, I was perusing summer clothing in the adult section; but as I wandered across the border into the juniors department, I noticed far more labels touting “Made in the USA” than were in the adult section. And the clothes in the adult section were pricier. Hmmm.
On my recent visit to Los Angeles, I stopped at UCLA to buy a new sweatshirt. The selection was overwhelming, and I wandered aimlessly for a while … until I saw the small area of the store marked “Made in the USA.” Hurray! I thought. This trend is taking off!
I tried on every version of sweatshirt in the “Made in the USA” section — a pitifully small number — and couldn’t find one that was flattering or stylish enough. Surprisingly, they were totally in line, price-wise, with the other brands like Adidas, JanSport or Russell Athletic. But they weren’t as good-looking. So I hate to admit it, but my new, very cute sweatshirt is “Made in Cambodia.”
Obviously I haven’t fully converted to this conscientious shopping strategy, but I’m getting there. I plan to do more voting with my wallet, and I’m going to start a Twitter campaign to let these companies know what matters to its customers. In fact, I’m going to start right now, and I hope you’ll retweet me.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya