Why Buying "Made in USA" Is NOT the Answer

images via hoodie/shoes/scarf/sandals

I've seen, read, and heard that making a commitment to buying only Made in USA goods will boost manufacturing in America. It will create more jobs. Your stuff will last longer. It's the ethical way to shop. And, I kind of drank that Kool Aid, for a while. 

What can we do to help America thrive? This is the question I had been asking myself, and I thought the answer was to buy more Made in USA. Well, after several years of buying more Made in USA products, I have run into a handful of issues:

1. Not everything made in USA is of super-high quality. My Made in USA can opener sucks. My Made in China can opener is awesome. Cheap is cheap, no matter where it's made.

2. Not everything made in USA is produced ethically. There are sweatshops in Los Angeles, people. That's not cool. 

3. Some things I would like to buy are just not made by any manufacturers in USA. For example, I wanted to buy Hunter a locally made balance bike that didn't cost $300 -- impossible. Also, silk shirts might be sewn here, but I think there is like one silk mill left in the USA, so the fabric is most likely imported. I do love silk.

4. Buying ONLY Made in USA does not support the global economy, and like it or not, that's the world we're living in -- a global economy.

5. Sometimes the Made in USA options are just not as cutting edge as products made overseas. 

Now, don't think I've given up on buying Made in USA. I am still happy to support American manufacturing, and I will continue to purchase goods made here as much as I can. My focus, however, has shifted. 

The new question I am asking myself is, "Was this product ethically made and will it last?" "Buy Made in USA" definitely isn't the answer to my to new question, though I wish it were because that would make shopping so much easier.

Nope, now I am thinking more about buying less stuff that maybe costs a bit more but will last a long time. I honestly don't care where something comes from so long as I can figure out if it's made by a worker earning a fair wage and I can use it for many years. Not everything made overseas is cheap crap, and unfortunately the Made in USA movement is kind of banking on the idea that it is.

So, what is the answer? It's a complicated one. It requires some investigating and some trust. I don't have a definitive answer, but these are definitely some of my favorite resources and places to be an ethical consumer:

1. Everlane -- I want all the things in their women's collection. ALL THE THINGS. They work with factories in the USA, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Scotland, and China. Their thing is transparency. They strive to be transparent about how much it costs to make a garment and how much they mark it up. They also encourage consumers to "know your factories." On their site you can check out photos and write ups on each factory. In a recent email correspondence in which I asked for more information regarding the factories in China, a rep confirmed the following, "The factories we work with in China treat their workers well and take pride in improving wage and living standards. The employees work 8-5 and are paid 5x the minimum wage. They're also welcome to work overtime, but it's not required. Wages are increasing 10% each year and now China is actually one of the most expensive Asian nations to produce in."
Update 2/8/15: On Black Friday, they devoted a portion of their sales to improving free-time activities at one of the factories in China. By the way, the company has amazing Customer Service policies and reps!

2. IOU Project -- I have written about them before, so I will just reiterate that each one of their garments and accessories is truly a work of art. The madras is handmade in India, and on their site you can view photos of the individual weavers, who get paid double their normal pay when they work on IOU fabrics. The garments are sewn in Europe. Each finished product has a unique code that consumers can use to trace back to the original weaver. 

3. Flint & Tinder -- Two things I love: their 10-year hoodie and their transparency. Though I have yet to try their hoodie, I think it's awesome that it's guaranteed to last at least 10 years and includes free mending. The other thing I like is that they are upfront about when they use imported fabric, and you know what, I believe them when they say they are trying to get the fabric manufactured locally.
Update 2/8/15: Isaiah has the exact hoodie pictured above and loves it, especially the fit!

4. Fournier -- I love to give baby gifts from this small-scale company. The knitters are women in Bolivia, and the founder started this company as a poverty alleviation project.

5. My favorite fair trade certified companies: Oliberte and Under the Nile. Oliberte makes awesome leather shoes and accessories in Ethiopia. Under the Nile makes adorable organic cotton clothing and toys in Egypt.


  1. Thanks for posting this! As someone who HAS been on a Made in USA kick, but also understanding the whole process, I appreciate this. I can't remember if I had chatted with you about the book Overdressed. There really is no solution to this problem, except all of us learning to make our own clothing again. Which kind of sounds awesome. But, we need to learn what specialties different countries create (yes China is known for silk and cashmere where USA is more cotton based) and use that to our advantages. My shopping made in the USA was more to protest all the people that had died in Bangladesh and to spend less money. Because you can't compare American Apparel to Jason Wu, who are both manufacturing in the US!

    1. Hi, Eli! This conversation is an ongoing one, for sure. Sewing our own clothes, making our own textiles -- they're all things we can do to make sure we aren't contributing to tragedies like what happened at Rana Plaza, but fast fashion seems like it's here to stay. How do we attack that beast? Also, good point about AA vs. Jason Wu. AA is a good option when you need affordable basics NOW and you want to make sure your clothing is sweatshop-free, but those clothes don't always last long. So I ask myself, should I spend less on cheaper Made in USA stuff now that may last only a couple of years or make do with what I have and save up to be able to spend more on something that will last longer? (Though more expensive does not ALWAYS mean better quality, either. Oy.)

  2. Expensive isn't quality, that is so incredibly true. Many years ago I got excited to have found a good deal on Alexander Wang tshirts at Nordstrom rack, and they all quickly shrank into crop tops and had holes in them. I would have been furious if I had paid full price! But then again, they're made in China.

    I think if you're going to buy something from AA, you're probably just better off making it yourself :)

    1. Probably... but all my husband's T-shirts are from there, and when I think about the time and energy we'd spend to make a simple T-shirt (I mean getting the fabric, cut/pattern, and fit right, not just sewing) --- ugh, this lady ain't got time for that! :)


Thanks for stopping by. Words cannot express how much I appreciate your comments!

Copyright © Amanda Freerksen 2008-. All rights reserved. Powered by Blogger.
Maira G.