Made in the U. S. A. (or Haiti or El Salvador But Not in China)

Subsequent to Sen. Reid’s tirade about the U. S. Olympic Team’s uniforms having been made in China, all sorts of people are showing amusing, even unseemly concern about what Harry Reid wears. As Glenn Reynolds noted, a better complaint might be that they are lame.

However, this moved me to examine my own wardrobe. Most of my regular suits, shoes, shirts, and pants are made in the United States. That’s a conscious decision on my part. I have some T-shirts that were made in El Salvador and some polo shirts that were made in Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Interestingly, the polo shirts are different colors of the same style and size, bought at roughly the same time.

My underwear was made in Haiti. I think it’s practically impossible to get underwear that’s made in the United States.

I don’t feel embarrassed about the global character of my wardrobe. We have a comparative advantage in some things but not in others. That’s the nature of trade.

If China were to stop playing currency games, I’d probably buy more stuff made in China.

I ensure that a substantial portion of my wardrobe is made in the United States for the same reason that I go to small, local stores whenever I can: because I want neighbors who run small stores and, similarly, people in the clothing business. If I don’t, everyone in my neighborhood will be a commodities trader, a banker, a professional, an undertaker, or work for the government.

15 comments… add one
  • Jimbino Link

    The proper term is “competitive advantage.” Even if the USA produced everything more cheaply than China, “comparative advantage” would favor trade because of relative efficiencies. This is an important concept that should not be diluted.

  • Aside from custom-tailored clothing, how is it even possible to “buy American” these days? For example, my favorite polo shirts are the Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece line; they’re all made overseas, many in Vietnam. Ralph Lauren, J Press, and other venerable old American brands likewise import their wares. What’s particularly frustrating about it is that they’re not even passing the savings in labor costs on.

  • jan Link

    I think if nothing else people are becoming ‘more aware’ of manufacturing originations. We were visiting some friends last Sunday. He is a Lebanese doctor, his wife an Italian designer — both over here with green cards. He is pro-American, seeking his citizenship here, and says he actively looks for labels of ‘made in America,’ and will not buy stuff from China, if at all possible. I find myself doing the same thing in making personal choices — where I will pay more to purchase items made in the USA, versus cheaper ones made in China.

  • Drew Link

    I think something always lost in these arguments is real consumer behavior. That is, if you do a man on the street interview people will tell you they want to buy American, even if it costs more. But what do overwhelmingly do? They buy on price.

    Now, you are a manager or owner responsible for the employment and returns to capital of your business. You know what the consumer is going to do. What do you think a competing business is going to do? Unless you are suicidal in a business sense, you do what you have to do to compete.

    WalMart didn’t become WalMart with rose colored glasses on.

  • Ben Wolf Link

    Most of my shirts seem to originate in Southeast Asia. As for blazers and suits, I only wear Italian because of the quality. I rarely choose my clothes based on price.

  • jan Link


    WalMart, Costco folks will be attracted by price — that’s why they shop there, giving little attention to where the product is made.

    However, there are some people who also shop more symbolically, that’s the category people like myself fall into when given the opportunity to make a choice between item A (China) or Item B (USA).

    Cars, however, is a different matter, as we have gone for German ones (engineering/design and road handling), except for an old Model A Ford (1930) that my husband has owned since before the beginning of time!

  • PD Shaw Link

    Obviously the solution is to buy foreign, esp. t-shirts, and take the clothes down to the boardwalk and have a real American artist spray design it. For a few hundred dollars, buy your own silk-screening press. America is about the value-added, and catchy catch-phrases like “I just pooped.” Go, America!!!

  • Icepick Link

    Gotta agree with Drew that most people buy on price. Hardly a surprise as more and more people get squeezed.

    As for cars and other expensive items, I won’t buy anything that doesn’t give me good value for my money – meaning I am willing to spend for more quality. Of course, my Camry and Civic (both getting long in the tooth now) were mostly assembled in the USA. Hmm, what does that mean?

    Anyone watch Shark Tank? Every now and then someone comes in with some product and the sharks will only deal with the entrepreneur if the E agrees to manufacture off-shore. I’m thinking of a case where a guy had come up with an idea for a new truck rack. He turned down the offers he got because he only wanted to do business in his own town, or at least in country. I hope the Invis-a-Rack guy succeeds, but he’d already be farther along if he did it offshore. I’m not sure how I feel about it either way. At the very least (or perhaps very most) he’s garnering less profit for himself.

  • Icepick Link

    PD, I prefer the one I saw the other day: THIS is what AWESOME looks like.

  • Drew Link


    Yes, I know. After all, the devil wears Prada. The problem is volume. I take anyone’s comments here at face value that they are willing to pay more for whatever reason. But having been a business owner, it’s coming up on some couple dozen now, for almost 15 years, the vast majority won’t.

    And further, It’s a business lesson I learned some 25 years ago. There really are at the core only 4-5 business models. One is the high quality model. But the market is like a triangle, small at the top. Only
    so many will pay. The most powerful model of all is low cost production. It’s the bottom of the pyramid where all the volume is.

    One has to appreciate the noble efforts of the buy American consumer, but they really can’t move the GDP needle.

  • One has to appreciate the noble efforts of the buy American consumer, but they really can’t move the GDP needle.

    I don’t think that my buying American or buying local will increase GDP. Actually, I think it might reduce GDP a teeny tiny bit. But I behave in a way that’s consistent with the kind of society that I’d like to live in.

  • jan Link

    “One has to appreciate the noble efforts of the buy American consumer, but they really can’t move the GDP needle.”

    I agree, Drew. My comments, though, were prefaced with the ‘symbolic’ nature of my choices, knowing full well that such product purchases would have little to do with improving the economy. In most cases, the bottom line of most decision-making rests with how it effects the pocketbook — this goes for all kinds of consumerism, including what we talk about here —> political preferences.

  • Icepick Link

    I take anyone’s comments here at face value that they are willing to pay more for whatever reason.

    To be clear, I’ll spend more if I think I will get a better return. (Besides cars I’m thinking of Schuler’s comments about old suits, and how well they’ve held up.) Expense, however, is no guarantee of quality. I’ve bought expensive crap, and cheap stuff that was high quality. I’ve also bought expensive stuff that was worth every penny (or more) and cheap stuff that was, well, cheap.

    When flush, which was a long time ago now, I would be willing to pay more for some local products or services, because I liked the businesses, even if they cost a little more. But that, too, is a luxury good.

  • Drew Link

    Dave et al

    I’m absolutely sincere. I think the intentions are noble. But when you are actually a business owner with obligations to interested parties you have to deal with reality unless you are in an especially niche business.

    It reminds me of an interview I watched long ago with Sugar Ray Leonard. He was preparing for a fight with Marvin Hagler. His wife made a comment that she thought Hagler was an OK guy. Leanornd looked at her incredulously “do you understand that he is going to try to literally take my head off. Do you understand that?”.

    I’m sorry the world doesn’t work the way we might like. But if you choose to play, you have to understand the rules.

  • It is really annoying that so many cloths are made in China. Actually I would’t care if the quality was good, but who likes to buy clothes, which have to be thrown away after such a short time. I rather pay for quality.

Leave a Comment