It all started with my friend Joan’s Facebook post. It read: “This Labor Day, let’s salute American corporations for keeping the Chinese gainfully employed.”
It crystallized an issue that has nagged at me for some time. I’ve been listing items for sale on eBay for a dozen years. Lately, the listing page has added a requirement that the product’s country of origin be shown.
Of the 100 or so garments that I’ve tried to sell in the past two months, only one — that’s right, one — was made in the United States. The majority were from China and Indonesia. Some were from India and Vietnam.
It made me think of Warren-Featherbone and their sweet little rosette-printed dresses that my Molly, now 26, wore as a baby. That Gainesville-based manufacturing plant is just a dim memory now. These days, if you want to dress your baby in locally produced clothes, you’d best be prepared to fire up the sewing machine.
So I decided for one day, Labor Day, I’d attempt to wear, consume and purchase only products that originated in the USA. How hard could it be, right?
On Labor Day, I woke up early. The first order of business was breakfast. Colombian coffee was out of the question. Tea? Nope, it came from Ireland. Finally, I had cereal from Indiana and soymilk from Missouri.
I started to toss in a handful of blueberries but stopped when I realized they were picked in Canada. A naval orange would be good, I thought. Then I read the bag: product of South Africa.
What? We live next door to Florida. I can drive down, pick my own oranges and be home by bedtime. I purchased the fruit from a chain that originated in Florida and has its corporate offices there. So why did this supermarket find it cost-effective to ship in citrus from halfway around the world rather than buy it in their home state? I could tell already this day was going to be an eye-opener.
I dug deeper in the fruit bowl and came up with a peach from California. Then it came time to get dressed.
After a half hour of scrounging in my closet, I’d found only one garment that was made in the U.S. It was the cocktail dress that I’d worn to last year’s charity ball. Unless I planned on sitting at home wrapped in a Simmons sheet from Foley, Ala., and munching on Washington state apples, I was going to have to make some concessions.
I did some mental calisthenics and resolved that it would be acceptable to wear items that had been purchased on the secondary market here in the U.S. Anything that came from a resale, consignment or thrift store in this country was fair game. Since I’ve been in the resale clothing business for 26 years, that opened up the majority of my closet.
So I dressed in resale clothing. Originally, though, my top came from Jordan, my jeans were made in Bangladesh and my shoes were cobbled in Brazil. I felt like a walkin’, talkin’ United Nations.
My purse, a Vera Bradley which I had purchased new, didn’t have a tag showing where it was made. A little research revealed that, while originally produced in Fort Wayne, Ind., as the bags became more popular and demand increased, about 60 percent of the production was outsourced to China. I swapped out for the like-new Coach bag I won last year on eBay. It had been shipped from Texas.
The rest of my day went much the same way. I took my daughter shopping for running shoes. She was spending her own money so she wasn’t limited to buying domestically produced shoes. Good thing, too, because as I looked at the tags of the countless sneakers in that mall store, all I saw was China, China, China, China and more China.
A Facebook friend mentioned that SAS shoes are made in Texas. It’s good to know but somehow I can’t see Rachel skipping around the North Georgia campus in a pair of SAS walkers.
Lunch was peanut butter from Georgia on bread from Pennsylvania. Dinner was a stir fry of vegetables from the U.S. and rice bearing the stamp of the USA Rice Federation.
It wasn’t an easy day. I was headachy and grouchy from caffeine withdrawal and discouraged by the difficulty in finding products from my own country in my own country. I felt like I’d spent the day at a funeral.
If I had unlimited space here, I’d go on and on about what the loss of American manufacturing jobs has done to the very fabric of our society. I’d rant about how we’ve sold our birthright for $10 toasters and $100 television sets. Next would be the paragraphs about carbon footprints, product quality and safety, human rights and the trade deficit. I don’t have the space for all that but, luckily, www.stillmadeinusa.com does.
I think I’m going to try to make this little exercise a Labor Day tradition. I’ve created the Facebook group “All-American Labor Day.” Join me, won’t you?
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.